They ob­ject to Cal­i­for­nia’s bar exam

Some le­gal ex­perts ar­gue that the state, like New York and oth­ers, should give a uni­form test.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - JASON SONG jason.song@latimes.com Twit­ter: @byj­song

Prospec­tive at­tor­neys in Cal­i­for­nia have to an­swer at least 200 ques­tions dur­ing the bar exam, a three-day marathon that quizzes them on le­gal mat­ters big and small. And, some ex­perts say, the ones that have the least bear­ing on whether they’ll be­come suc­cess­ful at­tor­neys end with the phrase “an­swer ac­cord­ing to Cal­i­for­nia law.”

A grow­ing num­ber of aca­demics is push­ing for Cal­i­for­nia to join states that have moved to a test that fo­cuses on na­tional mat­ters.

The Uni­form Bar Ex­am­i­na­tion was first adopted by Mis­souri and North Dakota in 2011. Since then, 14 states also de­cided to use the test, in­clud­ing New York, where the chief judge said in May that the state would be­gin ad­min­is­ter­ing it in 2016.

Many states could fol­low New York’s lead, es­pe­cially be­cause more peo­ple take the bar there than any­where.

Last year, nearly 15,000 peo­ple took the New York bar exam. Cal­i­for­nia came in sec­ond with about 13,000, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of Bar Examiners.

“It just makes a lot of sense now,” said Derek Muller, a pro­fes­sor at Pep­per­dine Univer­sity who writes on the busi­ness of law.

Muller said the Cal­i­for­nia exam, which con­tains parts of the uni­form bar, is based on “a slightly out­dated no­tion” that at­tor­neys would need to be gen­er­al­ists and be able to re­call large chunks of le­gal knowl­edge.

“The world’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to­day,” he said. “The law is much more spe­cial­ized.”

Er­win Che­merin­sky, the dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, put an even finer point on the need for Cal­i­for­nia to change. “The cur­rent sys­tem ... is in­ef­fi­cient, bur­den­some and, frankly, un­jus­ti­fi­able,” he wrote in a re­cent op-ed in The Times.

But a com­mit­tee of the Cal­i­for­nia State Bar that over­sees the exam isn’t con­sid­er­ing a new ver­sion, although some of­fi­cials have said they would like to shorten the test, which is the sec­ond long­est in the na­tion.

And other law school ad­min­is­tra­tors said they aren’t sure whether Cal­i­for­nia would fol­low the lead of other states.

“I haven’t seen much of an ap­petite” for change, said Robert Ras­mussen, the dean of USC’s Gould School of Law.

Sup­port­ers of the uni­form bar say it’s more stream­lined than other ex­ams. In Cal­i­for­nia, hope­ful at­tor­neys an­swer six es­say ques­tions as well as mul­ti­ple choice ques­tions and two other sec­tions.

The uni­form exam is a two-day test con­sist­ing of a 200 mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tions on the first day and writ­ten ques­tions the sec­ond.

It was de­vel­oped by the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of Bar Examiners, a non­profit group based in Madi­son, Wis., that also ad­min­is­ters other bar tests.

Some states that have adopted the uni­form bar, in­clud­ing New York, also have ad­di­tional com­po­nents that test lo­cal law.

It’s un­clear whether a switch would make the Cal­i­for­nia exam any eas­ier to pass. Fewer than half the peo­ple who took the July 2014 test were suc­cess­ful, the low­est rate in nearly a decade, but in­di­vid­ual states de­ter­mine what score is a pass­ing grade.

Most states have a min­i­mum score of about 260 to pass, out of a to­tal of 400.

Test tak­ers would be able to im­me­di­ately trans­fer their score be­tween states that ac­cept the uni­form bar. At­tor­neys who have suc­cess­fully passed one state bar of­ten have to ap­ply to prac­tice else­where and some­times must take another bar exam.

“It’s crazy that a lawyer from, say, Ore­gon who has prac­ticed law for decades can’t move across the bor­der into Cal­i­for­nia and pick up where he left off,” Che­merin­sky said in his op-ed.

Frank Wu, chan­cel­lor and dean of UC Hast­ings Col­lege of Law in San Fran­cisco, said he hasn’t taken a po­si­tion on whether Cal­i­for­nia should switch bar ex­ams.

“But it’s been the sub­ject of ex­ten­sive dis­cus­sions among deans,” Wu said. “My gen­uine view is the time is ripe to take a se­ri­ous look at it.”

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

ER­WIN CHE­MERIN­SKY, the dean of UC Irvine School of Law, sup­ports a switch to the Uni­form Bar Ex­am­i­na­tion, which fo­cuses on na­tional mat­ters.

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