Tuesday, May 19, 2009
State Bar Reports Lowest February Pass Rate in Seven Years
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Fewer than 34 percent of the 4,084 applicants who took the February California bar examination passed it, the Committee of Bar Examiners has reported.
There were 500 fewer test-takers than last year, and their pass rate was 33.5 percent, according to a preliminary analysis released late Friday by the State Bar. That figure is a seven-year low, and is down from 39. 6 percent last year and 36.8 percent in 2007.
The rate has hovered between 33 and 40 percent since 2002.
Nearly 36 percent of those who took the exam were doing so for the first time, and 47 percent of them achieved a passing score, down from 53 percent in each of the last two years.
The first-timer pass rate was 53 percent for applicants who attended ABA-approved law schools in California and 45 percent for applicants from ABA-approved schools outside the state. Each of those figures is a nine-point drop from last year.
The committee separately accredits some non-ABA California law schools, and 25 percent of the first-time applicants from those institutions passed.
The pass rate on the February bar exam is usually lower than that for the July exam, since many of those who fail the July exam repeat it in February. The number of people taking the February exam is also typically much smaller.
The pass rate on the February exam went into steady decline after 48 percent passed in 1997. It dropped to 33.4 percent, the lowest in over a decade, in 2002, and ran between 35 and 40 percent between 2003 and 2008.
For the 2,626 applicants repeating the bar exam in February, the passing rates were 26 percent overall, 37 percent for applicants from California ABA-approved law schools, 33 percent for applicants from ABA schools outside of California, and 11 percent for applicants from California-accredited-only schools.
The bar examination consists of a multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination, six essay questions, and two performance tests that are designed to assess an applicant’s ability to apply general legal knowledge to practical tasks.
MBE Scores Down
The MBE is a nationwide test, and the mean scaled MBE score for the California exam was higher than the national average for the February exam, as it typically is. The mean scaled MBE score in California was 1383, compared with a national average of 1357, both figures being slightly lower than last year’s.
California also administers an attorneys’ examination, which consists of the essay and performance test sections of the bar exam and is open to lawyers who have been admitted to the active practice of law in good standing for at least four years in another jurisdiction. The committee reported that 361 lawyers took that exam in February and 163 of them passed.
Successful applicants who have satisfied other requirements for admission—those who have not been reported by local district attorneys for being in arrears with family or child support payments, who have received positive moral character determinations and who have received a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination—may be sworn in individually or participate in admissions ceremonies held throughout the state during June.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company