The pass rate on California’s July bar exam may have risen to a five-year high but one dean says the state remains on “a wayward path” by holding on to a score requirement that is the second highest in the country.
UC Hastings Dean David Faigman said Monday he’s disappointed that only 70 percent of first-time test-takers at American Bar Association-approved schools such as his passed the test. The pass rate for comparable students in New York was 86 percent.
“There’s simply no suggestion that New York is admitting scores of unqualified lawyers to the bar,” Faigman told The Recorder. California is “just out of the mainstream,” he added.
While bar leaders celebrated results that showed a year-to-year increase of six percentage points in the number of students passing California’s exam, a slim majority of test-takers—50.4 percent—still failed. Faigman and others questioned the validity of a test that many graduates still are not passing.
“It’s virtually unconscionable” to accept that “30 percent of ABA-accredited graduates from California law schools are not minimally competent to practice law,” Faigman said.
Faigman and most other ABA-accredited law school deans in California asked the California Supreme Court to reduce the exam’s 144 cut score to as low as 135, at least temporarily. After commissioning studies on the topic, the state bar’s board of trustees in September told the state’s high court in September that it could lower the score as far as 139 and still ensure that those who passed the test met minimum standards to practice law. But one month later, the justices said they were unpersuaded by pleas to change the score—for now.
Faigman said he and other deans are looking at other ways to study the test’s validity, including working with social scientists outside the bar. He said he’s also talked about the state’s high pass score with law firm partners and general counsel who are concerned about disparate impact on minority law school graduates.
“I’d like to see the Supreme Court be a little more active on overseeing the state bar and meeting with law school deans to understand their concerns,” Faigman said.
The July sitting marked the first time California administered the test over two days instead of the traditional three.
Bar examiners also used a new pass rate calculation method that uses the number of students who completed the test instead of the larger group of all test-takers, regardless of whether they finished all portions of the exam. The new method bumped up the overall pass rate by about four-tenths of a percentage point.
Pass rates tied to individual schools will be released later this year. The bar over the weekend released the names of passing students on its website.