Why California’s Bar Performance Is Down

Why California’s Bar Performance Is Down

Law school applications may be up, but that doesn’t mean the legal profession is out of the woods yet.

Law.com reports that California law school students’ undergraduate credentials and law school performance were at the root of a 50% decline in bar exam scores and passage rates between 2013 and 2017.

July’s Exam

The State Bar of California, which commissioned the report, looked at the credentials, experiences, and GPAs of 7,563 students from 11 different California ABA-approved law schools linked to their results on the 2013, 2016, and 2017 bar exams to determine the impact on the overall decrease in exam scores and passage rates.

California bar exam pass rates dropped nearly 40.7% for the July 2018 exam, the lowest drop among 67 years.

Among high performers for July’s exam? All of Duke Law’s 25 grads who took the exam for the first time passed. Yale had a 93% passage rate, with Harvard at 89%, and Columbia at 88%.

California-based ABA-accredited law schools didn’t perform as well as Ivy League universities. According to the report, Stanford Law was the only California school to surpass a 90% pass rate. UC Berkeley Law saw an 86% pass rate with UCLA Law following closely at 83%.

At UC Davis, only 75% of first-time test takers passed. UC Irvine’s rate was even lower at 69%. Five California law schools had nearly all their test-takers fail the exam.

Notoriously Difficult

Part of the reason why California test takers are performing poorly may be due to the difficulty of California’s bar exam.

“The California bar exam has historically had the highest cut score of any state, consistently resulting in the nation’s lowest pass rates,” David L. Faigman, chancellor and dean at UC Hastings College of Law, writes in an LA Times piece.

California has a cut score of 1,440 (out of 2000)—among one of the highest scores across the country. The national average cut score is only 1,350.

Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA School of Law, says California would be better off if it lowered its cut score.

“California set its cut score a long time ago, and it didn’t do it after careful analysis and study,” Mnookin tells the Daily Bruin. “It’s been kind of stuck there.”

Sources: Law.com, State Bar of California, LA Times, Daily Bruin