Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who Is To Blame For UC-Hastings 'Horrific' 51% Bar Pass Rate?

UC-Hastings Logo 3Above the Law, Who’s To Blame For School’s ‘Horrific’ Bar Results? Maybe The California Bar Examiners.:

The California Bar Examiners have sent letters to law schools informing them of their passage rates. For UC Hastings, acting Dean David Faigman was on the receiving end of “horrific” news. The July 2016 passage rate for first-time takers from Hastings was a mere 51 percent.

Holy hell.

Faigman certainly doesn’t sugarcoat it in a message sent to the Hastings community. He calls it unacceptable. He highlights that the school is 11 points below the state average. He outlines concrete efforts the school will make to help those who failed. He explains that he’s already taken steps designed to improve passage rates going forward. You can read his entire message and evaluate his proposals for yourself here. ...

Faigman makes one other subtle — but vitally important — point in his letter that he carefully notes isn’t an excuse, but that deserves attention nonetheless:

As an aside, let me express my utter incredulity with the conduct of the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California. The pass-rate for first-time takers of ABA accredited California law schools was 62%. In comparison, New York’s bar-pass rate was 83%. The California Bar is effectively saying that 38% 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.  [See also More On The California Bar Exam Carnage.]

However shameful the State Bar’s conduct, it does not relieve us of our obligation to fully prepare our students to pass the bar exam.

It doesn’t. At least that 11 percent of students who failed below the state average is on Hastings. But those of us in the industry press do have an obligation to call out how ridiculous the California bar is.

F**k you guys, California Bar Examiners.

Seriously, where do you get off sitting in your gilded tower and pretending your legal market is soooo much more precious than the rest of America’s?  ... Hastings needs to get its act together and produce students equipped to pass this exam in higher numbers. But it’s way past time for the California State Bar to take some responsibility for what’s happening. Because there’s a not insignificant number of fully competent Hastings (and other law school) grads they’ve sacrificed on the altar of clueless protectionism.

This is the third consecutive year that the bar pass rate of Hastings graduates is below the  state-wide average for ABA-accredited law schools and the fifth consecutive year that Hastings' bar pass rank among ABA-accredited law schools is far below its U.S. News California law school rank:

UC-Hastings Bar Passage Results, July 2012- July 2016


Hastings Pass %

CA Pass %


CA Pass Rank

CA US News Rank





































Here are UC-Hastings' admissions statistics for 2010-2015 from Law School Transparency:

Key Stats

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


The LSAT/GPA numbers at this school are the same as at Loyola, yet Loyola has a 76% bar passage rate and Hastings 51%??? Something is clearly wrong here, and I don’t think its the students. Even if Hastings took a greater than warranted risk when choosing the bottom 25% of this class, a pill I find hard to swallow, there is still no reason the bar passage rate should be less than 75%. What’s clear to me is that there is little or no focus on student success. This can be fixed. There is an oversupply of able law professors - hire one!!!! I don’t think “Failman" is going to be the person to turn this ship around, though. He’s part of the problem! This school has been tanking during his tenure. What’s he done? Nothing. I would look at all the students who failed the exam who should have empirically passed and see if there are any common patterns in their curricula. If you can get rid of the bottom x% of students due to performance, why not get rid of the bottom x% of sub-par professors, courses, etc.? Write this into new tenure agreements, etc. And FIX IT!!!! FWIW *most* of the Hastings students of yesteryear would now be competitive at Boalt or comparable. #fixit #makehastingsgreatagain

Posted by: LoveCal | Dec 31, 2016 3:33:26 PM

The academic indicators of the bottom 25% of Hastings Students in 2010 (according to the numbers Prof Caron posted above) are roughly the same as the top 25% in 2015 (and likely higher than the top 25% of Hastings students in 2016). That explains the drop in bar passage rates-- Hastings is, like most other third and fourth rate law schools, taking too many remedial students who simply don't belong in law school because Hastings needs the money to run its wasteful multi-million dollar bureaucracy and pretending that it is the fault of the CA Bar Examiners that its students do so poorly. Despite all his elegant huffing and puffing, Dean Faigman is wrong -- the fault is with Hastings. Take more qualified students, like you used to, and your bar rate will go back up; otherwise it will continue to plummet and at some point Hastings will face an accreditation problem, as it should if it continues to produce such abysmal bar passage rates, which reflect the abysmal quality of its students.

Posted by: Ralph George | Dec 9, 2016 6:14:59 PM

"The mystery lies in the make up of the 25th percentile of the Hastings' entering class of 2013. . . ."

Fair points.

Posted by: Jan | Dec 8, 2016 1:30:50 PM

The mystery lies in the make up of the 25th percentile of the Hastings' entering class of 2013. One suspects it consisted of a higher number folks further from the reported 25th percentile figures (155/3.28) than in previous classes. In other words, if the class consisted of 100 people, and the 25th person had an LSAT score of 155, students 1 through 24 could literally have scored the lowest possible score on the LSAT, and stood no chance of passing the bar. That's an extreme example, but it may be that Hastings had to take from the bottom of the barrel at the low end margin due to the dearth of qualified applicants, further than it had in the past with respect to its sub 25th percentile matriculants, and they may be paying for that in the form of their bar pass rate.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 7, 2016 11:57:04 PM

I would look at recent faculty hiring patterns. People who have practiced for a while, or Ph.D.'s and theoretical yada-yada types who never billed an hour of time in their lives?

