bar-exam
bar-exam (viktorcap@gmail.com)

The passage rate for first-time takers of the July Pennsylvania bar exam showed marked improvement after hitting a new low last year.

Of the 1,075 first-time applicants this year, 81.2 percent passed. Last year, just 75.4 percent of the 1,371 first-time applicants passed the July 2016 exam. That was the lowest passage rate for any July exam for which the state Board of Law Examiners has made data about bar exam passage available.

The passage rate for all test-takers also climbed to nearly 73.6 percent in July 2017 from 69.3 percent last year.

While passage rates have been on the decline nationwide in recent years, there was some cause for optimism this year, even before Pennsylvania’s results were released. Judith Gunderson, who took over as the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners on Aug. 21 following the retirement of longtime president Erica Moeser, said in September that the national average score on the Multistate Bar Exam—the 200-question multiple choice portion of the test—rose 1.4 points over the July 2016 average.

But while the passage rate improved in Pennsylvania this year, the downward trend in the total number of applicants who took the July exam continued, hitting its lowest-ever level with 1,301 test-takers in July 2017. Last year, a total of 1,574 people took the exam in July, compared to 1,799 in July 2015.

Results by School

As was the case last year, Widener University Delaware Law School had the lowest overall passage rate at a Pennsylvania-area school, though the rate itself was an improvement over the school’s July 2016 showing. This year, about 57.8 percent of its 71 applicants passed. Last year, only 43 percent of the school’s 108 test-takers passed. The school also had the lowest first-attempt passage rate in 2017, with about 66 percent of its 44 first-timers being successful. Though, again, that rate was an improvement over 2016, when only about 45 percent of the school’s 93 first-time test-takers passed.

Widener Delaware Law Dean Rod Smolla did not respond to a request for comment.

The highest passage rate for Pennsylvania-area law schools in 2017 was also a repeat of 2016. The University of Pennsylvania Law School saw 97.5 percent of its 40 first-time applicants pass the July exam. The school did not have any applicants this year who had attempted the exam before. Last year, 98 percent of Penn’s 50 first-time applicants, along with one applicant who had previously taken the test, passed.

A request for comment from the school was not immediately returned.

Unlike last year, however, Pennsylvania State University’s Dickinson School of Law narrowly edged Duquesne University School of Law out for the second-place position for both first-time passage rate and overall passage rate.

Penn State showed huge improvement over 2016 in both metrics. In July 2017, about 90.8 percent of its first-timers passed, compared to only 77.5 percent last year. Meanwhile, the school had an overall passage rate of 85.5 percent this year. In July 2016, its overall passage rate was only 72.5 percent.

The 2017 Dickinson Law class was the last combined law class at Penn State, which now has two law schools: Dickinson Law in Carlisle and Penn State Law in University Park.

“I am so proud of Penn State’s bar performance and of the efforts that we are making to support our students,” Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law in University Park, said in a statement. “We are delighted that over 90 percent of the graduates from the last combined class of the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State passed the July 2017 Pennsylvania bar on their first attempt, making us second in the state after the University of Pennsylvania Law School. We are optimistic that moving forward the two separate schools, Penn State Law and Dickinson Law, will achieve similar results.”

Duquesne’s July 2017 results, meanwhile, were largely in line with its July 2016 performance, when it had the second-highest passage rate for first-time test-takers. This year, the school saw 90.7 percent of its 108 first-timers pass, while 84.7 percent of its 124 total applicants passed. Last year, nearly 92 percent of its 112 first-time applicants and 82.8 percent of its total 128 applicants passed.

“So many people deserve credit for our excellent bar-pass rates,” Duquesne Law Dean Maureen Lally-Green said in a statement. “The students worked incredibly hard to achieve their personal best. Our faculty dedicated countless hours to their success. Our alumni gave of themselves as mentors. And the university stood behind us at every step of the way. The performance reflects so well the strength of the community we have here at Duquesne.”

The next highest first-time passage rate after Duquesne was the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, with about 85.9 percent of 106 first-time test takers passing. Pitt was followed closely by Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where about 84.6 percent of 162 first-time applicants passed.

The rest of the first-time applicant passage rates at Pennsylvania-area schools were: 79.4 percent at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law; 76.2 percent at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; 74 percent at Widener University Commonwealth Law School; and 73.9 percent at Rutgers Law School.