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On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, the hand-wringing and fretting for 468 lawyer-hopefuls came to an end when the Georgia Supreme Court’s Office of Bar Admissions released the results of the most recent bar exam. Of those who sat for the February exam, 59.4 percent passed. That is a 4.3 percentage point jump from last year’s February pass rate of 55.1 percent, which was an 18-year low. Hulett H. “Bucky” Askew, director of bar admissions, called it a “tick upwards.” Emory Law grads again posted the best February pass rate of 88.8 percent, up slightly from their 2002 February pass rate of 87.5 percent. The school has had the best February scores for the last six years. This year, all of Emory’s eight first-timers passed, and eight of its 10 repeaters passed. Over the last six years, UGA and GSU have been battling for second and third place. This year’s exam ties the score. GSU came in second, with an 80.9 percent pass rate. UGA’s pass rate was 72.7 percent. Last year, UGA was second with 76 percent, and GSU was third with 73.5 percent. Of the 42 GSU grads who sat for the test, 34 passed. Among 31 first-time test takers, 29, or 93.5 percent, passed. UGA had 22 grads sitting for the exam and 16 passed. But only seven of the 10 first-timers passed, yielding a three-year low pass rate of 70 percent. Mercer University’s law school took fourth place, with an overall pass rate of 69.5 percent, up from 60 percent last year. Sixteen of its 23 grads passed, including a 100 percent pass rate for the school’s three first-time test takers. John Marshall Law School came in last. The school posted a pass rate of just 13.4 percent, a five-year low for the school, which is still seeking American Bar Association accreditation. With 67 test takers, John Marshall had the most graduates taking February’s exam. Just nine passed. First-time test takers’ statistics were a bit better: two of eight succeeded, for a pass rate of 25 percent. “I never expected to see any improvement until the 2004 class, which I’ve said all along,” John Marshall Dean John E. Ryan said. In 2004, the school will graduate its first class of students admitted under tighter requirements and educated using a new semester structure, Ryan said. “You’re looking at the phoenix out here,” Ryan said. “We’ve spent the last two years trying to resurrect this place from the dead, from the ashes, and we’re still working on that.” Atlanta Law School and Woodrow Wilson College of Law, both now closed, had two and three test takers respectively. None passed. GEORGIANS’ MBE SCORES IMPROVE Askew said he expected this year’s pass rate to top last year’s low when he saw that Georgia test takers had improved their Multistate Bar Exam, or MBE, scores by 5 percent over 2002. The MBE is the multiple-choice portion of the Georgia test, and examinees need a score of 135 to pass. This year, GSU test takers’ MBE average was the highest, at 144.9. Emory’s average was second, at 142.9, with Mercer and UGA tied for third at 136.5. John Marshall’s average was 126.2. The overall bar pass rate — including the essay and practice portions of the test — was 4.3 percent higher in 2003 than 2002, which was close to the 5 percent MBE improvement Askew saw. Askew warned, however, that bar-watchers shouldn’t read too much into the scores. “I’m always leery of reading too much into the February results because the statistics are so small.” February’s bar exam is the smaller of the two offered in Georgia each year because most recent graduates tend to sit for the July exam, given just months after they get their diplomas. February test takers often include nontraditional students who graduate off-schedule, out-of-state lawyers who already have passed other bars and now are seeking Georgia admission, and repeat test takers. Out-of-staters tend to bring down scores, as do repeaters. On this year’s exam, 90.3 percent of grads from ABA-approved Georgia law schools passed the first time, compared with 72.5 percent from out-of-state schools. Of repeaters, in-staters passed at a 66 percent rate; 51.7 percent of out-of-staters passed. The lower repeat success rate holds true across the country. Citing national statistics, Askew said 75 percent of people pass the bar on the first try. But second-time test takers have only a 50 percent pass rate, and third-timers have about a 25 percent pass rate. After that, the numbers slide even further, he said. That statistical trend rings true in Georgia, he said, adding that February saw a “large number of repeaters.” This year’s exam had an almost even split between first-time and repeat test takers (235 to 233); 74.8 percent of the first-timers passed, while only 43.7 percent of repeaters passed. DIP IN FEBRUARY TEST TAKERS The number of February test takers also has decreased steadily over the last five years. In 1999, 607 people sat for the February exam; this year’s 468 test takers represent a five-year low, or 30 percent decline. Askew had several explanations for this. Among them: A new Bar rule lets out-of-state lawyers be admitted to the Bar by motion, instead of taking the exam; Georgia had a relatively high pass rate on the July test, meaning fewer needed to repeat the exam this winter; and the state’s four ABA-accredited schools have had smaller graduating classes. Also, he said, “A few years ago, Georgia had higher rates of test takers because it was perceived that the job market was booming here. So a big population of out-of-state takers felt Georgia was a good place to live and work.” Given the current economy, he said, that may have changed.

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