The passage rate for the Pennsylvania bar exam’s February test saw only a slight, 1 percent, improvement year over year, still hovering around 60 percent.

The more dramatic results came in the changes to passage rates for graduates of area law schools who were taking the test for the first time. The overall results had at least one local dean reaching out to soon-to-be grads who will sit for the July exam to warn them of the importance of studying for the bar.

The February test typically has far fewer applicants than its July counterpart, skewing the statistics to some degree. There were 703 people who sat for the February bar exam in 2013 and 426, or 60.6 percent, passed. That is compared to the 59.6 percent of the 664 February 2012 applicants who passed the exam.

When compared to the overall average of 60.6 percent, those taking the test for the first time this February had a much better passage rate of 72 percent. But that was down slightly from the 74.5 percent of first-time test takers who passed in February 2012.

The University of Pennsylvania Law School again had the highest passage rate for first-time test takers at 100 percent, but that was based on only six applicants. The school’s overall passage rate fell from 100 percent last year to nearly 78 percent this year with seven of the nine total applicants passing in 2013. That was, however, the highest overall pass rate of any area law school, according to statistics provided by the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners.

The lowest overall pass rate among area law schools was at Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, where 12 of the 29 Drexel applicants sitting for the exam were successful for a pass rate of 41.4 percent. But the school’s pass rate for first-time test takers was stronger with six out of 10, or 60 percent, passing.

Temple University’s Beasley School of Law had the lowest pass rate of area schools for those taking the test for the first time. Of the 20 first-timers, 11, or 55 percent, passed. That was up from the 53 percent of first-timers who passed in February 2012.

In total, 54 Temple law grads sat for the bar exam in February 2013. Of that group, 61.1 percent passed. That was up from the 55.3 percent overall pass rate in February 2012.

While the numbers did improve year over year and the university recognized it is hard to glean anything from such a small sample, Dean JoAnne A. Epps sent an email to upcoming graduates about the "disappointing" results for February 2013.

Epps said in the email that while it is difficult to take away much from the results, the school has seen anecdotally that some who struggled in law school were able to pass the bar on the first try with the appropriate preparation.

"So, the lesson is this. We know that all of you can pass the bar exam, and we have every confidence in you," Epps said in an email to students that was obtained by The Legal. "We also know what tools you need to do it. You are already armed with an excellent legal education and the full support of your faculty both now and after graduation. What you need now, once commencement is over, is to be focused on the bar exam and nothing else until the last week of July. You need to be extremely disciplined. And you need to work very hard and at your best this summer."

Epps continued that graduates should plan to take a bar review course and should not plan to work while they are studying for the bar.

Epps said in an interview with The Legal that it was difficult to draw conclusions from the numbers. While she said she didn’t exactly know what it meant, she pointed out that a larger-than-normal percentage of the first-time test takers were not typical of that crop of students because they graduated before 2012. They were first-time test takers from prior Temple graduating classes.

Epps said the school was going to dive a little deeper into the numbers. She said she would be much more concerned if the July 2013 passage rates come back at similar figures to the February test. At this stage, however, Epps said the school just has to make sure the students understand the connection between hard work and bar passage rates.

Widener University School of Law in Delaware had the highest representation among February 2013 test takers with 82 of its graduates sitting for the exam. The school’s Harrisburg campus had 26 students represented.

Temple had 54 graduates take the test, University of Pittsburgh School of Law had 48 and Villanova University School of Law had 39 graduates sit for the exam. There were 38 Rutgers School of Law-Camden graduates who took the Pennsylvania bar in February, 33 Duquesne University School of Law graduates and 29 Drexel grads who took the test. Penn and Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law rounded out the list of area schools with nine and 16 graduates, respectively, sitting for the exam.

Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan had 50 graduates sit for the Pennsylvania bar exam. The only other non-area law schools to have 10 or more graduates sit for the exam were West Virginia University College of Law with 10 and University of Baltimore School of Law with 12.

More Overall Pass Rates

• Duquesne — 51.5 percent.

• Rutgers — 58 percent.

• Dickinson — 50 percent.

• Pitt — 60.4 percent.

• Villanova — 61.5 percent.

• Widener-Harrisburg — 69.2 percent.

• Widener-Delaware — 67.1 percent.

More First-Time Pass Rates

• Duquesne — 66.7 percent.

• Rutgers — 63.2 percent.

• Dickinson — 85.7 percent.

• Pitt — 62.5 percent.

• Villanova — 70.6 percent.

• Widener-Harrisburg — 70 percent.

• Widener-Delaware — 79.5 percent.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.