If you have a Facebook account, you probably know exactly when the results of a bar exam get announced. Your newsfeed gets clogged with statuses like, “thanks to my friends and family for getting me through the most trying time of my life,” or more honest posts like “I’ll take this time to thank myself for being so great.”
Which is why you might be confused. Scores from the July bar exam start coming out in late October. Where are all the “Boom. Lawyered” statuses we should have seen a couple weeks ago? Was there some sort of crash-and-burn catastrophe? Was the ExamSoft fiasco this July or last?
Time gets weird when you’re doing groundskeeping with a J.D.
Rest assured, there was a problem with the bar exam, and it wasn’t software failing at literally the only thing it was meant to do. The lack of “[insert name], Esquire,” posts is indicative of the conspicuous silence of an exorbitant number of people failing the bar.
Passage rates for the July 2015 bar exam across the country are down, and significantly. New York reported a passage rate of 61%, the lowest in the state in over 35 years. Other states saw significant declines, as well: Arizona’s July 2015 passage rate was 57%, down from 68% in 2014. Mississippi’s dropped from 78% in July 2014, all the way down to 51%.
This being the legal field, so the finger pointing has already begun. Or, rather, it has continued. Passage rates were down slightly, last year, prompting law school deans to accuse the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), of making the test more difficult. The NCBE responded that test-takers just sucked, and that maybe law schools shouldn’t admit anyone whose sole qualification was that they could sign a loan promissory note. The continued decline of bar scores this year, however, is evidence that the NCBE was right: The same people who did poorly on the LSAT three years ago were now doing poorly on the bar exam, all over again.
This is just more evidence that law schools care about little else but their own bottom line. They manipulated their employment statistics to boost their U.S. News rankings so much they got caught in a game that doesn’t even have an oversight committee. Then, when they let out their “real” employment numbers, intelligent liberal arts graduates stayed away in droves. To mitigate the damage of low incoming classes, law schools lowered their admittance requirements, taking in lesser and lesser mortals. Now, those lesser mortals are hitting the bar exam like a fly hits a bug lamp.
All of this makes it seem like the legal education system is broken, and only in existence to line some pockets. However, if you think about it, the declining bar passage rates actually shows that law schools are resting on some solid ground: Their admission criteria seems to be astounding at predicting how well someone will do on the bar exam.
This is no small matter. Law schools boil an applicant down to two numbers: their LSAT and their GPA. Did anyone realistically think that the LSAT games section and good grades in a college class – any college class – could possibly predict someone’s bar exam score? And yet, that’s exactly what we’re seeing: Music history majors with slightly lower GPAs who weren’t able to do advanced linear games are now doing worse on the bar exam.
So before we thrash law schools for being a bigger waste of time, money, and excitement than The Phantom Menace, let’s remember that they did come up with a random, and yet surprisingly accurate, way of predicting how well you’ll do on the bar exam, even before you know what respondeat superior means.
Of course, there’s also growing suspicion that your bar exam results have nothing to do with how well you do as an attorney. If the bar exam has no correlation with legal aptitude, and LSAT scores are closely connected with bar scores, then the LSAT doesn’t have much to do with lawyerly skills either. If both the entrance and the exit exam to the legal education system don’t say anything about legal ability, then maybe the legal education system really is broken.
[Post image via Shutterstock]