Prospective attorneys in California have to answer at least 200 questions during the bar exam, a three-day marathon that quizzes them on legal matters big and small. And, some experts say, the ones that have the least bearing on whether they'll become successful attorneys end with the phrase "answer according to California law."
A growing number of academics are pushing for California to join states that have moved to a test that only focuses on national matters.
Known as the universal bar exam, the test was first adopted by Missouri and North Dakota in 2011. Since then, 14 other states also decided to use the test, including New York, where the chief judge said in May that the state would begin administering it in 2016.
Many states could follow New York's lead, especially because more people take the bar there than anywhere else. Last year, nearly 15,000 people took the New York bar exam. California came in second with about 13,000, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
"It just makes a lot of sense now," said Derek Muller, a professor at Pepperdine University who writes on the business of law.
Muller said the California exam, which contains parts of the uniform bar, is based on "a slightly outdated notion" that attorneys would need to be generalists and be able to recall large chunks of legal knowledge.
"The world's a little different today," he said. "The law is much more specialized."
Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, put an even finer point on the need for California to change. "The current system... is inefficient, burdensome and, frankly, unjustifiable," he wrote in a recent op-ed in The Times.
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