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Winter bar exam pass rates rebound with UBE

Matt Chaney//April 25, 2019

Winter bar exam pass rates rebound with UBE

Matt Chaney//April 25, 2019

Bar exam results are in, and for the first time in several years, the majority of candidates who sat for the North Carolina bar exam in February can start making plans to get sworn into the practice of law.

In fact, 63 percent of North Carolina law school graduates who took the February exam passed this year, up from 29 percent a year ago and 33 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, 66.4 percent of out-of-state test-takers passed the exam, up from 39.5 percent a year ago. Overall, 64.6 percent of test-takers passed.

Several factors contributed to the rise in pass rates, above all the fact that this was the first time the Uniform Bar Exam was administered in the state.

Rich Leonard, the dean at Campbell Law School, which lobbied in support of the switch, said that he believes the change in test played a major role in the improvement.

“We felt it was a more objective, fair test and these results bear that out,” Leonard said.

O.J. Salinas, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law who serves as director of the school’s Academic Excellence Program, said that the switch to the UBE may have encouraged law schools to reevaluate their curriculum.

“These schools may have decided to place an increased focus on practical legal writing, legal analysis, and individual student feedback,” he said.

UNC led all schools, both in terms of overall pass rate (90 percent passed) and in bar pass rate improvement (up from 46.4 percent last February). Duke Law School (87.5 percent) was close behind, although only eight Duke grads sat for the test.

Duke’s pass rate was the exact same as its pass rate last February, but every other in-state law school posted significant improvements: Campbell Law School (78.7 percent), Wake Forest University School of Law (76.2), Elon University School of Law (63.8 percent) and North Carolina Central University School of Law (52.7 percent).

Even the now-defunct Charlotte School of Law, which saw only 9.5 percent of graduates pass the exam last February, improved its passage rate to 21.6 percent. Only 37 Charlotte grads took this February’s exam, down from 84 last year, which also helped put a little extra puff in the overall pass rates.

Salinas said that UNC takes special pride in the high success rate of its first-time takers. 87.5 percent of UNC graduates who took the exam for the first time in February passed and 86.8 percent of first time-takers passed in July.

“These percentages tell us that the programming and curricular changes that the law school initiated at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year are working,” he said, listing increases in the number of summer bar support services that UNC offers, the introduction of bar essay workshops to students and increased enrollment in the for-credit bar preparation courses the school offers to third-year students.

“I believe our rigorous writing curriculum and the extensive individual feedback that our professors provide to students on their legal analysis will continue to be an asset for our bar passage rate on the UBE,” he said.

Leonard said that February’s results were the best winter results he has seen since he became dean at Campbell in 2013.

“I was delighted with these results,” he said, noting that 80 percent of students who participated in the school’s bar exam prep course passed. “Under the UBE we can see what scores students get on what components, and we had a lot of high scores. Most who passed weren’t close to the cut-rate … we feel our curriculum is putting people in a good place to pass.”

Overall, 520 people took the bar exam in February, a significantly lower number than is typical for the July exam (For instance, 697 took the exam last July and 1,017 took it in the summer of 2017). The July results should be a better indicator of graduates’ performance on the UBE.

But an overall 64.6 percent pass rate and 71.9 percent pass rate among first-time-takers are both strong showings, especially considering that only 57.4 percent of July 2018 takers passed.

Follow Matt Chaney on Twitter @NCLWChaney


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