TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Did So Many People Flunk the Bar Exam This Year?

Following up on my earlier posts (here, here, and here):  Bloomberg, Why Did So Many People Flunk the Bar Exam This Year?:

The most recent bar exam test results are in, and they are ugly. In several states, people who took the bar in July were more likely to fail than those who took it last year, and scores on one portion of the test dropped to their lowest point in 10 years.

Are America’s law graduates really getting dumber? The people who put together the bar exam seem to think so.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners, a nonprofit that prepares one of the state-specific multiple-choice sections in which scores dropped dramatically, sent a curt message to law school deans in October. “The results are correct,” wrote Erica Moeser, the group’s president, in an Oct. 23 memo. “The group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013,”

It’s technically true that this year’s crop of grads was “less able” than before, if you use their pre-law-school test scores as a proxy for their smarts. The median LSAT score among students at American law schools has declined every year from 2010 to 2013, according to an analysis by Jerry Organ, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. ...

Organ and additional law professors point to another culprit: a software glitch that affected test-takers for hours in July. ...

As fewer people apply to law school, many programs have accepted less-qualified applicants in order to keep class sizes the same and to sustain their bottom line, says Derek Muller, a law professor at Pepperdine University. “This drop, while bigger than expected, is just a sign for what’s going to come for law schools as the incoming classes continue to decline in quality.”

Legal Education | Permalink


The LSAT is not a proxy for quality. It's one indicator of many evaluations of a person's ability to perform in the first year of law school. It measures little of a person's abilities to represent clients well.

Posted by: Mark P. Yablon | Nov 20, 2014 5:04:31 AM

That matters little to the subject of this article, though, unless you believe that bar exams are a fairly precise measurement of a person's abilities to represent clients well. I would think that the LSAT would be a fairly good indicator of a person's ability to perform on a standardized legal exam, which in turn would be fairly predictive of the person's ability to perform on a bar exam.

Posted by: Dred | Nov 24, 2014 11:44:31 AM