University of California Hastings College of the Law Dean Faigman has called out the Bar as a “trade association that masquerades as a state agency” and keeps bar exam pass rates unconscionably low. When I attended Hastings in the eighties, it was generally ranked as one of the top fifteen law schools in the country and it is still highly ranked. I passed the exam right away, right after graduation. (Apparently my classmate Kamala Harris didn’t, but she went on to become AG and soon she will take her seat as a US senator who apparently hasn’t a clue about the Second Amendment; I don’t remember 2A even being discussed in my Con Law class at Hastings, so take the quality claims with a “liberal” amount of salt.) Whether the school is good or bad doesn’t make a big difference on the bar exam — key has always been taking a good bar review course. But this Dean is right — it is very wrong for the Bar to restrict access to this degree. About time someone with high profile said it.
Dear UC Hastings Community:
I write with profoundly disappointing news. Late on Friday I received a letter from the California State Bar that reported that UC Hastings’ July 2016 first-time pass-rate was 51%. This is a horrific result.
Last year, in my very first message to the greater UC Hastings community, I stated that my first priority as Acting Dean would be bar passage. In both 2014 and 2015 we fell below 70%, with the 2015 rate actually falling about a half a percentage point below the State average for ABA-accredited schools for the first time in the school’s history. This, I said, was unacceptable. This year, we fell 11 points below the state average. Needless to say, 51% takes unacceptability beyond the pale.
In response to our declining bar performance, one of my very first acts in office was to call for a faculty retreat to focus entirely on what was to be done regarding the bar. We held that retreat in April. After discussion at the retreat and other work done by the administration, several changes were immediately implemented. Foremost, and in concert with the recommendation of the previous administration, I ordered a reorganization of the several departments that supplement the core academic program and that directly or indirectly support bar success. These departments – academic support, bar passage support, LEOP, and Legal Writing & Research and Moot Court – were consolidated and placed under the supervision and leadership of the Associate Dean for Academic and Professional Success. Morris Ratner assumed that position on July 1 this year. In coordination with a broad spectrum of faculty and staff, Dean Ratner has already done yeoman work, both in evaluating past reform efforts – which our research had already indicated had done little to improve bar performance – and in encouraging and developing state-of-the-art initiatives to turn the tide. Many of these are based on programs proven to be effective at other law schools.
These efforts, and many more that we are currently engaged in developing, will make a difference. It is, however, an inevitable consequence of such efforts that their payoff can only be effective (and their effectiveness assessed) in time. Going forward, I can attest that we as an institution are fully committed to our students’ professional success. Success begins with a passing score on the bar exam.
I am personally and professionally embarrassed by our bar performance. Indeed, I apologize to our graduates on behalf of myself and the institution. I promise to do everything within my power to support those in the class of 2016 who must retake the bar. We will offer both tangible financial support and study group and faculty mentor support. Specifically, UC Hastings will pay for a subscription to the supplemental MBE preparation service Adaptibar.com or the essay scoring bank BarEssays.com for all of our graduates who did not pass the July 2016 California Bar exam. In addition, following this message, Dean Ratner will send our 2016 graduates an email detailing the many other programs that we have developed to support our graduates who must take the February 2017 bar, including a faculty mentor program and on-campus study and group sessions.
As an aside, let me express my utter incredulity with the conduct of the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California. The pass-rate for first-time takers of ABA accredited California law schools was 62%. In comparison, New York’s bar-pass rate was 83%. The California Bar is effectively saying that 38% of graduates from ABA accredited law schools are not qualified to practice law. This is outrageous and constitutes unconscionable conduct on the part of a trade association that masquerades as a state agency.
However shameful the State Bar’s conduct, it does not relieve us of our obligation to fully prepare our students to pass the bar exam. The state average was indefensibly low, yet our rate was 11 points below the state average for accredited schools. Our comparatively poor performance demonstrates that we need to continue to take bold action to improve our graduates’ outcomes. Without question, the job of a law school is to prepare our students to be excellent attorneys. This we do well. UC Hastings is a national leader in legal scholarship and education. Our classroom professors are second to none and we have one of the very best clinical programs in the nation. And UC Hastings has always been, and will continue to be, dedicated to working for the public good.
Yet one cannot be a lawyer if one does not pass the basic certification exam. As a law school, we are obligated to ensure that our graduates have the tools necessary to overcome this threshold hurdle and are prepared for their careers in the legal profession.
Let me take the liberty of quoting the inspirational words of Vince Lombardi: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Quite frankly, when I read the California Bar’s letter, I felt punched in the gut; I got knocked down. But I am up now and ready to fight. I am committed to UC Hastings, past, present, and especially future.
I will conclude with one more quote, this one from that other great coach, Abraham Lincoln: “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”
I am resolved to UC Hastings’ success!
With Best Wishes,
David L. Faigman
Acting Chancellor and Dean
John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California Hastings College of the Law