California State Bar accidentally leaks details of upcoming exam

The exam will still go on Tuesday and Wednesday with everyone now knowing what topics will be addressed.
Image: Students take their bar exams at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida in 2007.
Students take their bar exams at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida in 2007.Zach Boyden-Holmes / St. Petersburg Times via AP file

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By David K. Li

The State Bar of California accidentally tipped off law school deans about "general subject matter topics" of its upcoming exam — and now is telling everyone what will be on this week's career-altering tests, the group announced Sunday.

The State Bar normally tells the law schools what topics were covered on the tests after they're taken by aspiring lawyers each February and July.

But the State Bar revealed this sensitive information was somehow sent out on Thursday, well ahead of schedule, to 16 law school deans. The blunder, described as "human error," was only discovered over the weekend.

“On Saturday, July 27, we became aware that the State Bar inadvertently prematurely provided deans of several California law schools a list of the general subject matter topics contained in the July 2019 California Bar Examination essay questions and performance test," according to a statement by Donna Hershkowitz, chief of operations for the State Bar.

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"This was in a routine invitation to observe a grading session – the invitation typically goes out after the completion of the exam," Hershkowitz said.

Despite this error, the exams will go on as planned across the Golden State on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Theywent a step further and even announced what the six essay-style questions will cover:civil procedure, remedies within constitutional law, procedures within criminal law, professional responsibility, contracts and evidence.

"Once the State Bar determined that its control over this information had been lost, we decided to release this information in order to provide a level playing field to all," the group said, adding they don't believe any of the deans shared the sensitive information with anyone.

California's bar exam has long been considered one of the nation's most difficult with pass rates consistently under 50 percent.

"It's not like they're saying an exact question will be, 'It involves a guy who rented a truck from car rental company that was defective, etc.' Those are just general subject matters," criminal defense lawyer Steve Cron told NBC News on Monday. "Nothing there seems shocking at all. This doesn't strike me as a problem."

But retired Santa Barbara County prosecutor Patrick McKinley said this year's test-takers will get a leg up by knowing what not to waste time studying. He cited corporation law and divorce and community property provisions as difficult study matter that won't be covered.

"I mean, you're studying until the last minute," McKinley said. "And now, in this case, you know you don't have to worry about community property, which is a b----. That's huge."