Bar Exam Results

I scheduled a post today that was just a general comment on the Bar Exam results.  Philip Thomas’s Mississippi Litigation Review cited an Above the Law article.   It was critical of our State, and our law schools.  Unfairly so, in my opinion.

Dean Debbie Bell released the following statement:

Dear law school community,

A recent Above the Law column implied that only 36% of Mississippi’s first-time bar exam takers passed the February 2017 bar exam. That is inaccurate. Furthermore – our students’ first-time pass rate for the year was 72.6%.

The ATL article stated that only 36% of the state of Mississippi takers passed the February bar exam, compared to Florida’s 57.7% pass rate. The article compares apples to oranges. Florida’s 57.7% pass rate was for first-time takers. Mississippi’s first-time pass rate for February 2017 was also 57.7%. Thirty-six percent was the overall pass rate, which included almost as many retakers as first-time takers. And for UM Law first-time takers, the pass rate was 60%.

Furthermore, the Mississippi February bar numbers are small — 87 takers. The best annual comparison for small population states like Mississippi is to look at the year’s total.

For the 2016-17 year, Mississippi’s pass rate for all first-time takers was 66.7%. AND OUR STUDENTS’ PASS RATE FOR THE YEAR WAS 72.6%. While this is lower than our traditional pass rate and we want to improve it, it is a far cry from 36%.

In contrast to most law schools, the University of Mississippi has not lowered admissions standards, as the author of the ATL article speculates. We have great confidence in our students’ abilities and are proud of their accomplishments.

Debbie Bell

My personal view is that there are too many variables in play to assess the February Bar results.  The Bar Admissions staff should release statistics to make sure the public can examine at apples-to-apples.  There is a big difference between first time takers and repeat takers, in my humble opinion.

I’ve heard that there has been a lot of discussion among the supreme court justices about the future of the bar exam.  Some want to go back to the diploma privilege, some want to adopt the UBE, and some want to leave it as it is.  I do not expect any change.

For what it is worth, this may be the first time in history that the Supreme Court is made up of a majority of members who HAD to take the bar exam.  In years past, and I may be wrong, the majority of the Supreme Court Justices were admitted under the diploma privilege.

My concern is that the bar exam has spawned an industry of “bar review” courses and additional costs for students.  The cost of the bar exam and these courses add about $5,000 to the “cost” of a bar license or the “price of admission” to the bar.  If we are going to review our law schools based on their pass rate, let’s make sure there are professionals on the Board of Bar Admissions

Ole Miss and Miss. College do an excellent job preparing students for law practice.  With two new Deans at the law schools, I hope there will be some discussion between the law schools and the court about the future of the Bar Exam.

I wish the best to our new members of the Bar.

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