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Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Oregon to Lower Minimum Passing Score on Bar Examination
The Oregon Supreme Court has officially ruled that bar examination takers in the state will be held to a new, lower minimum pass rate. Oregon had the third highest score requirement in the nation, behind Delaware and California. In February of 2017, just 67% of exam takers passed the state's bar examination.

Critics worry that lowering the passage standard will flood the market with sub-par attorneys. Others feel that the problem isn't the difficulty of the examination itself but rather inadequate preparation of students by the law schools themselves. For their part, however, the deans of Oregon's three law schools argued that the bar exam is only one of several filters that serves to preserve the talent of practicing attorneys.

Pinning down factors for failing scores is tricky. The LSAT, which serves as the front-end filter for law students, is often an adequate predictor of law schools success. LSAT scores at all three of Oregon's law schools have declined in the past five years.

In neighboring California, home of the most difficult bar exam in the country, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing this exact issue. In February of 2017, only 34.5% of exam takers in California earned a passing score. The Court has already promised to lower California's pass rate, but is awaiting feedback from the committee of bar examiners. A determination will be made before December 1, 2017. Their decision could retroactively affect students who took the July 2016 exam.

Ideologically, it's hard to assess whether or not lowering pass scores will be a net success to society. Proponents argue that the legal market is in need of more practitioners, but poor job prospects over the past decade have caused an overall decline in law school enrollment.

It's easy to presume that making the exam easier will alter the quality of legal practitioners, but examinations alone aren't always a sufficient gauge of talent. What's certain is that the landscape of law schools and the legal profession is in dynamic flux.

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