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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

California Bar Exam Carnage Extends To Out-Of-State Law Schools

California (2016)Following up on my previous posts (links below): Daily Record, How Out-of-State Schools Fared on California Bar Exam:

Newly released data for California’s July 2016 bar exam reveal a strong performance from graduates of most top-tier, out-of-state law schools, while pass rates for students from other programs fell behind.

The test scores, provided to The Recorder, largely mirror those recorded by students of ABA-accredited, California-based schools. Forty-eight percent of all out-of-state law school graduates passed the California test compared to 43 percent of those who went to school in the Golden State. ...

The publicly available records for non-California schools are incomplete. To protect student privacy, the state bar redacted scores from schools where fewer than 11 students took the exam. But the overall pass rates, which dipped to their lowest level in 32 years, suggest struggles with the bar exam also extended to students elsewhere around the country.

Graduates from Ivy League law schools excelled. Students from Yale Law School (96 percent passed), Harvard Law School (88 percent), Columbia Law School (83 percent), University of Pennsylvania Law School (96 percent) and Cornell Law School (95 percent) who took the test for the first time passed in large numbers. As did their counterparts from highly-ranked schools in California, including Stanford Law School (91 percent), University of California, Berkeley School of Law (84 percent) and UCLA School of Law (82 percent).

Here’s how first-time test-takers from several other schools ranked in the Top 25 nationally by U.S. News & World Report fared: Only two of 15 graduates from Boston University School of Law passed the exam; the pass rate for Emory University School of Law was 44 percent; and 58 percent of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law graduates were successful.

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Maybe this is the carnage Trump was talking about

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 24, 2017 2:55:36 AM

Given the intellectual/analytical quality of takers from Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Harvard etc. it is amazing that their pass rates were not even higher. To me this suggests that the CA Bar Exam is an overly harsh screening mechanism that in some ways has absolutely nothing to do with someone's ability to practice law but to serve as a buffer against the "great unwashed" who are still competitive in terms of how their talents and skills match up against the general pool of practitioners but aren't as proficient as some whose main skill is taking exams. I remember several decades ago when Ohio increased the required bar pass score by 10%. To me that was either an economic decision to reduce the number of new lawyers competing against entrenched practitioners and/or a statement that the thousands of lawyers who had been admitted under the previous pass rate system with scores in that "twilight zone" between the old and new pass levels should not have been admitted to practice and should have been required to retake the bar under the new pass level.

Posted by: David | Jan 24, 2017 7:43:42 AM

This news report tells only part of the story of comparisons between CA ABA students' bar passage rates versus ABA out-of-state passage rates. For more than a decade CA ABA students have consistently performed much better on the CA bar than out-of-state ABA students. From 2010-2014 CA ABA students outperformed out-of-state ABA students by a mean of 10% on the CA bar. You may be thinking, well, of course in-state students will substantially outperform out-of-state students since an in-state exam may have components not taught out-of-state. Not so. The CA bar during that period only had 1 subject not covered on most other out-of-state exams. Now analyze the reciprocal relationship. How do out-of-state students perform in relation to other students on their own home state exams. One example is New York. Between 2010-2015 the in-state New York ABA students' passage rate was only a 2.53% mean better than ABA out-of-state students even though the NY bar at that time covered several New York specific topics, including New York Constitutional Law, Family Law, and procedure. But there is an even more important CA in-state vs. out-of-state ABA comparison that needs to be published. The passage rate of out-of-state ABA students on their home state bar is much, much lower than their pass rate on the CA bar. The data sets are sufficiently large to be statistically reliable. For instance, from 2010-2014 115 Wash. U. students (a top-20 law school) took the CA bar. During that time the mean Wash. U. passage rate in Missouri was 95%, but the mean CA passage rate was only 62%, a difference of 32%. Another example is George Washington. During that period 236 George Wash. students took the CA exam. GU's home state bar passage mean for those years was 93%, but those GU students' mean on the CA bar was only 77%, a difference of 16%. None of this should surprise anyone since out-of-state ABA students' poorer performance on the CA exam is principally caused by the CA ridiculous 144 MBE cut score. Your response to this may be "so what"? The problem is that several CA ABA law schools that perform poorly on the CA bar because of that cut score are going to lose accreditation based upon the Council's proposed 75% in 2 year rule. However, even those lowest performing CA ABA law schools perform equal to or better than out-of-state law schools on their own bar exams. For instance, as Professor Anderson, Pepperdine, demonstrated recently, Southwestern had a 38% CA July 2016 pass rate, but based on Southwestern's mean 1406 MBE score, it would have scored a 74% pass rate on the New York July 2016 bar exam. I will soon complete my new study that proposes using an ABA standard of comparative ABA law schools' students' mean MBE scores to determine whether or not a school is meeting the standard of preparing its students to take a bar exam. The advantage of that model over the current and proposed standards is that it eliminates the uncontrollable element of different states' MBE cut scores (145-122) in determining the quality of instruction and the quality of preparation of students to take a bar exam.

Posted by: Bill Patton | Jan 24, 2017 2:21:57 PM

Has anybody done a recent study tracking bar pass rates and LSAT scores?

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jan 26, 2017 9:28:15 AM