Santa Barbara law school president applauds new bar exam passing score
Santa Barbara and Ventura Colleges of Law President Matt Nehmer applauded the California Supreme Court’s decision to permanently lower the minimum bar exam passing score and make other exam accommodations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We join the entire legal education community in acknowledging the Court’s decision to set the cut score at 1390. It’s a win-win all around: law school graduates will face a bar exam that is more fair and aligned with the rest of the nation, and our state will benefit by licensing attorneys that are more diverse and reflective of the communities that they serve,” Dr. Matt Nehmer said in an emailed statement.
The Colleges of Law have campuses at 20 E. Victoria St., in Santa Barbara, and 4475 Market St., in Ventura.
On July 16, the California Supreme Court released a letter to the State Bar of California Board of Trustees Chairman Alan Steinbrecher, which outlined four major measures taken in response to COVID-19.
In addition to lowering the minimum bar exam score from 1440 to 1390, the court announced the next California Bar Exam will be administered online on Oct. 5 and 6. Registration for the October exam will run until July 24 and a temporary provisional license program for 2020 law school graduates is in the works.
According to the letter, provisional licensed attorneys must practice under supervision. The license is effective until the attorney can take and pass a California bar exam or until the license expires on June 1, 2022
Dr. Nehmer said school officials suspected the state Supreme Court would revisit the bar exam format and dates, but they were pleasantly surprised by the permanent score adjustment.
He argued that the new minimum score is more aligned with the minimum scores in other states, but maintains high standards to enter the legal profession.
“Setting the California bar cut score at 1390 will help bridge long-standing gaps around fairness and access. Until now, too many law school graduates who didn’t meet the 1440 threshold, including those at The Colleges of Law, would have passed the bar in 48 other states, and thus be eligible for licensure,” Dr. Nehmer said. He added that the California cut score has historically been an impediment to first-generation graduates, and people of color.
“Now the door to the profession is slightly more open to people of all backgrounds, including those who wish to return to their communities to practice,” Mr. Nehmer said.
While other states, including Louisiana, have adopted diploma privilege, allowing new law school graduates to practice law without taking a bar exam, the state Supreme Court found this solution unworkable because of California’s state and regionally accredited schools.
“Law schools in California, unlike in other states, represent a diverse array (American Bar Association-accredited), California accredited, and California-registered schools. If California were to adopt diploma-privilege criteria used by other states, graduates of nearly four dozen California law schools would not meet those criteria and would be excluded,” California Supreme Court Clerk Jorge Navarette wrote.
Most states only extend diploma privilege to American Bar Association accredited schools.
Dr. Nehmer said the court’s decision appears to be final “in the near term.”