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Reining in the Increased Bar Exam Passagee Rate

October 10, 2010

This past Friday, the Pennsylvania Board of Legal Examiners released results from the July 2010 Bar Exam.  The 1,800 recent law school graduates, as well as about 200 repeat applicants, found out their fates of whether  they could actually be licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, or whether about $120,000 in law school tuition wouldn’t be put to good use yet. 

Of course, in prior years, a significant number of those who took the exams would already be gainfully employed.  Now?  It seems more than a few recent law school grads have been waiting for these results to help their marketability and enable them to get jobs. 

What is also worth noting is the increased pass rate for the bar.  Back in 1999, when I took the Bar, the pass rate was 70.4 percent.  As recently as 2005, only 72.3 percent of test takers passed.  For July 2010, the pass rate increased to just about 80 percent, including 85 percent for first time test takers. 

While it’s never proper to hope someone doesn’t pass the Bar Exam, it does  bear questioning whether the increased pass rate is a good thing.  More newly-licensed attorneys means more competition for currently-licensed attorneys in the already sparse number of available law jobs in Pennsylvania.  A “gener0us” pass rate will encourage more people to apply and attend law school, further exacerbating the glut of attorneys.  Ideally, the economy will improve, and there’ll be a need for more attorneys.  That day is not here yet. 

Maybe it’s just a matter of Bar applicants being better prepared for the Bar Exam.  Perhaps, however, the Board of Legal Examiners should examine whether to make standards more stringent.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wesley Hanna permalink
    November 12, 2010 10:59 am

    To suffer three years of law school, taking on all that debt, only to fail the bar is a catastrophic thing to happen to a person. How selfish of you to suggest that the bar ought to be made tougher because not enough people are failing – coupled with talk of how hard economic times are for those already admitted. even you suggest the real reason: if a person isn’t working, they are very highly motivated and probably have more time to study. here is the question: is there any proof that the bar exam insufficient to protect the public an increased number attorneys with an insufficient knowledge of general law to competently practice? if not, making the bar harder to exclude qualified people and send a message to law school applicants is selfish and cruel.

  2. Guilherme permalink
    May 25, 2011 1:47 pm

    Interesting. Here in Brazil the passagee rate has been bellow 15% for a couple of years now. And people in the U.S. say that a 70% is rough? Wow.

  3. Michael Schlag permalink
    June 9, 2011 3:04 pm

    Perhaps since the entirety of the law community, like most other occupation types (particularly white collar) have gone into specializing maybe its time to edit the bar exam. Less of it concerning generalized law and add in a specialization section of the applicant’s choice.

    P.S. Who would’ve thought there would be a time when America didn’t need more lawyers?

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