Paul L. Caron

Friday, November 27, 2015

More Bar Exam Carnage: California

CaliforniaFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):

Los Angeles Times, Pass Rate for Summer California Bar Exam Hits Historic Low: Under 47%:

For the second year in a row, the percentage of people who successfully took the summer California bar exam fell to a historic low, with less than 47% passing, according to state statistics. Last year, only 48.6% of those who took the exam made the grade, the first time the passage rate dipped below half in nearly a decade.

California's decrease is small compared with other states'. Oklahoma's bar passage rate fell by 11 points to 68%, and New Mexico's decreased by 12 percentage points to 72%. ...

The downturn comes as law schools have been struggling to attract students. One recent study found that more campuses have been accepting incoming classes with larger numbers of students with poor LSAT scores. Eight out of California's 21 nationally accredited law schools [California Western, Golden Gate, La Verne, McGeorge, Southwestern, Thomas Jefferson, Western State, and Whittier] recently admitted classes that have a "high," "very high" or "extreme" number of prospective attorneys who have a poor chance of passing the bar based on their LSAT scores, according to the study by Law School Transparency ...

At the same time, many alumni are unable to find jobs in the legal profession after graduation, administrators say. As a result, some schools, including Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and UC Hastings have cut class size to try to maintain quality.

"Given declining predictors, even with shrinking classes, we might continue to see pass rates drop in California even further," said Derek Muller, a professor at Pepperdine University who writes on the business of law. ...

Muller and other legal experts say that fewer people pass the California exam because many students need to score higher on a portion of the test to pass overall. In California, as in all other states, bar takers have to finish the Multistate Bar Examination, a 200-question multiple choice test that is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

The mean score for California bar takers was 142.2 this year, about 2.5 points higher than the national average and higher than many states including Pennsylvania and Tennessee, according to Muller. About 71% of Pennsylvania bar takers passed the July bar and about 65% passed it in Tennessee. "California's high cut score means that many test-takers who would pass the bar in another jurisdiction fail the California bar," Muller wrote on his blog, Excess of Democracy.

Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, said that the California exam has always had high standards and schools need to do a better job of educating students. "Schools are going to have to pour more resources into remediation. They're going to have to reexamine their retention policies and see if they should keep certain students in school," he said.

Business Insider, Law-School Grads Are Bombing the Bar, and It's a Sign of Trouble for Legal Education:

Bar-passage rates have plummeted in several big states, the National Law Journal reports, indicating that America's law schools may be accepting less-qualified students than they once did.

In California, for example, passage rates for the exam in July hit the lowest point since 1986, with just 46.6% of total applicants and 60% of first-time test takers passing. ...

In order to boost attendance — and acquire more paying customers — law schools have been forced to admit students with drastically lower GPAs and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores.

"Even though many schools have shrunk their enrollments, there is a greater decline among people at the high end of the LSAT distribution, than at the low end of the LSAT distribution," says Jerry Organ, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. "So it's not only a smaller pool of applicants, but it's now shallower at the high LSAT end."


And according to the Law School Admissions Council's National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study, there's a clear relationship between low LSAT scores — less than 150 — and failing the bar exam.

Though Organ does caution that there's no "magic score" on the LSAT that predicts success on the bar, it is fair to say that students who score lower on the LSAT are less likely to end up passing the bar.

And budding lawyers who can't pass the bar risk losing out in the tightening legal job market. Between 2010 and 2020, the economy will provide 21,880 jobs for new lawyers annually, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2013, citing the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. But more than 40,000 students will graduate from law school each year.

Meanwhile, the average amount borrowed by students attending private law schools has shot up 78% in the last decade, from $70,147 in 2002 to $124,950 in 2011, according to the American Bar Association.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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A modest proposal:

79 schools protested Erica Moeser's determination that today's students are less able than yesterday's. I say we accept that position as truth. Where does that leave us? Today's law schools fail to prepare students and are less able (though way more expensive) than yesterday's.

Posted by: Jojo | Nov 28, 2015 8:17:09 AM