The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the Bar Exam, a group consisting of members of the State Bar of California and the California Supreme Court, announced Monday that the state would be moving away from the national bar exam and introducing its own bar exam in the coming years .
In recent years, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has warned that the current bar exam, the Multistate Bar Exam, will be replaced by 2026. The new exam, dubbed the NextGen Bar Exam, is expected to bring big changes for those who wish to pass the exam to officially become a barrister. The major changes to the test would focus on legal ability rather than memorization of the law, and a portion of the test that would assess performance on legal duties. Overall, the test would also be shorter as questions on topics such as family law and conflict of laws would not be included. Instead, the new bar exam would include more about legal research and legal writing.
The proposed new bar exams were extremely unpopular with many legal professionals. But with the National Conference of Bar Examiners, several states have begun to develop alternatives or ways to bypass the bar exam. Oregon led the charge last year, and several states have followed suit in recent months. On Monday, California joined the movement to avoid the NextGen Bar Exam if it becomes standard for the next few years, opting to create its own instead.
According to the commission, they are currently deadlocked on how Californians would become attorneys outside of the test. Proposals include those who go to law school to do some sort of training with a licensed attorney first, and law schools that offer specialized courses so those who attend the class can become attorneys through them.
Commission members also noted that the current state bar exam is already partially under state control. The national Multistate Bar Exam is taken by those who want to become a lawyer, along with a California exam and a proficiency test that focuses more on state laws.
“We have been given a difficult task,” commission chairman Joshua Perttula said on Monday. “Members have mixed opinions on how California should move forward with the bar’s admissions process.”
Major changes to the bar exam are rare. In 2017, the California bar exam was shortened from a three-day exam to just two days. Three years later, in 2020, the exam passing score was lowered from 1440 to 1390 from 2000, where it had been since previous changes in the 1980s. But as many attorneys have noted, changes to the California bar exam over the next few years will bring about the biggest changes to the California bar journey in decades.
“California has about 170,000 attorneys, second only to New York,” attorney Ash Holt told the Globe on Monday. “Thousands pass the California bar exam each year. The change in the bar exam, the change in how people become lawyers in California, has far-reaching implications. But at the same time, it should also show how unpopular these changes from the National Conference of Bar Examiners are. Many states think there is a better way to learn and develop, and states like Oregon and California are trying to see how that can be done.”
“This is one of those things that nobody outside of the legal profession really thinks about, but it can be huge and range from who exactly can practice law to how many more people can become lawyers each year. It’s very big.”
Following the commission’s announcement on Monday, members and the public now have 30 days to comment on the changes before the commission meets again.