Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
California Supreme Court considers applying lower bar passage score retroactively
F1Digitals / Pixabay
California Supreme Court considers applying lower bar passage score retroactively

The California Supreme Court is considering retroactively applying a lower bar exam passing score to the February 2020 exam.

In response to COVID-19, the California Supreme Court has already decided to administer the bar exam online on October 5-6. In its July 16th statement the Court also lowered the minimum passing score from 1440 to 1390 to the new exam to ensure that the exam accounted for the effects of COVID-19.

Since the decision, the Court has received numerous letters from recent law school graduates, professors, and deans urging them to apply the new minimum score to the previous February 2020 exam on grounds of equity. Most recently, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair, Mark Stone, asked the Court to apply the lower passage score retroactively to applicants who sat for the bar as far back as 2015.

In a letter Monday, Stone advocated for applying the lower score to the last five years of tests:

If a 1390 passing score supports minimum competency to practice law today, it certainly did so in the past. Moreover, scores in the last five years are recent enough to ensure that applicants will still retain much of the knowledge they demonstrated on the exam…The retroactive recognition of older bar exam scores benefits both law graduates and the state as a whole. It will provide more fair and humane treatment of the law graduates who have demonstrated sufficient proficiency to practice law by reducing artificial barriers to entry which have disproportionately harmed law graduates of color. Additionally, since the pandemic has only increased the legal needs of Californians, providing more competent and diverse attorneys to represent them should help increase their access to justice.

The Supreme Court is still considering the retroactive application of the lower bar passage score.