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News from The New York State Bar Association

For more information: Frank J. Ciervo, 518-487-5532, fciervo@nysba.org

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT TESTIFIES
AGAINST RAISING PASSING SCORE ON BAR EXAM

Association has seen nothing that indicates any direct connection between the exam and lawyer competency, but sees potential for disparate impact on minority candidates for the bar.

ALBANY, NY -- (05/23/2005; 1200)(EIS) -- Lacking any studies that tie lawyer competence to an increase in the passing score on the bar exam, the state Board of Law Examiners is nonetheless pushing ahead its plan to raise it from 660 to 675, said New York State Bar Association President Kenneth G. Standard of Chappaqua (Epstein, Becker & Green, PC) at a joint legislative hearing held today in Albany.

Highlights of Standard's testimony follow:

"The Board of Law Examiners started with what we believe is the questionable assumption that the New York Bar examination as it now exists adequately tests lawyer competence. We are aware of no study that supports that premise. While we do not question the Board's sincerity, we... question its action.

"The Association has two primary concerns about the increased passing score: the lack of any demonstrated connection to competence and the potential serious damage to diversity...

"The deans of every New York law school opposed the proposal, contending that there was no showing that the increase was warranted or that it would result in greater competence among new lawyers.

"Unfortunately, without conducting the requisite studies or offering any additional justification, the Board subsequently announced that its increase would be implemented over a three year period starting in July 2005.

"A Florida study revealed that increasing the passing score for their examination would further widen disparities between minority and white lawyers' passage rates.

"I am here today to do more than express concern about the action taken by the Board... I am also here to announce that our Association is taking action of its own.

"We have organized a distinguished committee to take a fresh look at the Board of Law Examiners' and the bar exam's gatekeeper function and will examine alternative methods of determining lawyer competency in New York state."

The special committee will publish a report of its activities, findings and recommendations when its work is completed.

Fruitlessly, in November 2004, the NYSBA passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition to an increase in the passing score until studies could be conducted; insisted that the board make public an record of support or opposition to its proposal; and asked the Court of Appeals to review the matter and work with the board to ensure compliance with its request before any increase is implemented.

The more than 71,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, the Association's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for nearly 130 years.