Race-ing the Bar: The Racial Construction of Merit & the CA Bar Exam

October 21, 2020 4:30 PM - 6:00 PM

Please join us for a conversation about new research: "An Empirical Study of Bar Exam Cut Scores and their Impact on Disparities and Diversity in the Legal Profession" by Victor D. Quintanilla, Sam Erman, & Michael Frisby.

Presenter: Professor Victor D. Quintanilla, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Discussants: Professors Devon W. Carbado & Cheryl I Harris, founding faculty members of Critical Race Studies at UCLA Law
Moderator Professor Laura E. Gómez, CRS Faculty Director and founding faculty 

Research Summary: The choice of a bar exam passing score ("cut score") is also a choice about the legal profession's racial and ethnic makeup.  That is the finding of our recent empirical study of all California bar exam takers across 21 consecutive administrations of the California bar between 2009 and 2019 (n = 143,198 unique bar exams taken, including n = 85,727 unique examinees).  We determined which examinees during the period passed (or would have passed with the scores they earned) at the actual 1440 cut score and at simulated cut scores including the national median cut score of 1350 in 2009.  The California cut score of 1440 produced stark racial and ethnic disparities; whereas 80.5% of White applicants eventually passed the bar exam during the period, just 53.1% of Black applicants did.  A lower cut score would have substantially reduced the racial and ethnic disparities of the bar exam.  If California had chosen the national median cut score of 1350 in 2009, for example, 89.5% of White applicants and 70.1% of Black applicants would have passed.  Similar reductions would have occurred in the Latino/White and Asian/White gaps.  Setting the cut score at 1300, as some states have done, would have reduced all three gaps between Whites and groups of color by nearly half.  In sum, selection of the nation's highest cut score has produced cohorts of new lawyers who are dramatically less diverse than California's majority-minority population.

Please register here: https://ucla.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_BhGbasz7SLqkmiZ8lS5juA