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California Bar Exam Stays Tough. Now What?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's back to the drawing board for California law schools facing the nation's toughest bar exam.

Twenty law school deans asked the state Supreme Court to make it easier by lowering the "cut score," but the court declined. The deans wanted the change because bar pass rates have tanked.

Other states have lowered the bar, leading to better pass rates, but California law schools will have to find another way. What are they going to do?

What Appeal?

The state Supreme Court is the final authority on the bar exam, so there is no appeal. It's not like there was a real case in the first place.

The law school deans are lodging "complaints," however. UCLA law Dean Jennifer Mnookin said she was "deeply disappointed" by the court's decision. She said a tough bar exam doesn't make better lawyers.

"I, and virtually all my fellow law deans, strongly believe that the current cut score hurts California law students, the diversity of California's lawyers, and that it has far more costs than benefits to our state as a whole," she said.

Of course, that argument failed. It also didn't sit well with 80 percent of California lawyers in a State Bar survey about whether to lower the bar.

What Now?

The situation is more of a problem for law schools than for students. Prospective students -- faced with a tougher legal market -- have a choice: to go or not to go to law school.

And that's the real problem for law schools. Fewer students means less tuition, and it's literally putting law schools out of business. Desperately seeking solutions, many schools have seemingly made a Hobson's choice to lower admission standards.

Arizona Summit Law School, a failing for-profit school, may not seem like the place to go for educational solutions. But with their graduates failing the bar at alarming rates, the school has required students to take mock bar exams and paid them $5,000 for bar prep courses.

Some California law schools, unable to lower the bar any further, will have to consider alternatives.

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