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Metropolitan News-Enterprise

Monday, November 22, 2004

State Bar Exam Pass Rate Remains Below 50 Percent

By a MetNews Staff Writer

Fewer than half of those who took the July 2004 general California bar exam passed, the State Bar reported Friday, marking the second consecutive year in which that was true.

A total of 8,062 applicants took the test and 3,887, or 48.2  percent, passed, the lowest rate for the summer examination in at least 18 years. The rate is down from last year’s 49.4 percent, which was down from 50.5 percent the year before.

The test is given twice each year to law school graduates and a handful of others who are eligible to sit for the test. The full pass list appears in a supplement to today’s MetNews and is now available on the State Bar’s website at www.calbar.org.

Passing the exam does not by itself guarantee admission to the bar. Prospective lawyers must also pass a separate professional responsibility exam, receive a positive determination of moral character, and show that they have not been reported by local district attorneys for being in arrears in child support payments.

Successful applicants who meet all of those criteria may attend oath ceremonies, which will be held in various locations around the state, or may make private arrangements to be sworn in immediately by a state court judge or commissioner, a Court of Appeal or Supreme Court justice, a notary public, a shorthand court reporter, a member of the Legislature, a county officer or a member of the State Bar Board of Governors.

Applicants in the military may be sworn in by their commanding officers, and applicants in foreign countries may take the oath from the U.S. consul.

Pass rates are typically much lower for applicants who have taken the test before and higher for first-timers.

Of the 5,521 first-time applicants who took the exam last summer, 62.8 percent passed. Of the 2,541 repeaters, 16.6 percent passed.

The pass rates continue to be highest for students from law schools approved by the American Bar Association. Rates were 69.4 percent for first-timers who went to ABA-approved schools in California—down slightly from last year’s 71.5 percent; 65.8 percent for graduates of ABA schools in other states—an increase of 0.2 percent over last year; 23.5 percent for graduates of non-ABA-approved schools that are accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners—a two percent drop; and 9.1 percent for applicants from unaccredited schools, a drop of nearly six percent.

Some applicants were not allotted to a law school because more than a year passed between graduation and the exam. Others studied with attorneys or judges and did not attend law schools, or took correspondence courses.

The examination is also administered in late February each year. Fewer applicants, many of whom have previously failed, take that exam and passage rates on it are usually lower.

In addition to the applicants passing the general bar examination, an additional 131 lawyers already admitted to practice in other states passed a two-day version of the test, including the essay and “performance” portion but omitting the multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination. Lawyers must have actively practiced at least four years in another jurisdiction to take the attorney exam.

Three hundred thirty-eight lawyers took that exam this year, for a passage rate of 38.8 percent, down from 45.5 percent a year ago.

Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company