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Tuesday, July 25, 2017
California Supreme Court to Lower “Cut” Score on State Bar Exam
Today was a big day for thousands of California law students as they sat through day one of the state's biannual bar examination. Tomorrow they sit through six hours more. But this is where this year's exam becomes momentous: there is no longer a third day. California was one of just a handful of three-day bar exams in the country, and is widely regarded as the most difficult in the nation. The pass-rate for first-time takers in 2016 was just 62%.

If lobbing a day off the grueling test wasn't good news enough for law students, there is new cause for celebration. The California Supreme Court has announced its intent to raise the minimum score required for passing. The move comes following years of debate amongst legal professionals and scholars, who claim that the exam's rigor had a chilling effect upon the stream of qualified candidates entering the legal profession.

Last year, just 51% of graduates of Hastings School of Law passed the exam. Earlier this year, Whittier Law School announced that it would close, due in part to poor performance on the exam. While some purists will argue that the exam is a highly functional filter, the reality is that many who don't pass the examination in CA, would easily qualify in other states. In other words, as a screen, the exam is not porous enough.

Of particular note is the retroactivity of the court's order. Students who may not pass the July 2017 exam, may simply need to wait until January 2018, when the court raises the minimum score, at which point, they can be admitted to the bar. Unfortunately, July exam takers will get their regular results in November 2017, so unsuccessful candidates will be subject to several months of nail-biting.

Cynics argue that the move is designed to rescue law schools from hemorrhaging enrollment numbers. Whether CA's legal job market will be able to sustain an influx of additional practitioners is something that remains to be seen.

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