Safeguard or Barrier: An Empirical Examination of Bar Exam Cut Scores

46 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2021 Last revised: 28 Apr 2021

See all articles by Michael Frisby

Michael Frisby

University of Michigan

Sam Erman

USC Gould School of Law

Victor D. Quintanilla

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Date Written: February 25, 2021

Abstract

In 2019 more than forty percent of aspiring law school graduates failed the bar exam. Nearly thirty thousand test-takers otherwise qualified to practice law were, given the score threshold required to pass the exam (the “cut score”), lost to the profession. Had the cut score been lower, many would now be lawyers. This exclusion disproportionately affects members of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups who stand to benefit most from entry into the legal profession. A common defense for retaining or raising cut scores is that doing so prevents lawyer malfeasance. But the bar exam is not designed for these purposes. This paper enters this scholarly and regulatory conversation by testing whether states’ bar exam scores predict lawyer misconduct. If they do not, it would remove one argument against lowering bar exam cut scores to promote diversity and growth of the legal profession. Using data comprising states’ bar exam cut scores and disciplinary records from the American Bar Association between 2013 and 2018, we employ statistical modeling to evaluate the relationship between cut scores and attorney discipline. We find no evidence that higher bar exam cut scores produce fewer complaints, charges, or disciplinary actions.

Keywords: discipline, malfeasance, bar exam, diversity

Suggested Citation

Frisby, Michael and Erman, Sam and Quintanilla, Victor David, Safeguard or Barrier: An Empirical Examination of Bar Exam Cut Scores (February 25, 2021). Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming, USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS21-17, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 21-17, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3793272 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3793272

Michael Frisby (Contact Author)

University of Michigan ( email )

Sam Erman

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Victor David Quintanilla

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
146
Abstract Views
800
rank
241,950
PlumX Metrics