1st Online Bar Exam In Calif. Attracting Record Numbers

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (August 19, 2020, 10:18 PM EDT) -- The State Bar of California's plan to administer its first bar exam online is attracting a record number of applications, with at least 12,000 prospective attorneys having signed up for the October test, the organization said on Wednesday.

According to California Bar spokesperson Teresa Ruano, 12,000 applications is a record and compares to the 8,200 applicants who took the 2019 July exam and 8,600 the year before.

The new online exam comes after the California Supreme Court in July announced it would permanently lower the passing score from 1440 to 1390, which could also be a motivating factor in so many applicants lining up for the exam.

In May, the California Bar said the February bar exam had garnered its lowest-ever pass rate. Of more than 4,200 test-takers, only 26.8% — about 1,100 people — passed, according to data released May 8. The previous record low was set in February 2018, when a pass rate of 27% was recorded.

Passing the exam, which is administered twice a year, is required to practice law in the state. The second test date, typically in July, draws more applicants, mostly law school graduates taking the exam for the first time. The February exam has historically seen a lower pass rate in California.

This year's second exam was initially slated for July. The test was postponed by the high court in April and moved to September, citing "enormous challenges" stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, and was later moved to October. The California Bar said it will allow for testing accommodations that cannot effectively be provided remotely at limited in-person testing locations.

In July, Supreme Court Clerk Jorge Navarrette in a letter to State Bar Chair Alan Steinbrecher directed the bar to create a provisional licensure program for 2020 law school graduates allowing them to practice specified areas of law under the supervision of a licensed attorney until they can take and pass a California bar exam.

California isn't the only state grappling with when and how to administer the bar exam due to COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners canceled an exam that had been scheduled for Wednesday after repeated problems with the testing software, sending law school graduates scrambling to figure out whether promised job offers will be withdrawn and how they will pay for expenses until a new exam date in October.

Also earlier this month, Pennsylvania's chief justice said that despite the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the state would not sign off on a plan to allow this year's law school graduates to begin practicing without taking the bar exam.

--Additional reporting by Matt Fair, Carolina Bolado and Hailey Konnath. Editing by Nicole Bleier.

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