California Supreme Court Clarifies Rules

Gary Masellis,
BARBRI Western Regional Vice President

California Supreme Court clarifies rules regarding power to set passing score on the bar examination.

According to a recent media advisory from the California court system, the Supreme Court has amended the California Rules of Court to make it clear that only the court has the authority to set the minimum passing score on the California Bar Exam. Why is this important? Because the California Committee of Bar Examiners has historically set the minimum passing score or “cut score” on the state bar examination.

The ABA Journal reports:

According to California courts spokesman Cathal Conneely “the high court has always had these powers, which are part of the court’s inherent power to admit people to the practice of law in California. Thus, he says, this clarifies rather than changes the rules. “The new rules are meant to ensure that all committee-adopted admissions rules and procedures will be submitted to the court for review and approval.”

Declining California bar exam pass rates have continued to raise questions about the minimum passing score. California has the second highest minimum passing score in the nation, prompting the State Bar to review its exam and grading system and investigate potential causes.  In February of this year, after receiving a letter from 20 ABA-accredited law school deans in California requesting that the cut score be lowered, the Supreme Court directed the State Bar to report its findings and recommendations as soon as practicable, no later than December 1, 2017.

According to a series of recent tweets by California State Bar Trustee Joanna Mendoza, it appears the State Bar may conclude its investigation next month and report its findings to the Supreme Court by September.

The next step after the State Bar reports its findings: The high court will determine whether the minimum passing score should be lowered, and if so, whether a new lower score should be retroactively applied to the July 2017 California bar exam. So, stay tuned.