Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

July 2016 California Bar Exam Results:  Nine Law Schools (Including UC-Hastings) Are At Risk Of Failing ABA's Proposed New Bar Passage Accreditation Standard

California State BarThe California State Bar has released school by school data on the July 2016 California Bar Exam.  Here are the results for first time test takers for the 21 California ABA-approved law schools, along with each school's U.S. News ranking (California and overall):

Bar Pass

Rank (Rate)



US News Rank

CA (Overall)

1 (91%)


1 (2)

2 (88%)


4 (19)

3 (84%)


2 (8)

4 (82%)


3 (17)

5 (81%)


5 (28)

6 (72%)


6 (30)

6 (72%)


8 (65)

8 (71%)

San Diego

10 (74)

9 (70%)


8 (65)

10 (66%)

Santa Clara

11 (129)


Statewide Ave. (CA ABA-Approved)

11 (61%)


13 (144)

11 (61%)


Tier 2

13 (57%)


12 (136)

14 (51%)


7 (50)

15 (42%)

Western State

Tier 2

16 (38%)


Tier 2

17 (36%)

San Francisco

Tier 2

18 (31%)

Golden Gate

Tier 2

18 (31%)

La Verne

Tier 2

18 (31%)

T. Jefferson

Tier 2

21 (22%)


Tier 2

The Recorder, By the Numbers: How California Law Schools Fared on the Bar Exam:

Just five of 21 California law schools accredited by the American Bar Association had at least 75 percent of their graduates pass the July bar exam, a proposed new benchmark rate that in coming years could spell trouble for some institutions.

Facing the loss of its authority to accredit law schools, the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar voted in October to tighten bar passage requirements. If the ABA’s House of Delegates approves the new rules at its February meeting, at least 75 percent of a school’s alumni must pass the bar within two years of graduation, instead of the current five-year window. The requirement could start as early as the July 2017 exam.

The overall pass rate for this year’s summer exam was 43 percent, the lowest figure for a July sitting in 32 years. First-time test-takers from ABA-accredited schools did better as a group—62 percent passed. But, with success rates in all groups slipping in recent years, questions abound about how to raise scores to meet the 75 percent threshold. ...

First-time and repeat test-takers from UC-Irvine, UCLA, Stanford, University of Southern California and UC-Berkeley met or passed the 75 percent rate, according to records provided by the State Bar to The Recorder. Seven other schools California-Western, Loyola-L.A., McGeorge, Pepperdine, San Diego, Santa Clara, UC-Davis] had first-time pass rates that ranged from 61 percent to 72 percent, suggesting that their graduates may be able to meet the ABA’s proposed pass threshold within two years.

The nine remaining schools [Chapman, Golden Gate, La Verne, San Francisco, Southwestern, Thomas Jefferson, UC-Hastings, Western State, Whittier] had pass rates below 57 percent. At some campuses [Golden Gate, La Verne, Thomas Jefferson, Whittier], less than one-third of exam-takers passed the bar.

David Faigman, acting chancellor and dean of UC-Hastings College of the Law, said in an email to campus officials and students that the school’s first-time pass rate—51 percent—was “horrific.” ... “As an aside, let me express my utter incredulity with the conduct of the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California,” Faigman wrote, noting that California’s bar pass rate for first-time takers was 21 percentage points below New York’s. “The California Bar is effectively saying that 38 percent of graduates from ABA accredited law schools are not qualified to practice law. This is outrageous and constitutes unconscionable conduct on the part of a trade association that masquerades as a state agency.”

Some scholars have questioned whether the dropping test scores reflect other forces in the market: Are less-capable students attending law school now more than ever as would-be students, shunning the burden of crippling academic debt, pursue other career opportunities? ...

Robert Anderson, an associate professor at Pepperdine University who has studied bar exam issues, noted in a recent blog post that California has the second highest score requirement in the nation for the multistate bar exam. If those who sat for the July exam in California had instead taken the test in New York, 70 percent would have passed based on that state’s scoring, Anderson said.

Update: Above the Law calculated the changes in the school by school results from the July 2015 bar exam:

Only five law schools saw an increase in their pass rate percentage:

1. Stanford (+2.2%)
2. Pepperdine, USC (+1.3%)
4. UC-Irvine (+1.2%)
5. California-Western (+1.1%)

Sixteen law schools suffered a decrease in their pass rate percentage:

1. La Verne (-22.3)
2. Thomas Jefferson (-16.7%)
3. UC-Hastings (-16.5%)
4. Whittier (-15.2%)
5. Western State (-14.6%)
6. Chapman (-14.2)
7. Southwestern (-12.6%)
8. San Francisco (-11.4%)
9. McGeorge (-8.9%)
10. Golden Gate (-8.3)
11. Loyola-L.A. (-4.6%)
12. UCLA (-3.4%)
13. Santa Clara (-3.3%)
14. UC-Davis (-2.3%)
15. San Diego (-1.0%)
16. UC-Berkeley (-0.8%)

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


Do you have the same chart of numbers for the February 2016 bar exam?

