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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Board OKs two-day bar exam starting in 2017

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

A proposal to shorten California’s bar exam from three days to two starting in July 2017 won unanimous approval from the State Bar Board of Trustees last month.

The first format change in more than 25 years will bring California in line with a majority of states that offer a two-day bar exam and save $1.1 million a year.

The Committee of Bar Examiners, which oversees admissions and law school regulation, has been studying the change for years as a way to save money and improve efficiency. The committee held a public forum on the proposal in 2013 and recommended a change in March.

The current test for new law graduates includes six one-hour essay questions and two three-hour performance tests. Starting in 2017, it would be trimmed to five one-hour essay questions and one 90-minute performance test. There would be no change to the Multistate Bar Examination, a 200-question multiple choice test given over the course of one day.

Experts hired by the committee concluded that going to a two-day format would improve test quality while maintaining existing pass/fail standards.

The savings in administrative costs will delay the need to raise bar exam fees in the future, said Admissions Director Gayle Murphy. It may also result in shorter grading times for staff, she said.

Murphy said the committee heard from some objectors who expressed concern that a shorter exam is less rigorous. However, the experts said those fears are unfounded. The test is meant to measure competency and not stamina, the experts said.

Trustee Michael Colantuono pointed out that containing bar exam costs will help “address a barrier of access to the profession” and “keep the doors open to our profession as wide as we can.”

On the suggestion of Trustees Gwen Moore and Miriam Krinsky, the board called for a status report after the new exam has been administered for two years to determine whether there were any problems or disparities.

The proposal is subject to consideration by the California Supreme Court, which has plenary authority over bar admissions but has delegated the responsibility for administering the test to the Committee of Bar Examiners.