Calif. Law Deans Push For Open-Book Bar Exam In October

By Hailey Konnath
Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.

Sign up for our California newsletter

You must correct or enter the following before you can sign up:

Select more newsletters to receive for free [+] Show less [-]

Thank You!

Law360 (September 14, 2020, 9:34 PM EDT) -- A group of 15 law school deans from around California on Monday urged the state Supreme Court to shift the upcoming bar exam to an open-book test, saying students are grappling with a slew of unprecedented challenges caused by wildfires, COVID-19 and racism.

There is also "great concern over whether and how the remote proctoring will work," the deans said in their letter, which was signed by deans from American Bar Association-accredited law schools at the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University and Santa Clara University, among others.

The deans, led by Pepperdine University School of Law Dean Paul L. Caron, are the latest group to weigh in on the Golden State's plans for the Oct. 5-6 exam. The exam, which was initially slated for July, will be proctored online for the first time.

"The bar exam always is a source of stress for those taking it, but the situation this year is dramatically different," the deans wrote in the letter, which Caron posted on his blog.

There's the pandemic, which has affected many graduates and their families, as well as the "national reckoning with racism and anti-Blackness," the deans wrote. And now, wildfires have displaced some graduates and left many others grappling with the adverse effects of the smoke, they said.

"Administering the exam without remote proctoring and in an open-book manner would decrease the stress for many taking the bar," the deans said. "In addition, there is a non-trivial risk of significant technical issues or snafus in the planned administration that would be substantially alleviated by this alternative approach."

Both Indiana and Nevada administered open-book exams in July, the deans said.

They added that whether the exam should be closed-book in the future is also important to consider.

In August, the California Supreme Court permanently lowered the passing score for the exam from 1440 to 1390. It has thus far refused to retroactively apply the new pass score, although the California Assembly recently passed a nonbinding resolution asking the court to reconsider its stance.

Last week, a nationwide diploma privilege advocacy group asked the state's high court to do away with its exam altogether and permit law school graduates to be admitted to the California State Bar in the meantime. United for Diploma Privilege petitioned the court on behalf of 1,900 supporters listed in the petition.

In particular, the online administration puts examinees at risk of encountering technological difficulties the day of the test, presents privacy concerns and disadvantages test-takers from marginalized groups, UDP said.

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

The summer exam was initially postponed to September, with the state Supreme Court citing "enormous challenges" stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

--Additional reporting by Mike LaSusa. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!