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California Bar Pass Rate Jumps With Lower Score Requirement

May 10, 2021, 6:09 PM

California has 1,151 new attorneys this week with the State Bar announcing 37.2% of people taking the bar exam passed the two-day test to earn their law license.

The pass rate for the online test was up more than 10 percentage points from February 2020, when 26.8% passed the biannual exam for lawyers in training. The previous winter version of the test was held in-person, before the pandemic forced the test online and the California Supreme Court lowered the pass score to 1390 from 1440.

If the “cut score” had remained at 1440, the pass rate would have dropped to been 23.7% in February, with 734 exam takers becoming lawyers, the bar said. The cut score change also boosted the pass rate for the October bar exam.

The pass list was posted Sunday.

More than half of first-time applicants passed the exam, accounting for nearly 40% of the 3,098 applicants. Some 27% of repeat test takers passed the exam.

California requires at least some lawyers seeking admission from other states to take the attorneys’ examination. Another 247 lawyers who are licensed elsewhere passed that exam out of the 432 who completed the exam.

Fewer people took the exam in February than in previous years, when 4,000-5,000 would-be lawyers took the test. The California agency attributes the drop to the increased number of test takers in October, the availability of the new provisional licenses, and October’s higher pass rate.

The lower number of test takers tracks the February Multistate Bar Exam, the 200-question test administered by state accrediting entities. The mean scale was up about 1.4% while the number of people taking the test dropped 12.4% from the previous winter.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of first-time applicants from American Bar Association-accredited law schools in California passed the exam and 39% of repeat takers. That compares to 58% of out-of-state ABA school applicants taking the test for the first time and 26% of repeaters. The bar said 44% of graduates from California-accredited schools, 43% of unaccredited correspondence schools, and 47% of unaccredited distance-learning schools passed the exam the first time.

California is considering the future of the bar exam, including administering part or all of the test online.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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