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There ought to be a law against quakes during bar exam

About 4,000 aspiring lawyers are shaken during the notoriously difficult test.
By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 30, 2008
Most had recently finished three years of law school. Then came weeks of grueling studying. On Tuesday, they laid it all on the line. As many as 4,000 aspiring attorneys filed into convention centers and hotels across the metropolitan area to begin the dreaded California bar exam -- just in time for a magnitude 5.4 earthquake.

There were no injuries, at least not physical ones. And administrators at each of five exam sites -- convention centers in Anaheim and Ontario, the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport and the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles -- elected to forge ahead after a brief interruption.

But it is a notoriously difficult test. Roughly half of the 12,000 people who take the exam each year fail, said Robert Hawley, deputy executive director of the bar. A host of dignitaries have flunked, including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Gov. Pete Wilson, four times and three times, respectively. Some have sued, arguing that the test is needlessly hard, even without distracting little things like natural disasters.

So the State Bar of California braced Tuesday for the likelihood that some of those who fail after completing the test this week will blame not their studies but the quake.

Hawley said the bar will consult with psychometricians -- people who study the science of test-taking, among other things -- to determine whether the results of the test could be affected. But the bar, so to speak, has been set high. Past test-takers have endured earthquakes, power outages and other emergencies.

"While it was momentarily unnerving, I've not heard that there was a significant disruption," Hawley said. "You can't treat Sally different than Johnny just because one person felt the earthquake more than others."