One subject this blog hasn't touched on is bar passage. The news that only 55% of test takers passed the Michigan bar exam in July (the typical passage rate on the Michigan July exam is around 75%-80%), along with a very interesting document that landed in the ITLSS in-box yesterday, reminds me that there are quite a few people who graduate from law school but never become licensed to practice law.
Just how many is hard to say, but here are some stats:
(1) The national bar passage rate in 2011 was 69%. 79% of first-time takers passed the various state bars, while only 37% of repeat takers passed.
(2) Bar passage rates vary a great deal by state. 79 of the 84 people who took the South Dakota bar last year passed, while only 6,483 of 12,820 (51%) of California test takers passed. This suggests that, according to the basic principles of law and economics, several thousand aspiring California lawyers would be well advised to move to South Dakota.
(3) Speaking of California, the bar passage rates for graduates of non-ABA accredited California law schools are atrocious: only 18% for graduates of "conventional," i.e., brick and mortar, non-ABA schools passed the California bar (Curiously, the passage rate for graduates of correspondence law schools -- you can get a law degree via strictly "distance learning" in California -- was actually higher, at 22%. BTW professional lunatic and licensed California attorney Orly Taitz is a graduate of one of the latter institutions).
These statistics, it should be unnecessary to add, have nothing to do with the supposedly beneficial educational effects of the ABA's accreditation regime, but rather reflect the fact that low-ranked ABA law schools already have something close to an open admissions policy, so if you can't get into one of them . . .
Anyway, a very quick back of the envelope calculation suggests that somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% to 15% of ABA law school graduates never pass a bar exam. This would mean ABA law schools produced something like 50,000 to 60,000 graduates in the last decade alone who never passed the bar.
In an intensely competitive and hierarchical profession, which tends to "disappear" people through stigmatization, this is the most stigmatized group of graduates. (Indeed it's not a good sign that, in my initial discussion of the effects of stigmatization on law graduates, I failed to even notice the existence of this group). What happens to them?
This question was much in mind when I went over a document sent to me by a concerned party, associated with a large lower-ranked east coast law school. The document catalogs what happened, in regard to bar results, to 230 students who over a 15-year period were required to appear before a committee that had to decide whether or not to dismiss them for poor academic performance.
(At this school, students who perform below a certain level are automatically dismissed, while students who achieve a somewhat higher but still unacceptable grade point have the option of appearing before a committee that can elect to allow them to continue. The document records academic and bar passage outcomes for the latter group. I have no idea how many students were kicked out automatically over this same time period).
Of these 230 students, 62 eventually graduated. Of that group, 48 took the bar at least once in the state where the school is located. 29 of these 48 graduates passed the bar eventually. These 48 graduates took the bar a combined total of 135 times. The 29 graduates who passed took the bar a total of 58 times, while the 19 graduates who have not passed to this point took the bar 77 times (One graduate has taken the bar unsuccessfully 14 times, while another has taken it unsuccessfully nine times. A third graduate passed on the graduate's ninth attempt).
These statistics are to say the least sobering, and provide one window into a series of seriously under-investigated questions regarding the least visible casualties of the growing crisis in legal academia and the legal profession.