The State Bar of California has released a study today it conducted of the so-called “cut score” which determines who does and does not pass the California bar exam. Using the results of a focus group of 20 individuals the study concluded that the cut score could go as high as 150 (it currently stands at 144 – second highest in the country) or as low as 139. An accompanying memo from the Bar seems to suggest moving to 141 as the appropriate step. (The Committee of Bar Examiners will discuss today whether to propose lowering the cut score for the recent July 2017 exam only but will then conduct additional hearings before submitting a final recommendation to the Supreme Court.)
Yet the bar also admits there is little correlation between the bar cut score and lawyer competence and therefore consumer protection: “There is no empirical evidence available that would support a statement that as a result of its high pass line California lawyers are more competent than those in other states, nor is there any data that suggests that there are fewer attorney discipline cases per attorney capita in this state.”
But what stands out about the results is the fact that the 20 person focus group relied upon in the study had only 2 hispanic members but 10 white members. Hispanics out number whites in California and access to legal services by minority communities is a significant issue of concern. This raises the issue of inherent bias in the 20 person study group whose subjective views was the key source of input for the result which led to the study’s conclusions.
The Bar is conducting a meeting today to discuss the results. Video can be found here.
UPDATE: The Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners voted today to send out for public comment two options: keeping the cut score the same and lowering the cut score for July 2017 only to 141.
Policy by committee is not a pretty process….