California already signaled that they were interested in an online bar exam to avoid the catastrophe of jamming applicants into a convention hall. But now we finally have word that the state is going remote and the news comes with a bit of an unexpected twist.
First things first, here’s what the California bar examiners are going to be doing now:
The California Bar Exam will be administered online on October 5-6;
The court directed the State Bar to extend registration for the October exam through July 24;
The court permanently lowered the passing score from 1440 to 1390;
The court directed the State Bar to expedite creation of a provisional licensure program under supervision to 2020 law school graduates—effective until they can take and pass a California bar exam, and expiring no later than June 1, 2022.
The decision to lower the cut score — permanently — is a huge victory for common sense. Under the circumstances a temporary reduction seemed prudent, but addressing the problem for the long haul is great news. California’s prior cut score made a mockery of the idea that the exam is about protecting the public. Applicants who could easily serve the public in other states were cut out of the profession by a score that always seemed more about artificially capping the profession than guaranteeing competency. A policy that exacerbated the state’s significant access to justice problem and damaged efforts to diversify the profession with many minority candidates logging scores that would easily pass in New York but left them on the outside in California.
Dean David Faigman of Hastings lauded the decision:
The decision was rather more than I thought that I could hope for, and certainly more than I expected. I am deeply grateful to the California Supreme Court for this decision, which takes into account the needs of the candidates for the bar and ensures protection for the public. It is a sensible and fair outcome.
It is a better result than trying to force an in-person exam in a few months.
But this option is still fraught with peril. Access to reliable internet and locations devoid of interruption will still be substantial problems for applicants. As will unresolved issues over remote proctoring, which could include AI proctoring software that might run afoul of local laws.
There may be many more changes to this process before October.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.