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Recent California Bar Exam Changes

Recent California Bar Exam Changes: What’s New?

Recently, the California Bar Exam has undergone a number of changes. Things like the new passing score and retroactive bar admission are big news – and rightfully so. California has traditionally had one of the highest cut scores nationwide, so changes can have a dramatic impact on applicants. Let’s review the recent California Bar Exam changes.

Recent California Bar Exam Changes: What’s New?

1. The Cut Score

California has traditionally had a cut score of 1440 in order to pass the Bar Exam. That put California’s cut score only behind Delaware’s cut score of 1450. However, in August 2020, the California State Bar released an order that permanently lowered the passing score by 50 points. (Learn more about the announcement in our blog post here!) This brought California’s new passing score to 1390, which is behind Alaska and Virginia, both requiring a 1400 passing score. That means California went from the second toughest exam by passing score to the fourth toughest.

While the score was lowered to 1390, that number represents a score higher than many California law school deans recommended. In 2017, California law school deans requested that the cut score be reduced to between 1330 and 1360. A cut score between 1330 and 1360 would have put California in line with the national average.

If you’re wondering what the primary reason for lowering the score is, let us explain.

Basically, California wanted to increase the pass rate amongst minority test-takers. Several extensive studies found that the 1440 cut score had a disparate impact on minority law graduates. This in turn impeded the flow of diverse attorneys into the practice of law. For reference, California’s overall population is comprised largely of minority groups. 60% of California’s population is classified as belonging to a minority group, however, 68% of California attorneys are white.

While not officially stated by the California State Bar, the revised score could also have been caused by a number of other reasons. First, the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on more than just the legal industry throughout the United States. With a shift in remote learning and a remote Bar Exam, California may have wanted to offset these difficulties. Second, California has lost a number of ABA-accredited law schools in recent years. These schools suffered from very low pass rates and lost their ABA accreditation as a result. With a lower cut score, California may have also intended to stop the loss of ABA-accredited law schools.

2. Retroactive State Bar Admission

More recently, in January of 2021, the California State Bar released an order allowing retroactive admission to the state bar. That’s right, if you previously failed the Bar Exam and chose not to take the test again – hope remains. Specifically, if you took the Bar Exam between 2015 and 2020 and scored between 1390 and 1439. If so, you can obtain a license to practice law in California if you complete 300 hours of supervised practice.

This move follows California’s decision in August of 2020 to deny retroactive admission. The move also follows California’s October 2020 Provisional Licensure Program. Under that program, 2020 law school graduates who did not sit for the Bar Exam were allowed to practice law. The catch was that these students were required to be supervised by a licensed attorney until June of 2022. In addition, 2020 law school graduates have until June of 2022 to take and pass the Bar Exam. California’s decision to allow retroactive admission applies regardless of whether an applicant attended law school. The decision is anticipated to apply to roughly 2,000 previous Bar Exam applicants.

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