More on Proposed ABA Standard on Bar Pass Rates

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I've been sent the following data on Florida pass rates:

July 06 — 75.1%
July 05 — 70.5%
July 04 — 74.1%
July 03 — 75.8%
July 02 — 78.2%

Note that the Florida Supreme Court raised the minimum score needed to pass the Florida bar in 2003 and again in 2004.

Based on this very limited data set, the idea that the annual pass rate in Florida, given the new higher score needed to pass, is likely in the 70-75% range seems reasonable.

I've also found a treasure trove of statistical data on national bar pass rates in the LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (NLBPS) which has a useful “executive summary” from which I learned that (at least before the national move in the last decade to raise the minimum bar pass score), most people who persevered eventually passed the bar:

  • The eventual bar passage rate for all study participants was 94.8 percent (21,886 of 23,086).
  • The eventual passage rate for all study participants of color was 84.7 percent (2950 of 3482).
  • The eventual passage rates for racial and ethnic groups were: American Indian, 82.2 percent (88 of 107); Asian American, 91.9 percent (883 of 961); black, 77.6 percent (1062 of 1368); Mexican American, 88.4 percent (352 of 398); Puerto Rican, 79.7 percent (102 of 128); Hispanic, 89.0 percent (463 of 520), white, 96.7 percent (18,664 of 19,285); and other, 91.5 percent (292 of 319).
  • Among those examinees of color who eventually passed, between 94 and 97 percent passed after one or two attempts and 99 percent passed by the third attempt.
  • The eventual pass rates increased substantially over first-time rates for all examinees.
  • There were no differences in bar passage rates between men and women.
  • Both law school grade-point average (LGPA) and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score were the strongest predictors of bar examination passage for all groups studied.
  • A demographic profile that could distinguish first-time passing examinees from eventual-passing or never-passing examinees did not emerge from these data.
  • Although students of color entered law school with academic credentials, as measured by UGPA and LSAT scores, that were significantly lower than those of white students, their eventual bar passage rates justified admission practices that look beyond those measures.

The importance of this data in the context of the proposed rule is that the data suggest that the second prong of the ABA standards may be much more forgiving than I initially thought: I'm told there may be as many as 20 schools in the US that are in danger of failing the first test (3 years within 10% of state's average pass rate), but it does seem that many of these schools might nonetheless make it on the alternate test, which requires 80% of graduates pass within three tries in three years.

To the extent that this second rule creates an incentive for the schools to help first-time-failers to pass later, that is good for those students — although whether it is also good for their future clients is a matter for debate, one that would turn in part on what we think the bar exam measures.

One also has to wonder, if indeed the second prong of this rule will protect all, or almost all, existing law schools, will the U.S. Department of Education accept it as a meaningful standard?

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