In a late-afternoon blockbuster letter to the State Bar, the Supreme Court postponed the “summer” bar exam for a second time and directed it be conducted online, permanently lowered the exam’s passing score, and ordered a temporary provisional licensure program for 2020 law school graduates that will last at least two years.

The online bar exam is now scheduled for October 5 and 6.  The court said it determined the exam “can be administered and delivered without the need for an examinee to have a high-speed or constant internet connection” and it “strongly encourage[d] law schools to assist those graduates who lack internet access at home, or who have home environments not amenable to two days of uninterrupted examination, by employing the same and similar measures, including the use of school facilities and equipment, that schools have utilized to allow students to complete the Spring 2020 semester.”

The minimum exam passing score will now be 1390, which the court said “is approximately two standard errors below the median recommended cut score of 1439 from the 2017 Standard Setting Study.”  Less than three years ago, the court declined to lower the passing score and suggested that a higher pass rate might instead be achieved by “potential improvements in law school admission, education, and graduation standards and in State Bar testing for licensure, combined with effective regulatory oversight of legal education.”

Just last year, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakuye was noncommittal about lowering the score, saying the court would “take another look” at the issue when “we’ll have more information to consider.”  In today’s letter, the court says its move was “based on findings from recently completed bar examination studies as well as data from ongoing studies.”

The provisional license program is to provide for “a limited license to practice specified areas of law under the supervision of a licensed attorney.”  The program, which will be implemented by the State Bar and is to remain in effect until at least June 1, 2022, is designed “to permit 2020 graduates maximum flexibility” by allowing them “several opportunities to take the exam of their choosing through February 2022 and await the exam results.”

The court said it “has sought the safest, most humane and practical options for licensing law graduates” and that it “seeks a path that ensures the fair and equal treatment of all graduates, regardless of law school accreditation status, while also ensuring that protections remain in place for consumers of legal services.”


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