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Legal deans and students push to change California's bar exam




Bob Hutchinson is a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP. Hutchinson reads an excerpt from Lincoln Law Review that he wrote in 1971 during a town hall meeting on toxic PCBs inside Malibu public schools at Pepperdine Law School on Tuesday evening, March 1, 2016. Hutchinson handled lead paint lawsuits.
Bob Hutchinson is a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP. Hutchinson reads an excerpt from Lincoln Law Review that he wrote in 1971 during a town hall meeting on toxic PCBs inside Malibu public schools at Pepperdine Law School on Tuesday evening, March 1, 2016. Hutchinson handled lead paint lawsuits.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Nobody said the pursuit of a law career would be easy, but some lawyers argue it's too hard for law school grads to pass the California bar exam.

It's so hard that the state bar is now considering lowering the minimum score needed to put up a shingle.

David Faigman, chancellor and dean of UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, spoke with Take Two's A Martinez to explain why he believes the California bar scores need a serious cross-examination.

On who's voiced their disapproval of California's current way of approving prospective lawyers

Twenty of the 21 ABA-accredited deans sent a letter to the California Supreme Court, which has authority to supervise the California bar. The Cal-accredited schools sent a letter supporting the deans. The California Assembly's judiciary committee sent a letter to the California Supreme Court supporting the dean's letter. I think it's a general sense in the state that having a pass-rate for the ABA-accredited schools that is so substantially below what every other state in the country does is just unreasonable and doesn't seem to have any firm basis.

On how California's law school system compares to other states

New York this year had an 83 percent pass rate for comparable students. California had a 62 percent pass rate. The reason why there's a difference is not because New York takers are better than California takers.  In fact, the National Conference of Bar Examiners and the Cal Bar Statisticians recalculated the California pass-rate based on the New York standard and found that where New York had an 83 percent pass rate, California would have had an 87 percent pass rate.

On how law students are graded

California uses what's called the cut score. The question of where the cut score is, is essentially a judgment call. When you're in 6th grade it might be a 65, but what California [law schools] use is a 144 cut score. New York uses a 133 cut score. So that's a big difference. California has the hardest, highest cut score of any state in the nation, but one.  But consistently, over time, California is the worst offender when it comes to setting a cut score. The problem is that there is no justification for choosing a cut score that is so high.

Answers have been edited for clarity.

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.