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The graduates of two Texas law schools hit new highs on the July 2006 bar exam. The graduates of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth earned the highest bar exam pass rate in the school’s history � the first class graduated in 1994 � and the graduates of St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio earned their highest pass rate in 13 years. The pass rate for TWU’s first-time test-takers was 87.94 percent, ranking the school fifth among Texas’ nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools. The pass rate “tells the legal community that our students are qualified and are competitive with students at the top law schools in Texas,” says Cynthia Fountaine, TWU’s interim law dean since June. Former Dean Frederick G. Slabach stepped down at the end of May to serve as chief executive officer of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation in Washington, D.C. “It has a positive impact both on recruiting new applicants to the law school as well as faculty members to the program,” Fountaine says. She attributes the high pass rate to a faculty of strong teachers and nationally recognized scholars, as well as eager and enthusiastic students. At St. Mary’s law school, where 84.24 percent of first-time test-takers passed the July exam, the celebration is bittersweet for Dean Bill Piatt. On Oct. 30, University President Charles L. Cotrell informed Piatt that the school is not renewing the dean’s current three-year contract, which expires May 31, 2007. [See "St. Mary's Decides Not to Renew Law Dean's Contract," Texas Lawyer, Nov. 6, 2006, page 1.] Citing school policy, Cotrell declines to discuss the reasons he decided not to renew Piatt’s contract other than to say the decision is good for the law school and the university. In a news release, Cotrell says his school’s July bar exam results are encouraging but that he is disappointed the pass rate ranks St. Mary’s seventh among Texas’ nine law schools. Charles Cant, associate dean for administration at St. Mary’s, will become the school’s interim dean in June 2007. During Piatt’s term as dean the school has embraced several changes to improve the students’ performance on the bar exam including adding courses that cover bar exam topics, implementing a more rigorous grading system and raising the school’s admission requirements. “I feel vindicated on a personal level,” Piatt says. “It shows the approach I’ve taken, even though difficult, has been successful.” At the end of his term as dean, Piatt, a tenured faculty member, says he plans to stay and teach at St. Mary’s and continue to encourage students to prepare for the bar exam. “As a professor, I will try to inspire students individually,” he says. The pass rate among the 1,828 first-time test-takers from Texas’ nine law schools � 86 percent � was about three points higher than the 83.14 percent pass rate for July 2005, according to the Texas Board of Law Examiners (BLE) in Austin. Seven of the nine schools earned scores higher than last year. Only two schools, Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston and Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, brought in scores lower than July 2005. Despite overall higher pass rates, the questions on July’s exam were similar to past tests, says BLE executive director Julia Vaughan. “We feel like it was a very strong group of examinees, as demonstrated by their performance,” she says. “The overall pass rate was very nice to see.” Unlike the February Texas bar exam, many law graduates take the test in July, so the July results are considered a more reliable trend indicator for the schools. First-time test-takers from Texas law schools numbered 1,828 on the July 2006 exam, more than five times the 364 who sat for the February 2006 exam. In total, 2,891 first-time and repeat test-takers from Texas and non-Texas law schools passed the July 2006 Texas bar exam. Those passing totaled 77.59 percent of the test-takers. The overall pass rate for the July 2005 exam was 74.15 percent. Of the total first-time test-takers, 2,098 � or 82.99 percent � of 2,428 passed, slightly besting the 80.74 percent pass rate in July 2005. Of the repeat test-takers, 145 � or 39.94 percent � of 363 passed, a showing higher than the 35.52 percent repeat test-takers who passed the bar exam the previous year. Laptop exams In addition to TWU and St. Mary’s, pass rates for July 2006 first-time test-takers at Texas law schools that exceeded last July’s pass rates are Baylor University School of Law in Waco, 97.87 percent; the University of Houston Law Center, 90.38 percent; Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, 90.09 percent; the University of Texas School of Law, 90.08 percent; and South Texas College of Law in Houston, 82.14 percent. Baylor law grads regularly pass the Texas bar exam with pass rates higher than 90 percent, according to BLE statistics. The consistency is welcome, says Dean Bradley J.B. Toben. When the BLE releases the Texas bar exam results, he says, “We are always impressed, happy and relieved.” Toben says his school’s purpose is to prepare students for the practice of law, and the bar exam is a legitimate competency test for that practice. “We teach students to represent clients, and that brings success on the bar, and that’s wonderful,” he says. At Thurgood Marshall, Dean McKen V. Carrington is not happy that fewer than 57 percent of his school’s 122 first-time test-takers passed the July 2006 exam. “It’s a lot lower than I thought it would be,” he says. “It’s a 20 point difference with what we had in February.” The school’s pass rate was 76.92 percent on the February 2006 exam and 59.38 percent on the July 2005 exam. “We had a large group that took the bar and we think that we had a group, to a large extent, that didn’t buy into putting the time into studying for the bar,” he says. Carrington says the school’s goal for its graduates is to consistently pass the Texas bar exam at or above the statewide average pass rate. He says the law school must get students to realize the importance of preparing for the test. Texas Tech law Dean Walter Huffman says he also is disappointed with the July 2006 bar exam results � not with his school’s pass rate of 87.36 percent but with the school’s sixth place ranking when compared with the pass rates of the other Texas schools. “We expect to be in contention for the highest bar passing rate in the state and usually are,” Huffman says. He says that students who took the July 2006 bar exam in Lubbock were not able to use laptop computers, but he’s not sure what impact that may have had on the pass rate. The BLE offers test-takers the opportunity to take the bar exam on laptops at one or two testing locations for each exam, Vaughan says. Laptop exams were not scheduled for Lubbock in July 2006, she adds. “I can’t help but believe that for a generation of students used to taking exams on laptops, to have blue books with No. 2 pencils makes some difference for sure,” Huffman says. But Texas Tech’s law school does have some bragging rights: Graduate Rick Haan earned the highest score on the July 2006 exam. Haan is a real estate associate with the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight. “Rick Haan is a super quality person and a very bright guy,” Huffman says. Haan, who declines to reveal his bar exam score, says he and his wife celebrated the bar exam results by going out to dinner � compliments of the firm. Like everyone else who takes the Texas bar exam, there is always some doubt about passing, Haan says. “Not in my wildest imagination did I think I did this well.”

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