Posted by: Steve | Jan 4, 2017 4:45:46 PM

Hold the histrionics. The proposed ABA standard requires that graduates pass "a" bar exam, not that they pass the CA bar exam. The likelihood is strong that any number of schools with CA pass rates below 75% have already met or well surpassed the ABA's proposed standard (if one factors in those passing non-CA bar exams).

Posted by: Lux | Dec 17, 2016 5:07:56 PM

Great to have the supplemental commentary and analysis. Such should be offered up every year, even when specific schools in California fail to perform well.

Posted by: Lux | Dec 14, 2016 11:30:51 AM

Old Ruster & Ted: The entering stats are useful, but any scientist would scoff at the notion of attempting to use a school’s enter class stats to inform bar passage stats. There are too many corrupting variables at play (e.g., transfers out, transfers in, courses offered, courses taken, student diligence, teaching effectiveness, etc.). I’m interested in identifying the key, student-by-student factors that made the difference. Students from Whittier did pass the bar while students from Stanford, Pepperdine, and UC-Irvine were failing it. And it happens every year.

Posted by: Lux | Dec 14, 2016 11:24:38 AM

"Of course there is a correlation between entering stats and bar pass."

Many of your colleagues continue dispute that assertion (funny they also tend to be associated with schools taking woefully low LSAT's/GPA's of late). I assume they hereby stand corrected, and the correlation is now well settled? If so, then can we impute responsibility to schools who take questionable risks on those who stand little chance based upon the well settled correlation between entering LSAT/GPA and bar passage?

Posted by: Anon | Dec 14, 2016 10:48:55 AM

Never the fault of the law schools, is it?

Posted by: Jojo | Dec 14, 2016 7:59:31 AM

Old Ruster: Of course there is a correlation between entering stats and bar pass. That's why Stanford, Berkeley, and other top schools do well largely regardless of what they teach. What would have been more interesting is a comparison of the 2012 and 2013 entering stats. Does the change, as you seem to suggest, account for the change in bar pass rate performance? I look forward to your further analysis.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Dec 13, 2016 11:40:50 PM

For any naysayers who still disbelieve that there is a correlation between low entering LSATs and low bar pass rates (Hello, Dean Faigman!), this table is for you. Thanks to Law School Transparency’s site, I was able to put together quickly this table showing, for each California ABA law school, its California Bar Pass Rate for Summer 2016 accompanied by the school’s LSAT quartiles for its September 2013 entering 1L class.

In general, the higher a school’s LSATs, the higher the bar passage rate. This trend is especially pronounced at the top and bottom ends of the table. The trend is also exaggerated at the bottom end since many of the more academically talented students from the lower-ranked schools to “transfer up” to the higher-ranked schools. These students do not bring their relatively low LSAT scores with them to their new school, but do factor into their new school’s bar passage rate.

Rank %__School________25%__50%__75%
1 (91%)__ Stanford______169___171___173
2 (88%)__ USC__________163___166__167
3 (84%)__ UC-Berkeley___163___167__169
4 (82%)__ UCLA_________162___167__169
5 (81%)__ UC-Irvine______162___164__166
6 (72%)__ Loyola-L.A.____156___159__161
6 (72%)__ UC-Davis______159___162__164
8 (71%)__ San Diego_____156___159__161
9 (70%)__ Pepperdine____154___160__162
10 (66%)__Santa Clara____155___157__160
11 (61%)__Cal-Western____148___151__154
11 (61%)__McGeorge_____151___154__159
13 (57%)__Chapman______155___158__160
14 (51%)__UC-Hastings____155___159__163
15 (42%)__Western State __148___150__152
16 (38%)__Southwestern___150___152__155
17 (36%)__San Francisco __151___153__158
18 (31%)__Golden Gate____147___150__153
18 (31%)__La Verne_______146___147__152
18 (31%)__T. Jefferson____143___146__149
21 (22%)__Whittier________145___149__152

Posted by: Old Ruster from JDJunkyard | Dec 13, 2016 5:05:59 PM

California's State Bar is closing the door. Too many at the party already. Sorry. Try another state.

Posted by: Kneave Riggall | Dec 13, 2016 1:35:55 PM

Is Whittier's performance the worst ever by an ABA accredited school on any state bar exam?

Posted by: Lonnie | Dec 13, 2016 11:51:09 AM