Posted by: Jack Bogdanski | Dec 7, 2016 8:53:52 PM

"I don't understand how the LSAT scores drop only slightly and the bar rate plummets."

Maybe there was an error in calculating the LSAT scores that were reported.

Posted by: Jan | Dec 7, 2016 5:00:46 PM

Something most likely happened with admissions in 2012-2013. I know that Hastings reduced enrollment in 2012 by 20 percent, but it doesn't appear that admissions got more selective.

I don't have time to research this, but I'll float a hypothesis that when Hastings reduced its enrollment, it didn't do a corresponding proportional reduction in admissions under the LEOP ("Legal Education Opportunity Program") program, so that LEOP students made up a larger proportion of the student body.

Posted by: Alex | Dec 7, 2016 2:48:24 PM

California has a glut of 4th tier law schools that turn out graduates who should have never been accepted to a law school in the first place. Thomas Jefferson, Santa Clara, Whittier, La Verne, Golden Gate, etc. New York has many fewer T4 schools (only Touro and NYLS come to mind).

If T3 and T4 California law schools are worried about their poor bar passage rates, they should stop accepting unqualified students.

Posted by: Lonnie | Dec 7, 2016 2:15:50 PM

Conversely the extremely unqualified Republican elected President in 1860 managed to pass the bar exam in Illinois despite the fact that the sum of all his education, by his own admission, "did not amount to one year."

Posted by: Patrick Wise | Dec 7, 2016 1:46:33 PM

I don't understand how the LSAT scores drop only slightly and the bar rate plummets. Did the quality of student drop while the LSAT stayed about the same. Did the quality of education fall off a cliff?

Posted by: John Tucker | Dec 7, 2016 1:15:57 PM

I, for one, have nothing but applause for the California Bar Examiners. They have made it abundantly clear that if law schools are unable or (more likely) unwilling to ensure that their graduates have achieved minimal competence with respect to the practice of law, then their graduates will NOT have the PRIVILEGE of practicing in the California Republic. A number of law schools have simply lost focus. They seek out scholars of the highest possible order whose chief skill is spouting torrents of gibberish on economic theory (dressed up as tax scholarship). They actively recruit those who have nothing but a Ph.D. and have never practiced law. They hungrily lap up people whose work is downloaded frequently, as if that actually means something. And then they throw those same people into the classroom so that students paying over $100,000 for an education will, at least, have the perception that someone is teaching them something. For all of that, there is a day of reckoning. And I am glad to see it come to pass. Whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap.

Posted by: Lux | Dec 7, 2016 1:14:58 PM

For what it's worth--when I applied to Boalt, Stanford and Hastings in the spring of 1965 (graduated Law Review and Order of the Coif out of Boalt in June '68) Hastings had a policy of accepting lower quality students in its first year class. It got the graduate quality it wanted by brutal grading of first year law students. A big intake was cut about in half by the start of the second year. In the late 60's Hastings, Stanford and Boalt pass rates on the bar exam were about the same. Looks like Hastings has let too many unprepared or incapable students stay on through graduation these days.

Posted by: Comanche Voter | Dec 7, 2016 1:05:31 PM

Just the latest horror story from the American legal education establishment - has there ever been (in the US, versus, say, a Latin American/African dictatorship or Nazi Germany) a more highly placed class of utter scumbags posing as the virtuous.

Posted by: sca721 | Dec 7, 2016 1:00:24 PM

Another person arguing that the State Bar is a protectionist scheme designed to reduce the number of lawyers.

I wish.

Posted by: JA | Dec 7, 2016 12:53:38 PM

Hastings' commitment to "social justice" ('and a commitment to social justice interwoven into the fabric of the law school's urban home.'; and a high bar passage rate are incompatible.

Posted by: Strelnikov | Dec 7, 2016 12:30:03 PM

How many students are affirmative action types ? Just asking.

Posted by: Mike K | Dec 7, 2016 12:21:08 PM

After taking the federal student loan dollars, the law schools attempt to pass the buck to state bar examiners. News flash: maybe the problem is that you weren't able to instill enough legal education for 49% of your grads to pass the bar.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 7, 2016 7:37:37 AM

Hastings has long punched below its weight...probably because its faculty was long much more distinguished than its student body. A long ago dean had the bright, sensible idea that Hastings could hire very highly respected faculty who had reached retirement age at other law schools. It worked out pretty well for many years, but you have to have the student quality....

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Dec 7, 2016 7:23:35 AM

Maybe the California bar pass rate is so low because they have too many mediocre law schools admitting too many mediocre students. The California bar may just be trying to "protect" the public from incompetent lawyers.

Posted by: Chris | Dec 7, 2016 5:39:52 AM