Anyone Can Fail the Bar Exam

Several years ago, concerned about what was then a low bar pass rate (it has since improved quite a lot) the UM law school did a pretty comprehensive study in an attempt to identify which factors in our students’ legal education might be correlated with bar passage or failure.

As I recall, the data collected for the study failed to confirm almost every hypothesis to a statistically significant confidence interval except the fact that being right at the bottom of the class — having been on academic probation, and maybe graduating in the bottom 10% if I recall — was a very significant marker for likelihood of failing the bar. Everything else we could measure from transcripts (if I recall, and it was quite a while ago, we didn’t do a formal survey of bar study habits) failed to show a statistically significant effect on bar passage odds — not being in the top 10%, not taking particular courses, not taking particular professors or particular sections of ‘bar courses’.

We were left with anecdotal evidence, but I believed it: the people who showed up to bar review and who worked hard passed; the people who skipped bar review classes and/or didn’t study like fiends, were far more likely to fail. This was one of the reasons why, when the Deans asked us to, I agreed to toughen my class attendance policies: I decided it made sense to send the institutional message that an important part of life is just showing up.

Comes now this unfortunate reminder that without enough cramming anyone can fail the bar exam, even very very accomplished lawyers….even law Deans: WSJ.com – Raising the Bar: Even Top Lawyers Fail California Exam.

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10 Responses to Anyone Can Fail the Bar Exam

  1. DML says:

    an incredibly embarrassing article . . . for ms. sullivan, former cal. govs. brown & wilson, l.a. mayor villaraigosa, and the people at the cal. bar. shameful that 3 years of learning (& tuition) bear little relationship to the license to practice, and your best shot is to overpay a monopolistic bar exam-prep company (see NYT article from 12/4/05: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/business/yourmoney/04law.html?incamp=article_popular_4)and put your life on hold for 10 weeks . . . esp. for already-licensed & working attorneys.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Ugh, bar exams are so ridiculous. She’s still be my first choice for a lawyer if I needed one.

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Ugh, bar exams are so ridiculous. She’d still be my first choice for a lawyer if I needed one.

  4. Ann Bartow says:

    That’s it, I’m firing my “comments” editor.

  5. Matt says:

    Several years ago, in ’98, I believe, a big-shot lawyer of some sort, many years of practice in important places was hired to be the general counsel of the SUNY system in NY. He was, like all (at least long term) practicing lawyers, given several months of reciprocity (6, I think) before having to take the NY bar. He waited until the end of it and then took the exam and failed. He then had to resign for his position since he could no longer practice law in NY. It was quite emberassing for everyone, and also expensive since a new high-profile search had to be done, staff hired, etc. The moral- practice, even if you are a big-shot.

  6. RodgersT says:

    …there’s much variation in the difficulty/pass-rates of bar exams from state to state (..Minnesota & Utah exams are relatively easy, for example).

    There are many ‘arbitrary’ administrative techniques to control the pass-rate.
    The bar-exam scores rarely are an objective measure of the legal competence of would-be attorneys.

    What’s overlooked in the ease of passing the bar in any given state — is that the state authorities deliberately ‘regulate’ the number of lawyers in their state … via the mandatory bar exam.

    Too many lawyers lower the average wages of established lawyers via normal economic supply & demand. Established lawyers don’t like a lot of competition, or lower average wages … but luckily, established lawyers control the state bar & regulatory process — they use that power to restrict entry into the legal profession. Certified Public Accountant exams & regulation work exactly the same.

    Medical-doctor licensing is similar, but more complex; state regulators are also able to control initial entry into domestic medical schools … thus, constricting the supply of potential doctors even earlier in the process.

    The regulatory system is corrupt, but most lawyers don’t lose any sleep over it.

  7. Karen says:

    Well, my own *story* is that I was 7 months pregant with my first daughter, Lauren, when I had to take the Illinois Bar exam. My daughter has always been told she is “SOOOOO Lucky” cause If I hadn’t passed, I would have had to *blame* it on her. *wink*

    But she also had had her first 15 minutes of fame at my swearing in ceremony – her infant crankiness earned us the notice and an invite to visit Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz in his chambers (for pictures and a look at his vast collection of Lincoln memorabilia.) So she’s had a good run so far…*grin*

  8. Karen says:

    Ooops – and ya can see why I never aspired to be my own typist…and was NOT in Law school on account of my *office* skills. Hahahahaha!!

  9. John says:

    Sullivan failed because she didn’t do the work, plain and simple. I love the attorney quoted who blames the bar. True, it’s a stupid exam. But it’s that way for everyone, even those who pass.

  10. Humma says:

    I’m a foriegn grad (from LOndon) have been out of law school since 1998 and have been busy having a family. I sat the Ny bar exam this last July and failed. It was my second time of taking it. I’m taking it again in Feb. Any advise? It’s holding my life up…..

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