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California Legal Commission Weighs In On Changes To State Bar Exam

CA joins several states in finding ways around upcoming changes to the national bar exam

By Evan Symon, February 27, 2023 5:02 pm

The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the Bar Exam, a group consisting of members from the State Bar of California and the California Supreme Court, announced on Monday that the state would move away from the national bar exam and adopt their own bar exam in the coming years.

In the last several years, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has warned that the current bar exam, the Multistate Bar Exam, would be replaced by 2026. The new exam, called the NextGen Bar Exam, is expected to bring big changes for those wanting to pass the test to officially become a lawyer. The big changes to the test would be more of a focus on legal skills rather than memorization of the law, and a part of the test where performance in legal duties would be judged. Overall, the test would be shorter as well, with questions on things like family law and conflict of laws not being included. Instead, the new bar exam would include more on legal research and legal writing.

The proposed new bar exams have been extremely unpopular with many in the legal community. But, with the National Conference of Bar Examiners, several states have begun developing alternatives or ways around the bar exam. Oregon led the charge last year, with several states following them in recent months. On Monday, California joined the movement to avoid the NextGen Bar Exam when it becomes standard in the next several years, opting to create their own instead.

According to the Commission, they are currently deadlocked on how Californians would become lawyers outside of taking the test. Proposals include those in law school having sort of an apprenticeship under a licensed lawyer first and having law schools give specific classes to allow those taking the class to become a lawyer through them.

Commission members also noted that the current bar exam in the state is already partially under state control. The national Multistate Bar Exam is taken by those seeking to become lawyers, along with a California-centric exam and performance test focused more on state laws.

“We’ve been given a difficult task,” said Commission chair Joshua Perttula on Monday. “The members have differing opinions of how California should move forward on attorney licensure.”

Major changes to the bar exam are rare. In 2017, the bar exam in California was shortened from a three-day exam to only two days. Three years later in 2020, the score to pass the exam was lowered to 1390 from 1440 out of 2000, where it had been since previous changes in the 1980s. But, as many lawyers have noted, the Californian bar exam changes in the next several years will create the largest changes in the pathway to becoming a lawyer in California in decades.

“California has roughly 170,000 lawyers, the second most after New York,” attorney Ash Holt explained to the Globe on Monday. “Thousands pass the bar exam in California each year. So the change to the bar exam, the change how people become lawyers in California, has widespread repercussions. But, at the same time, it should also show just how unpopular those National Conference of Bar Examiners changes are. A lot of states think there is a better way to learn and develop, and states like Oregon and California are trying to see how that is possible.”

“This is one of those things that no one really thinks about outside the legal profession but can be huge, ranging from who exactly can practice law to how many more people can  become lawyers each year. It’s really big.”

Following the Commission’s announcement on Monday, member so the public will now have 30 days to comment on the changes before the Commission is to meet again.

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Evan Symon
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16 thoughts on “California Legal Commission Weighs In On Changes To State Bar Exam

  1. There are probably too many lawyers now–especially in California politics–most of them are Marxist Democrats? “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” from from William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2.

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