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
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
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
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,
"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.