UC Hastings Leads Nevada Bar Exam Study

In partnership with the Nevada Supreme Court, the State Bar of Nevada, and the UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law, UC Hastings’ Chancellor and Dean David Faigman and Assistant Chancellor and Dean Jenny Kwon are collaborating with the AccessLex Institute on a research study surveying recent admittees to the Nevada bar on their skills and knowledge as lawyers. The goal of the study is to evaluate whether and to what extent passing the bar exam is a true predictor and assessment of such lawyering skills.

Lawyers who passed the Nevada bar exam between January 2014 and February 2020 are invited to take the survey by October 15, 2021. In exchange for completing the 15-minute survey, participants will receive three CLE credits and a $10 Amazon gift card.

“A key question remains as to whether the tool we use to allow law school graduates to practice law, the bar exam, is in fact a fair measure of the skills and knowledge required to be a great attorney. This study of the lawyering skills of the Nevada bar exam takers is likely to have implications on bar exams nationwide,” Faigman said. “We’re at an exciting point in the research process and we invite lawyers recently admitted to the Nevada bar to participate in this important survey assessing their lawyering skills.”

The implications of this study will go beyond the state of Nevada. Faigman has long been a leader in the call to reform the California bar exam, which presents a high hurdle for people who want to practice law in the state. For decades, California had one of the nation’s most difficult bar exams, with a passing score, a.k.a. “cut score,” of 144. (The nationwide average is 135; New York’s cut score is 133.) The California Supreme Court moved to permanently lower the state’s cut score to 139 last year, a decision that has already yielded a fairer playing field for California’s law graduates and one that was widely applauded by law school deans, including Faigman.

However, more information is needed about whether the bar exam—and particularly the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)—is a valid predictor of the skills and knowledge lawyers need to practice law. If the exam is considered a valid predictor, where should the cut score be set? Nevada has its own history of experimentation with bar reform, from lowering its cut score and removing an essay question in 2017 to eliminating the MBE in 2021. Hearing from Nevada’s recent admittees will provide empirical data to help inform the future of the bar exam in Nevada and beyond.

The newly formed California Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the Bar Exam has reached out to the Nevada bar exam study team, and has invited them to present their findings, which they hope to do once their research is complete.