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Bar exam passage rates sank in several big states, indicating a drop in the qualifications of students amid fewer law school applications.
Pass rates in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania all came in lower for the July 2015 exam.
“As demand for law schools has dropped over the last few years, law schools, as a result, have been admitting and graduating less-qualified students,” said Derek Muller, an associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California, who has studied and blogged about the issue.
The number of law school applicants plunged from 87,900 in 2010 to 54,130 in 2015, according to the Law School Admission Council.
Law schools have been admitting students with lower LSAT scores and lower grade-point averages in recent few years and “that manifests itself in the bar exam a few years later,” Muller said.
The bar pass rate in California dropped to the lowest point since the fall of 1986. For the state’s July exam, just 46.6 percent of applicants and 60 percent of first-time takers passed, compared with July 2014 rates of 48.6 percent overall and 61.4 percent for first-time takers. The overall pass rate in the fall of 1986 was 44.4 percent.
New York’s overall pass rate for July first-time test takers from American Bar Association-accredited schools hit its lowest point since 2004. This summer, 79 percent of those examinees passed, compared with 83 percent in July 2014. The state’s 70 percent overall pass rate in July 2015 dropped from 74 percent in July 2014.
In another historical low, the Pennsylvania pass rate for first-time test takers slid to about 78.3 percent in July, dipping below 80 percent for the first time since the 2003. The state’s overall pass rate slid to 71.2 percent this July from 75.5 percent in July 2014.
Erica Moeser, the president and chief executive of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the organization that creates the multistate bar exam used by most states, linked the test results to law schools that are drawing classes from a smaller pool of applicants.
“It is reasonable to believe we are capturing the results of a downward trend in applications that has not been completely matched by a downward trend in law school admissions,” Moeser said.
In Georgia, the pass rates for first-time test takers sank nearly seven percentage points, to 73.5 percent in July from 80.2 percent in July 2014. The overall pass rate fell off even more, to 64.6 percent from 73.7 percent in July 2014.
And in Texas, pass rates for first-time test takers fell several percentage points in Texas, which posted a 76.6 percent pass rate in July, compared with 80.85 percent in July 2014.
In New Jersey, overall test were nearly the same at 70.41 percent in 2015, compared with 71 percent in 2014.
Florida first-time test takers also fared worse this July, with 68.9 percent passing compared with 71.8 in July 2014.
In the District of Columbia, the pass rate for first-time test takers declined slightly to 53.8 percent in July, from 55.2 percent in July 2014. The overall pass rate stayed roughly the same, at 39.1 percent this July and 39.3 percent in July 2014.
Illinois has not released its bar pass rates for the July 2015 test. The pass rate for the state’s July 2014 bar exam was 80.9 percent, a 4.3 percentage-point drop from the previous year, according to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.