California Considers Future of Bar Exam, Possible Test Revisions

April 27, 2021, 9:56 PM

A new committee has been named to consider potential changes to California’s bar exam, including administering part or all of the two-day test online, the state Supreme Court said Tuesday.

The Joint Supreme Court/State Bar Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the California Bar Exam recommendations follow years-long debate over the usefulness of exams and their practicality for assessing a future lawyer’s performance. It also comes as Covid-19 upended bar exams across the country, delaying tests and moving many online.

The 19-member committee will recommend to the bar and court whether a bar exam is the correct tool to determine minimum competence to practice law, the panel’s charter said.

Members of the panel include Ona Dosunmu, the first California Lawyers Association executive director; Susan Barkhshian, a Loyola Law School professor who oversees all bar exam programs; and Esther Lin, an Orange County deputy district attorney. Emily Scivoletto, University of Davis School of Law’s senior assistant dean of student affairs; and David Boyd, former chair of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

California’s experience with a temporary provisional licensure program will be among the factors considered. The program first approved last October allowed 2020 law school graduates who had yet to sit for exam a limited right to practice under supervision of a licensed lawyer.

The panel also will consider recommendations from the California Attorney Practice Analysis and the 2020 National Conference of Bar Examiners practice analysis. The NCBE in January recommended states should overhaul exams to focus on problem solving and real world practice rather than knowledge of niche practices.

The commission will expressly consider whether to make the exam and any of its sections should be online. California held its first online bar exam last October, with the next one scheduled online in July, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The committee will make its recommendations next year.

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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