The percentage of test takers passing Connecticut’s July bar exam saw a dramatic drop as only 55 percent of all test takers made the cut this year, down from 70 percent a year ago.
Lawyers, law professors and those involved in administering the exam said the numbers are alarming, and that there might not be a single reason for the drop. The average pass rate for the July exam since 2000 had been around 75 percent, but the previous three years have seen some of the lowest rates. In addition, the February 2018 bar exam hit an 18-year-low, with only 38 percent of test takers passing.
For first-time test takers, 70 percent passed in July, down from 76 percent in 2017.
The statistics for the July 2018 bar exam were released Monday. Of the 327 people taking the exam, only 180 passed. The top three schools with the most students taking the exam were the University of Connecticut Law School, where 46 of 78 students, or 59 percent passed; Quinnipiac University School of Law, where 53 of 70 students, or 76 percent passed; and Western New England Law School in Massachusetts, where 12 of 43 students, or 28 percent passed.
Connecticut Bar Examining Committee administrative director Jessica Kallipolites said that, while it’s hard to pinpoint a reason for the decline, she did note that Connecticut began to allow test takers with law degrees outside of the country to take the bar exam beginning in July 2017.
“That population does not always perform as well as those that have gone to American law schools,” she said.
Only two of 11 test takers, or 18 percent, who received their law degree outside of the country passed the Connecticut bar in July. Those numbers are similar to what that population scored on the July 2017 and February 2018 exams.
In addition, Kallipolites noted, Connecticut allows for students from the Massachusetts School of Law, which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, to take the exam. Of eight people taking the exam in July, none passed.
“For whatever reason, some schools did not do well,” Kallipolites told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday. “When you start adding up schools where 11 or 12 people took the exam and did not do well, it adds up.”
Quinnipiac officials believe their law school did well because of a free, optional bar preparation course it offers. Of their test takers, 76 percent, or 53 people, passed the exam in July.
“I hope the numbers are a reflection of our curriculum and our teaching,” said Quinnipiac law professor W. John Thomas. “In addition, we have a professor who offers the free bar preparation course. Our students take the commercial bar prep course like all students, but that additional course gives them added knowledge and starts earlier in the semester.”
Thomas also said “we’ve done a good job in the admission of law students. We shrank our class size and maintained our credentials.”
As to why the drop in the pass rate is happening, Thomas said, “there are one of two explanations and that is either the bar exam is getting more difficult or the second being the graduates are less qualified or less prepared. There is no evidence that the bar exam has changed, so I think it’s the latter explanation.”
There could be several unforeseen factors for why the pass rate dropped, according to Karen DeMeola, a former president of the Connecticut Bar Association and assistant dean for finance, administration and enrollment at the University of Connecticut.
“We find individual students have stories that can often impact their performance on a particular day,” DeMeola said. “Examples could be a death in the family or a sudden illness.”
She added, “I am concerned that we have seen this decline statewide. I think individual law schools can take a look at how this all has impacted their individual institutions. We also want to make sure we are doing all we can as an institution of supporting students in general.”
Kallipolites, who passed the exam on her first try in 2003, said there is no limit on how many times an individual can take the bar exam in Connecticut. She noted one person took the bar for the 28th time in July and, once again, failed. She declined to name that person.
Other schools of note include Yale University, which only had five people take the July bar exam. All five passed.