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Should the California bar pass-rate threshold be relaxed?

Yes. No. Maybe.

Those quick answers to the above-posed headline query in today’s blog post instantly reveal the all-over-the-map attitudes of surveyed individuals who have more than a passing interest in the matter.

California’s bar exam has long been known as the benchmark example of tough sledding for lawyers seeking to gain professional licensure. Although some state bars routinely offer exams that yield 90 percent-plus pass rates for test takers, California’s pass rate is stunningly lower than that. In 2016, for example, nearly six of every 10 would-be attorneys failed to garner a passing score.

Such a low rate has understandably brought concerns, especially — and understandably — from individuals who fail the exam (sometimes repeatedly) and officials from state law schools where graduates have historically not done well clearing the bar hurdle.

Currently, the California Supreme Court has authority over bar scores, and it is remaining silent on where it thinks the score cutoff should be. The state’s Committee of Bar Examiners wants retention of the status quo. Another bar body wants a lower passage point adopted. As noted, various schools favor an easier exam. So, too, do most recently surveyed test takers.

Interestingly, about 80 percent of many thousands of currently surveyed California attorneys think that the pass rate should remain precisely where it is right now. Many practicing lawyers reportedly feel that a truly tough vetting process protects the public from unqualified lawyers and lessens instances of legal malpractice for an industry in which integrity is already questioned to a degree by some.

“[T]he public’s erosion of confidence in the profession will not be helped by lowering the cut score,” said a bar principal recently.