Dear UC Hastings Community,
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am writing with news and a few thoughts about the California Bar exam results from this past July.
This year, the news is mixed: UC Hastings Class of 2018 continued a two-year trajectory of steadily improving performance relative to the state average; but the benefits of our recent educational reforms haven’t yet been fully realized and the California pass threshold or “cut score” continues to burden graduates who would be welcomed into the practice of law in nearly every other state.
As you know, we have been working hard to improve our school’s average performance by, among other things, requiring more upper division bar courses, giving closed book exams to train students how to memorize, teaching legal analysis iteratively and more explicitly across the curriculum, and providing more post-graduation coaching and other support for our graduates studying for the Bar Exam.
These efforts are beginning to pay off. Whereas the overall July 2018 California Bar Exam first-time pass rate declined by 6% for ABA accredited schools, from 70% in 2017 to 64% this year, the UC Hastings first-time pass rate declined by about 2% to 60%, and was 61% for first-time test takers from the Class of 2018. This is an encouraging trend and one that continues our progress from last year. I congratulate our 2018 graduates who passed the exam and my heart goes out to those who did not.
I have long been a critic of the California bar and am now convinced more than ever that the long-used cut score for establishing the pass/fail line is unconscionable and must be changed. California has a cut score (i.e., the score needed to “pass” the exam) of 144. We are the only state to have a cut score over 140 other than Delaware (where 172 applicants took the bar in July 2018 compared to California’s 8071). The median score needed to pass nationwide is 135.
In New York, the state with a legal practice most like California’s in scale and complexity, the cut score is 133. In California, the July 2018 pass rate for first-time takers from California’s ABA accredited law schools was 64%. In New York, the comparable rate was 83%. No evidence suggests that exam-takers from ABA accredited law schools in New York were more qualified than those in California; in fact, evidence suggests the contrary. Graduates of California law schools passed the New York bar at a rate of 85%; and, compared to the 64% rate in California for the state’s ABA accredited schools, the rate for out-of-state schools was only 58%. The fact of the matter is that our graduates, and the graduates of our sister schools, are better prepared for passing the bar than most law graduates in the United States. Indeed, based on an assessment conducted in 2016, if the New York cut score were applied to the class of 2018’s exams, UC Hastings would have had a pass rate over 83%.
California’s practice is untenable and must change. And I am working to bring change at the state level, pursuing both legislative engagement and collaborating with others similarly distressed about this egregious situation. However, whatever the state might do, we must continue to be vigilant in ensuring that our students have the skills to pass this basic licensure exam.
We’ve done much already to ensure our students’ success, as indicated by our bucking the state-wide trend this year. We will continue to do our utmost to support our students in every way possible, from ensuring a curriculum that produces excellent lawyers to providing the tools to get through the bar exam.
I am so incredibly proud of all of our graduates and have the utmost confidence in their capability and promise to be extraordinary lawyers.
I wish our current students the very best of luck on their exams, and the entire UC Hastings community warm wishes as we enter the holiday season.
David L. Faigman
Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law
200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Professor, UCSF School of Medicine (Psychiatry)