The Oregon Supreme Court has decided to lower the score required by aspiring Oregon lawyers to pass the bar exam — The Daily Emerald, University of Oregon's student paper, reported earlier this week.
Last year, 58 percent of the aspiring Oregon lawyers taking the bar exam passed.
In an interview with the Daily Emerald, the Vice President of the Faculty Senate Bill Harbaugh (who also writes the blog UO Matters) says that lowering the bar requirement will mean a substantial increase in the number of practicing lawyers in Oregon.
"This turns out to be a very big change," Harbaugh told the Daily Emerald. "It would have increased the pass rate for July 2016 from the 58 percent it was to 68 percent—meaning 49 people who failed under the old score would have passed had the new score been in place."
UO Matters reports that the score change may be an effort from Oregon law schools to attract more lawyers to the state and get more funding for their programs.
The size of law school graduating classes across the country have declined roughly 20 percent in three years, according to the most recent data, meaning more competition for schools looking to recruit students.
Critics of the change also say that Oregon will now be graduating less prepared lawyers, and adding more job seekers to an already saturated field.
According to documents acquired by the watchdog blog UO Matters, the deans of three Oregon law schools—University of Oregon, Lewis and Clark and Willamette University— write that lowering the score won't necessarily mean less prepared lawyers because the bar exam isn't the only test new lawyers must pass.
Before even being admitted to law school students must pass the standardized LSAT. But, as the Daily Emerald reported, the LSAT scores for students entering Oregon's three law schools have decreased two to four points over the past five years.
Also at issue is the process by which the score change was voted into place—and the reason.
In a letter to the Board of Bar Examiners, the three deans sent a request that the passing score for the bar exam be lowered from 284 to 266.
UO Matters reports that Board of Bar Examiners held a closed door executive session to vote on whether it would recommend changing the passing bar exam number to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The board did not respond to UO Matters' request for records of meeting material. It settled on a passing bar score of 276.
The deans' letter, along with a letter of recommendation to change the bar score from the board's chairman, Jeffrey Howes, was sent to Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer.
On May 3, the Oregon Supreme Court accepted the request to change the requirement for becoming a practicing attorney.
The court voted on the score change during a 70-minute public meeting, where it was one of 30 agenda items. The Daily Emerald requested transcripts of the meeting and were provided a "non-specific page of minutes detailing the events of the meeting," and no record of whether votes where cast.