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‘Human Error’ Cited in Calif. Bar Exam Snafu, Report Says (1)

Nov. 13, 2019, 7:21 PMUpdated: Nov. 13, 2019, 10:43 PM

The California Bar inadvertently released bar exam topics earlier this year and failed to consult with the state supreme court prior to disclosing them to all test takers, an outside investigation concluded.

The findings of the probe overseen by Arthur G. Scotland, a Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP partner, were included in a report released Nov. 13 and likely will mean enhanced bar oversight.

The report commissioned by the state supreme court found that the disclosure of general subjects to be tested on the essay and performance test parts of the July exam was a result of “inadvertent human error.”

The report also said the bar, the state’s legal licensing and regulatory body, lacks formal procedures to deal with emergencies. For instance, staff couldn’t reach key decision makers after exam topics were released in an email to deans of 16 law schools.

The fallout led the bar to publicly release the topics and to offer refunds days before the twice-yearly exam considered to be the nation’s most difficult.

Scotland is a former administrative presiding justice of the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento.

The California Bar is the nation’s largest with more than 250,000 licensed attorneys. It’s overseen by the state supreme court for discipline and admissions and the California Legislature, which regulates lawyers under the under the State Bar Act.

Alan Steinbrecher, chairman of the state bar board, said the incident was unprecedented and the decisions that were made “to level the playing field for all exam takers erred on the side of fairness and transparency.”

Steinbrecher said the bar is taking measures to prevent a similar occurrence in the future, and welcomes guidance from the court on report recommendations. It also pledged to “work closely” with the Legislature on the question of oversight changes.

(Updates with statement from bar chairman on report in last two paragraphs. )

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at; John Crawley at