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For the first time since 1993, St. Mary’s University School of Law is back. Back to the statewide average, that is, among Texas law schools when it comes to pass rates on the July bar exam. Among the school’s 149 students taking the bar exam for the first time in July, 79.87 percent passed. The overall average for Texas’ nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools for first-time takers was 80.63 percent, a mere three-fourths of a point above the St. Mary’s average. In comparison, on the July 2003 exam, the pass rate for St. Mary’s graduates was 9.99 points below the statewide average of 84.36 percent, and on the July 2002 exam the pass rate for the school’s first-time takers was 19.14 points below the statewide average. With the July 2004 bar exam results the school’s students, faculty and alumni have reason to celebrate, says Bill Piatt, dean of the San Antonio school since 1998. “We really did want to get back into the mainstream,” Piatt says. “It’s important for our students, it’s important for our recruiting efforts, and it’s important for our alumni to know our school is credible once again in terms of bar passage rates.” Statewide, those qualifying to join the Texas bar number 1,993 or 72.55 percent overall of the 2,747 first-time and repeat exam-takers who took the July 2004 exam, according to the Texas Board of Legal Examiners. The overall pass rate for the 2003 exam was 76.74 percent. [See "Texas Law School Pass Rates," below.] First-time test takers slightly under-performed compared to the previous year’s test takers with 79.33 percent 1,819 of the 2,293 who sat for the exam passing compared to 82.74 percent in July 2003. Repeat test-takers also slightly under-performed compared to their predecessors with 38.33 percent passing, or 174 of the 454 test-takers, versus 42.61 percent. Piatt says that implementing higher admission standards, making it more difficult to pass first-year courses, requiring students to take more bar-related courses and funding scholarships to help pay for bar preparation courses are some of the reasons for the graduates’ improvement on the bar exam. “It’s harder to get in, and much harder to graduate from St. Mary’s than it has been in the recent past,” Piatt says. The law school’s 6,000 living alumni have been instrumental in increasing the school’s recruiting pool, he says. Chief Justice Alma L. Lopez of the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio is a 1968 graduate of St. Mary’s law school and active in both the school’s Law Alumni Association and Hispanic Law Alumni Association. St. Mary’s has “gone back to the good old days when I was there,” Lopez says. “They are now absolutely encouraging and requiring the students to take bar courses instead of just the easy courses.” She says the Law Alumni Association has donated $10,000 to the school to help students pay for bar preparation courses. “Law school is so expensive, and then to have to pay out another $3,000 or $4,000 or $5,000, some students can’t do it,” she says. Lopez says that as an alumna it is satisfying to see the school’s students’ bar pass rates rise. “I told Dean Piatt we should just round it off to 80 [percent] and we’re right there,” she says. The pass rates for first-time test-takers from Texas’ nine ABA-accredited law schools ranged from a high of 92.04 percent for the University of Texas School of Law in Austin to a low of 52.43 percent for Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. UT law Dean Bill Powers, dean since May 2000, notes the school consistently scores in the 90 percent pass rate on the bar. “We’re offering a terrific education that is well suited for passing the bar and well suited for creating leaders in the state and legal national communities when students are 20 years out,” Powers says. “Our students do extremely well on the bar,” he says. “They expect it; we expect it.” Thurgood Marshall’s interim Dean McKen V. Carrington, interim dean since May 2002, says that the school’s pass rate will improve incrementally. The school’s pass rate of 52.43 percent is a slight improvement compared with a 50.43 percent rate in July 2003 and a 46.43 percent rate in July 2002. “This [pass rate] is not something that we can turn around overnight,” Carrington says. “I think it will continue to go up, not by leaps and bounds, but incrementally, and that is what we are experiencing.” He says the school’s optimal pass rate is likely to be in the 70 percent range when it comes to percent passing consistently. “That is what we are working toward,” he says. “That should be our bottom, and I think we can do that.” Pass rates for first-time takers at other Texas law schools all above the statewide average were 91.92 percent at Baylor University School of Law in Waco; 87.84 percent at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas; 85.65 percent at the University of Houston Law Center; and 83.95 percent at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. At South Texas College of Law in Houston, 69.60 percent of first-time takers passed the July bar. “We’ve very concerned that, for the second year in a row, for the big July exam we’ve been under the statewide average,” says James J. Alfini, dean of the law school since August 2003. “It’s a subject of concern to faculty, students and alumni,” he says. “It’s not a disastrous pass rate, but it’s certainly not in keeping with our tradition.” Alfini says that a committee of faculty and staff is looking at different strategies the school might adopt to improve performance on the bar exam. He says it’s too early to announce any committee recommendations. “We’re anticipating that we will have a program in place during the coming spring semester that will assist our third-year graduating students as they move toward the July exam,” he says. Dean Frederick G. Slabach of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth says that law school staff are analyzing the July bar results to determine why only 62.60 percent of the school’s first-time takers passed. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this is a one-time aberration,” says Slabach, law school dean since June 2003. The school’s pass rate in July 2002 was 78.43 percent, within about 2 points of the statewide average of 80.63 percent. “What appears to have happened is that this particular group of students did not take as many of the bar-tested electives in the curriculum as previous classes did,” he says. “We’ve already begun, over the last year, to emphasize even more strongly to our students that they should take all or almost all of the bar-related courses in the curriculum.” While some in Texas are busy analyzing the July bar results, others are accepting the results with delight. Doug Lukasik, an associate with the trial section of Gardere Wynne Sewell, is in the latter category. Lukasik received the highest score of the 2,293 July first-time bar exam takers, according to the BLE. A graduate of Duke University School of Law in Durham, N.C., Lukasik says he has been working in Gardere’s Dallas office since September. Lukasik confirms that he scored an 852 out of a possible 1,000 points. Carrying on a court tradition, Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright called Lukasik on Nov. 5, the day the BLE released the July bar exam results, with the news. “I was very excited and very pleased and quite surprised,” Lukasik says. On learning that he earned the top score, Lukasik says his first thoughts were of his mother, Cindy, a former high school teacher and counselor living in Rock Island, Ill. “She is the most educationally centered person in my life,” Lukasik says. “If I owe anything to anybody in my life, it’s mom.”
Related chart: Texas Law School Pass Rates for First-Time Test-Takers

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