Bar Exam

Will dropping bar passage rates create too few lawyers for available jobs? Experts assess the stats

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Should the ABA create its own bar exam? Or should the exam be dropped altogether for top law graduates?

Those are some of the ideas suggested by experts weighing in on the continued drop in scores for law graduates taking the multistate portion of the bar exam. Writing at the New York Times Room for Debate blog, they analyze possible reasons for lower scores, the consequences, and what should be done in response.

The average score for July 2015 test takers in the multistate, multiple choice exam was at its lowest point in 25 years. Pass rates for the July exam were also down.

One law professor—Jerry Organ of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis—says fewer law graduates may be passing the bar exam in coming years, creating a shortage of licensed law grads to fill available positions.

In his Room for Debate essay, Organ says lower bar passage rates are largely the result of a drop in the multistate scores. He identifies several possible reasons for the lower multistate scores: a software glitch during the July 2014 test, a new civil procedure section on the July 2015 test, and a difference in the entering pool of law students.

Beginning in 2011, Organ says, the median LSAT scores of entering law classes began to decline.

“As classes with weaker and weaker credentials graduate in 2016, 2017 and 2018—and likely experience lower bar passage rates—we may see continued declines in the number of graduates who get jobs as lawyers,” Organ writes. “It won’t be because those jobs aren’t available, but because not enough graduates are passing the bar to be eligible for those positions.”

Other law professors are calling for changes in the test or its elimination.

Ohio State University law professor Deborah Jones Merritt says the tests administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners have “failed to keep up with the times, rewarding memorization and snap decisions rather than deep knowledge, thoughtful analysis and problem solving.” She says the ABA should establish a national commission to develop a more meaningful bar exam.

Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard offers another solution: Drop the test for graduates of ABA-accredited law schools with strong grade point averages. Absent that change, there still needs to be a reassessment of the test, he says.

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