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The year 2001 hasn’t been a good one for some who want to be lawyers. The overall pass rate for Texas law school graduates who took the state’s bar exam in February for the first time dropped almost 11 percent from the same time last year, with only 68.5 percent scoring high enough to make the grade. The percentage of successful first-time test takers last year was 79.42 percent. Graduates of Texas law schools who were taking the test again fared even worse. Only 48.94 percent passed this year, just a slight increase over the 47.78 percent who passed the February 2000 exam. The overall pass rate for everyone who took the test earlier this year — first-timers, repeaters and out-of-state lawyers — was 60.53 percent, compared to last year’s 65.43 percent. Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners in Austin, which administers the exam, acknowledges that the results are disappointing to many, but says, “I don’t think it should cause alarm.” For the past several years, the Texas average on the Multistate Bar Exam, which takes up one day of the two-and-a-half-day test, has been several percentage points above the national average. This year, the state average was about the same as the national average, Vaughan says. In addition, February results tend to be more volatile, partly because fewer people take the bar exam then, she says. This year, 1,054 people, 381 of them first-timers, took the test. In July, up to 2,500 people take the test. “I don’t think it reflects a more difficult exam,” Vaughan says of the lower rates. “We genuinely believe that the test is the same degree of difficulty as last year.” The first-time pass rates among the nine law schools in the state ranged from 35.85 percent for students from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston to 89.74 percent for students graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, according to figures released May 2. Only the University of Texas showed an increase, inching up from 88.89 percent the previous year. The rate for students graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio was 48.72 percent this year, a decline of more than 15 percent from a February 2000 pass rate of 64 percent. Texas Southern went down more than 14 percent from last year, when half its students passed the exam. Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock was almost 10 points above the average, but had an approximate 22 percent drop from its perfect pass rate last year. Although its pass rate was average, South Texas College of Law in Houston fell almost 20 percent this time around. AN ANOMALY? Jeff Rensberger, associate dean for academic affairs at South Texas College of Law, says although his school’s rate was average, officials would like to do better. They will keep an eye on overall pass rates to see whether there’s a trend developing or whether this year’s results were an anomaly because of the relatively low number of test-takers, he says. Because fewer students take the exam in February, the results can be skewed if a few more students fail one year. Only a dozen students from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas took the February test. Seven passed, putting the success rate at 58.33 percent. Southern Methodist University Law Dean John Attanasio says that the small number of students taking the February test makes a big difference in the statistics. However, he adds, “We’re concerned with each individual student. We do much better in the July exams, but we’re still not happy with this.” In San Antonio, Dean Bill Piatt of St. Mary’s University School of Law also says he’s concerned. Students at his school, who had a 48.72 percent pass rate, obviously were not as prepared for the test as they should have been, he says. “I’m very disappointed in the performance of our students,” Piatt says. “We’ve implemented a number of changes to improve, but we obviously need to do more. I hope this serves as an eye-opener to the students taking the summer exam.” Officials from Texas Southern, which has a history of low pass rates, did not return three calls seeking comment by press time on May 3. In the past, they’ve said that although the results are unsatisfactory, they can be explained by the school’s mission to expand educational opportunities to nontraditional students who don’t have the strongest academic predictors. University of Texas frequently has taken the top pass-rate spot in the July bar exam, but this is the first time in recent years that graduates of the Austin school have been No. 1 in a February test, according to Susana Aleman, assistant dean of student affairs, who checked available records back to 1985. “I think it’s a reflection of the students’ abilities, their test-taking skills and their preparedness, and also a reflection of the legal education they received here,” Aleman says of the results. “They make us look good.” Dean Nancy Rapoport of the University of Houston Law Center says she’s pleased her school’s graduates did well, with an 84.62 percent pass rate. Last year’s rate was 89.13 percent. “We have a good program, and our graduates study hard for the bar,” she says. Dean Richard Gershon of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law also praises students. “It really comes down to excellent teaching,” Gershon says. “We have to give credit, too, to the students taking the exam. Our students work hard. For a new school, we’ve come a long way.” The Fort Worth law school, which is 12 years old, had a pass rate of 75.61 percent for first-time test takers. Last year’s February rate was 76.60. RESULTS To see the list of people who passed the February 2001 bar exam in Texas, click here. To see results for every state, click here. To see Texas law school pass rates by school, click here.

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