Early Bar Exam Results (And What They Mean for You)

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Results are starting to trickle in from the July 2015 bar exam, and a first glance at the numbers shows that they’re not encouraging – the average score on the multiple-choice section of the exam has reached its lowest levels since 1988.

This news comes on the heels of last year’s results, when bar exam results had the single biggest drop since the bar exam started. Those results led to lots of finger-pointing – the National Conference of Bar Examiners stated that the people who took the July 2014 bar exam were “less able” than their predecessors. (More on that in a second.) Others blamed the poor showing on an ExamSoft software glitch that had many bar-exam-takers panicking – although the fact that this year’s pass rate looks like it will continue to decline suggests that ExamSoft can’t be given all of the blame for last year’s statistics. Some have suggested that the bar exam is getting harder.

So here’s the deal: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that law school have been going through what we could euphemistically call a “transitional period” in recent years. Basically, word has gotten out that the legal job market has been less-than-stellar, and fewer people are deciding to go to law school. Law schools, however, still need to pay their bills – so they’re admitting people with lower LSAT scores. That trend is compounded by the fact that the people with the highest LSAT scores are increasingly deciding against law school, while the amount of people with lower LSAT scores who attend law school has not fallen as sharply.

That’s good news for people who are still applying to law school, since it means that they now have a pretty good shot at getting into schools that previously would have shown them the door. However, there’s one sticky wicket in this whole equation, which is that LSAT scores (in combination with undergrad GPA) correlate with first-year law school performance. Some would say (cough NCBE cough) that law schools are therefore admitting less capable students who will then go on to struggle with passing the bar exam to a greater degree than their predecessors.

As usual, there’s no clear right answer here, and there will likely be some more shake-ups in the law school world before the dust settles. (We know – you’re on the edge of your seat already.) However, what this means for you – the presumed prospective law student reading this blog – is that just because you can go to a certain law school doesn’t mean you should.

Bar exam passage rates are one of the many data points you should consider when deciding where to go to law school, because that fancy degree won’t do you much good if you can’t actually become a lawyer afterwards. If a school’s bar exam passage rates look dismal, there’s a good chance that the school isn’t doing a great job of preparing its students – and although we all like to think that we, personally, can beat the odds, the fact remains that you should probably be setting yourself up for the best possible chance of success. So take this year’s bar exam results as a cautionary tale, and make sure you’re doing your research before signing away the next three years of your life.

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