California Bar Journal
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No end in sight
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less of length.

Most states now administer a two-day exam. California's test, by contrast, consists of one day of six one-hour essay questions, one day of two three-hour performance tests, and a third six-hour day of multiple choice questions.

The committee proposed to cut the six essay questions to 40 minutes each and to reduce the performance tests to one-and-a-half hours each. Those two portions of the test would be administered in one seven-hour day. The multiple choice section would remain unchanged.

Stark said the test would not be any easier, but would "ease the significant physical and emotional stress" on applicants, save them money by reducing hotel stays near test sites by a day, reduce staff workload and save $400,000 in administrative costs.

Despite the committee's assurances that the results of the shorter exam would be about the same as those produced by a longer test, board members were skeptical. "It sounds like we're dumbing down the exam," said Long Beach governor Matthew Cavanaugh. "This might be a case where it might not be broke and doesn't need fixing."

"I can see the headlines," added Robert Persons, who represents northern California. "Bar dumbs down bar exam."

James Sherwood, representative of the California Young Lawyers Association and likely the board member who took the exam most recently, said, "It's hard for me to fathom that taking a three-hour exam down to 90 minutes wouldn't be easier."

Pat Dixon of Los Angeles, who was a member of the committee before joining the bar board, wondered whether shorter essay questions would mean prospective lawyers couldn't write. President Karen Nobumoto thought shorter questions would be more, not less, stressful.

"To me, the idea of a 40-minute question would freak me out," she said. "You think you're lowering the stress? I beg to differ."

Cavanaugh added that enduring stress is a basic survival skill for lawyers.

Others worried that a less grueling bar exam could increase incompetence among the state's lawyers.

Committee vice chair Samuel Jackson, who is the Sacramento city attorney, nixed that notion. Attorneys don't wind up in the discipline system because of a test, he said. They get in trouble because they "didn't learn what they should be doing when they grew up."

At the end of the day, however, Jackson acknowledged the committee had more work to do.