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Monday, November 23, 2009

July California Bar Exam Pass Rate Drops to 56.4 Percent

By a MetNews Staff Writer
Metropolitan News Company

The pass rate for the July 2009 general State Bar examination was 56.4 percent, a drop of more than five percentage points from last year, the State Bar announced Friday.

The Committee of Bar Examiners said that a total of  8,667 applicants—30 more than last year—took the test, and 4,888—about 500 fewer than in 2008—passed.

Last year’s pass rate of 61.7 percent was the highest since 62.1 percent passed in 1997. The pass rate on the July 2007 exam was 56.1 percent.

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 will appear in a supplement to tomorrow’s MetNews.

Pass rates are typically much lower for applicants who have taken the test before and higher for first-timers. The State Bar said that 6,152 first-time applicants took the exam last summer and 70 percent passed, compared to first-timer pass rates of 75 percent last year, 69 percent the year before, 67 percent in 2006, 63 percent in 2005, and 62 percent in 2004.

Of the 2,515 repeaters—about 200 more than last year—22 percent passed, down from 27 percent last year but higher than the 19 percent in 2007, 15 percent in 2006, and 12.7 percent in 2005.

The pass rates continue to be highest for students from law schools approved by the American Bar Association.

Rates were 79 percent for first-timers who went to ABA-approved schools in California, 69 percent for graduates of ABA schools in other states, 32 percent for graduates of non-ABA-approved schools that are accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners, and 32 percent for applicants from unaccredited schools, or who took correspondence or “distance learning” classes.

All are down one to five percentage points from last year.

Thirty-one percent of repeat test-takers from in-state ABA-approved schools passed, compared with 27 percent of applicants from such schools in other states, 12 percent from non-ABA schools accredited in California, and 11 percent from unaccredited schools.  All of those figures are the same as or lower than last year’s.

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, 107 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 twenty-nine lawyers took that exam this year, for a passage rate of 32.5 percent, down from 43.6 percent last year, 37.3 percent the year before, and 35.7 percent in 2006, but higher than the 28.3 percent who passed in 2005.

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.