(Photo: Credit: panitanphoto/Shutterstock.com) (Photo: Credit: panitanphoto/Shutterstock.com)

After an upward climb last year, the pass rate for the Georgia Bar Exam has dropped, according to results for the July 2018 exam released Friday by the state Office of Bar Admissions.

The overall pass rate for the July 2018 exam was 61.2 percent—down from 66.9 percent for the July 2017 exam. The July 2017 exam results marked a five-year high in pass rates.

Pass rates for first-time takers last July dropped as well. For first-time takers overall, the pass rate dropped from 76.3 percent for the July 2017 exam to 72.9 percent for the July 2018 exam.

First-timers from Georgia law schools passed at a higher rate—75.1 percent for the July 2018 exam—but that was still down from 79.4 percent a year earlier for Georgia law school graduates taking the exam for the first time.

The slightly lower pass rates were “not unexpected,” said Heidi Faenza, the director of the Georgia Office of Bar Admissions, because the Multistate Bar Examination score, which accounts for half of the total exam score, dropped nationally.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners, which administers the MBE, has reported that nationally the MBE score is down two percentage points, Faenza said.

“When we see that happening, we expect there to be a dip in scores,” she said, adding that performance on the written part of the exam tracks MBE performance. “That’s what we see here.”

Faenza added that the first-time pass rate for the 109 out-of-state attorneys taking the Georgia exam dropped significantly from last year, from 87.6 percent in July 2017 to 76.1 percent in July 2018, which also pulled down the overall pass rate.

Declines in bar exam pass rates have been a national issue for the past few years. The pass rate for the Georgia bar exam in 2012, before the declines started, was 79.7 percent overall and 85.3 percent for first-time test-takers.

Georgia Law Schools

Of the 1,261 applicants who took the July 2018 exam, 756 of them were from Georgia law schools. Half of the total, 630, were first-time Georgia law school exam takers.

For Georgia schools, the University of Georgia School of Law again led the rankings for first-time exam-takers, closely followed by Georgia State University College of Law and Emory University School of Law. UGA Law’s pass rate dipped, however, while the rates for GSU Law and Emory Law inched up.

UGA Law’s 88.1 percent pass rate for the July 2018 exam, with 151 first-timers taking the exam, was down 1.2 percentage points from its first-timer pass rate of 89.3 percent for the July 2017 exam.

Even so, this makes the fifth consecutive year that UGA Law has registered the highest first-time pass rate of Georgia law schools.

GSU Law again followed in the No. 2 spot. The pass rate for its 144 first-time takers inched up 0.9 points to 85.4 percent.

Emory Law registered the biggest improvement in its pass rate for first-time takers—a jump of 2.7 percentage points from July 2017 to 84.8 percent. There were 112 Emory Law students taking the exam for the first time.

Mercer University School of Law, however, which had been virtually tied with Emory Law for the July 2017 exam with a first-time pass rate of 82.4 percent, saw its first-time pass rate drop 9.1 points to 73.3 percent. There were 101 first-time test takers from Mercer Law.

Atlanta’s John Marshall School of Law and its sister school, Savannah Law School, both lost ground. John Marshall’s first-time pass rate dropped from 51.7 percent for the July 2017 exam to 40.4 percent for July 2018. At John Marshall, 94 students took the exam for the first time.

At Savannah Law School, the first-time pass rate dropped from 54.5 percent in July 2017 to 35.7 percent for July 2018, with 28 first-timers taking the exam.

The first-time pass rates for the July 2018 exam are commensurate with those for the July 2016 exam: a 72.9 percent pass rate overall compared with 72.4 percent in July 2016, and a 75.1 percent pass rate for Georgia law school graduates, compared with 75.3 percent two years earlier.

That said, pass rates for the July exam were better than those for the February 2018 bar exam. The pass rate for first-timers from Georgia law schools jumped from 62.3 percent for the February round to 75.1 percent for the July exam.