California Bar Exam: Tricky Changes in the Essays and PTs

Hi all,

The California state bar website has yet to publish their released answers to the July 2018 bar exam. In the interim, I am reviewing the July 2018 bar essays and performance test. I am discovering some rather significant changes in what is tested, and it is kind of tricky.

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You can view the essay and performance questions from July 2018 on the California State Bar website, here is a link to the July 2018 bar exam questions.

Something that really stands out about this most recent exam is the focus on California specific material. It has always been the case that the California bar examiners like to test California specific issues on the essays. But, we are seeing some firsts now.

For example, on the professional responsibility exam a lawyer took on the representation of two clients in a criminal matter. While there are many issues on this exam, one of the issues is the fee and whether it is a contingency fee in a criminal law case. This has never been tested on the essays, at least not to my knowledge. The significance of this to me is that the California bar exam is definitely leaning more towards California specifics than before.

While the professional responsibility essay from July 2018 has many issues. The call of the question does nothing for the examinee to clarify what needs to be addressed. So you are basically on your own.

This type of open call is common on the California bar exam and it presents problems for many examinees because they simply are not prepared to generate their own issues and approach on exam day without at least a few specific prompts.

I think many examinees might miss this issue. But, hopefully examinees would recognize the problem of the fees and how it should generate a discussion of taking on a client on a contingency basis in a criminal matter. This is not allowed under the ABA but, it is allowed in California. The bar examiners would expect you to discuss this distinction between the California rules and the ABA rules. This California distinction has never been tested on the essays.

So, what does this mean for future California bar exam takers?

There are many California distinctions that have not yet made it to the essays. It has typically been a repeat of the usual suspects in terms of California distinctions on the essays. But, this most recent exam makes it clear that the bar examiners are changing it up a bit. So, in order to be prepared to pass the California bar exam, you will definitely need to have the California distinctions down.

An example of the many California distinctions in Evidence that the California bar examiners have yet to test is in the area of subsequent remedial measures. Typically, subsequent remedial measures are not admissible unless to show ownership or control. However, in California there is a distinction made when it is a products liability case. If it is a products liability case, evidence of subsequent remedial measures IS admissible. This has never been tested on the California bar. But, someday it will.

I will provide more as I continue my review of the past exams.

Good news about the 90 minute performance test!

The California bar examiners seem to have settled into a pretty standardized performance test on this fairly new two-day bar exam. The first testing of the performance test in the 90 minute format was a pretty thick packet. However, the most recent performance tests are much more manageable. For example, the July 2018 performance test library packet consisted of 4 1/2 pages. That is very do-able when you compare it to 12 or 13 pages. The performance test is still challenging, but the reduction of material that you have to read allows much more time for the set up and writing of the performance test. This is very good news.

Once the California bar examiners post their released answers, I will provide a link to the questions and answers in a post. These past answers are the best resource for figuring out what the California bar examiners want to see in your writing.

I am currently working with students for the February 2019 bar exam. If you want to start early, you can email me at:

Wishing all who are waiting for bar results for the July 2018 bar exam the very best of luck!

Lisa Duncanson
Bar Exam Guru
Founder/Program Director
Bar None Review