Posted: September 28, 2004
Rules Governing Bar Admissions
Bar Admissions Rule 11-4. Preparation, Grading and Scoring of the Bar Examination. Amend. Increases the minimum score necessary to pass the Utah Bar Examination.
Petition for rule change. The petition refers to exhibits, which can be viewed at the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court or at the office of the Utah State Bar.
I support the change. Two years ago I took the Utah State Bar. I studied very hard and passed easily. Firms I applied at told me that the requirements were so low that anyone could pass. That dissappointed me. I wanted my passage into the Utah State Bar to be something more special–a reward of my diligent study.
Unfortunately, Utah’s requirements for bar passage have been some of the lowest in the country. This change has been long overdue. The Utah Bar has plenty of members; this proposed change puts some added emphasis on quality. I herald the change.
The Utah Bar Exam has gotten easier each year for the last 10 plus years. It is about time we tightened up the pass rate.
A few years back I complained because of the number of new lawyers that were very unqualified. I was told by the Bar that the purpose of the Bar Exam was not to weed out individuals that were unqualified. The person said that once the new lawyer began practicing he/she would be weeded out.
This puts unsuspecting clients at risk! Why should they be the people that control the number of practicing attorneys and be the guinea pigs? I know that I don’t want to go to a physican that is inept. The same should apply to lawyers.
I fully support the change in the score required to pass the exam. Please make the Utah Bar Exam less of a joke.
Like most tests, the bar exam primarily tests one’s ability to take the test, not necessarily their ability to competently practice law. Raising the pass line by a small amount won’t do anything to change or improve the profession.
I have two children currently in law school. Unless there is some very compelling reason to do so, which is not evident to me, I don’t think it is fair to start raising the requirements for bar admission just because someone has suggested it.
Scott Pugsley #2662
As a testing professional and a utah lawyer, I have to wonder about the impetus for the change and which studies, if any, support it.
Increasing minimum score requirements is a unfair and inefficient way to regulate the Utah lawyer population, and reflects a poor understanding of the construction and use of tests.
This is a much needed amendment! In fact, my only suggestion would be to make the necessary score to pass even higher. When I passed the Utah bar, a full 96% of my fellow applicants passed, whereas when I passed the Oregon bar, only 69% did. When I was in law school (out of state), it was commonly known that Utah was among the easiest bars to pass in the nation. In fact, a friend of mine said that to practice in the JAG Corp, only one bar exam must be passed and it is the choice of every applicant as to which state’s exam to take. According to him, it was routinely known among JAG Corp applicants to take the Utah bar because it was cheap and easy. We have one of the highest percentages of lawyers per capita in the nation. Let’s stop being the joke and start being the standard to attain.
Although the goal of helping people find good legal help is a fine one, increasing the bar requirements is not a good approach.
Throughout this country’s history, lawyers have tried to impose restrictions on entering the practice. Always the reason given is to protect unwary consumers against unqualified or scoundrel lawyers. Long experience has tought us that the market does a much better job of informing consumers. Reputation and references are perfectly adequate ways to choose a lawyer.
Prohibitting a person from entering a profession does nothing to improve the information available to consumers about the quality of a lawyer. Who, afterall, hires a first year attorney? Next to no one. They hire experienced lawyers with proven experience. Those experienced lawyers, in turn, hire the new lawyers and train them over time. From there, the proof is in the pudding. Either the new lawyer becomes competent or doesn’t. Cutting off their ability to grow in the profession does nothing that the market does not do better.
If we really want to help this “apprentice to professional” system, we should just publish the bar scores of each individual taking the test. This would:
— Add real information to a firm or person looking to hire a lawyer (in addition to school, grades, resume, LSAT)
— Encourage bar applicants to get the highest score possible and study like mad
— Encourage bar applicants to be prepared the first time they take the exam, since all scores will be public (whether they pass again later)
Because this much better path is available, there is only one remaining reason to raise minimum bar exam scores — barriers to entry — to keep legal fees up. This selfish motivation has always been the real reason to limit entry into the profession. Again, though, this is ineffective and short sighted. The Utah legal market may be oversaturated in a strict numerical sense. However, good lawyers do fine and raising the scores would not diminish the supply of competent talent. The supply is high simply because more good lawyers choose to live here than the sluggish economy can afford to pay at California rates. If we want to increase the rates, we have to have more profitable businesses. The best way to do that is to make business easier, not to restrict one of its key professional needs.
Please reconsider this rule change. Please just publish the scores instead.
I wish to bring two items to the Court’s attention as it considers the proposal to raise the “cut score” for the Utah State Bar Examination.
First, in an August 22, 2003 memorandum to the Board of Bar Commissioners, Deans Hansen and Matheson addressed why the proposal to raise the cut score is premature because there is not an adequate evidentiary basis to do so. A copy of this memorandum is Appendix 2 to the Bar’s Petition to Amend the Rule.
Second, Professor David Thomas of the J. Reuben Clark Law School is willing to assist in a study of the relationship between lawyer competency and the bar exam in Utah. His recent scholarship has focused on similar issues, and last month he attended the Joint Working Group Conference on Examining the Landscape of Legal Education and Bar Admissions.
As stated in the August 22, 2003 memo, no study of the relationship between lawyer competence and the bar exam has been conducted in Utah. This research is needed as a basis for reform of bar admission in our state.
Dean Scott Matheson has reviewed and concurs in the foregoing statement.
Dean, J. Reuben Clark Law School
Brigham Young University