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In limbo: How low can bar pass rates go?

We once discussed law school students in terms of their potential. Now it seems we discuss them in terms of their risk.

That’s the language of a new report published by Law School Transparency, which brings impressive analysis to back up an obvious conclusion—that at certain law schools, many 1L students arrive at serious risk of never passing the bar exam, and thus sinking tens of thousands of dollars to pursue a diploma that will do little for their job prospects.

LST looks at data provided by two law schools, one anonymous and one in Colorado, that strongly support the commonsense intuition that students who do better on the LSAT are more likely to pass the bar exam. At both schools, students deemed “minimal risk” (an LSAT score of 156 or better) passed the bar at very high rates. Conversely, students deemed “extreme risk” (a score of 144 or worse) had putrid pass rates.

This is all problematic because the number of law schools applicants has plummeted, and schools have been forced to admit more students with lower LSAT scores in order to stay afloat—the problem being most acute at for-profit law schools.

LST’s data suggest the situation may be even scarier than realized. At Charlotte School of Law, for instance, at least half of students in the 2014 entering class had an LSAT score of 142 or below, meaning they were at “extreme risk” of failing the bar. The risk profile of students at Charlotte has gotten precipitously worse in just four years, LST found.

LST’s report notes that Charlotte’s bar passage rate has fallen every year since 2013, and in 2015 was down to 47.1 percent for first-time test-takers. LST predicts that passage rates there—and elsewhere—will keep diving in the coming years.

Looking at the data, we wouldn’t bet against that.

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