We’re just a bunch of morons here in Mississippi. That’s the theme of this recent Above the Law article by Joe Patrice discussing the 36% pass rate for the February Bar Examination. From the article:

Few things are certain in this life, but one of them is that Mississippi will find a way to be worse at everything. After Florida posted a 57.7 percent passage rate for the February exam, Mississippi pulled up and delivered a glorious 36 percent passage rate….

….. it’s clear that hard times have fallen on Mississippi….

….Could we blame declining standards designed to keep students in the seats paying tuition? Hmmm. 

…..And it’s a serious problem. Mississippi is a state that desperately needs attorneys. According to the Mississippi Access To Justice Commission, almost 700,000 people in Mississippi live below the poverty line, and the state has only “one legal services lawyer per every 21,000 eligible individuals.”……

But in the meantime, declining standards have played hell with bar passage rates at schools across the country. While many have begun the process of course correction — bringing in smaller, more credentialed classes — we’ve still got a few more years of this trend ahead of us. As we’ve noted before, there are laudable justifications for loosening admission standards, but all too often those are cynical fig leafs to justify taking money from students that the school “knew or should have known” would struggle to pass the bar and earn the license required to pay off their debt. Bottom line, no matter how a state got to this point, when states see bar exam struggles, it’s usually the fault of admissions moves.

I mean, I’d say res ipsa loquitur, but I’m not sure Mississippi students would know what I meant.

The article links Ken Walley’s guest post on this blog that discussed the problems MC Law School is having filling out its classes. The article notes that bar “passage rates are declining with student quality all over the country.”

The Ole Miss Law School took exception to the ATL article and responded with a statement by Dean Debbie Bell posted on Facebook. Dean Bell’s statement:

Dear law school community,

A recent Above the Law column implied that only 36% of Mississippi’s first-time bar exam takers passed the February 2017 bar exam. That is inaccurate. Furthermore – our students’ first-time pass rate for the year was 72.6%.

The ATL article stated that only 36% of the state of Mississippi takers passed the February bar exam, compared to Florida’s 57.7% pass rate. The article compares apples to oranges. Florida’s 57.7% pass rate was for first-time takers. Mississippi’s first-time pass rate for February 2017 was also 57.7%. Thirty-six percent was the overall pass rate, which included almost as many retakers as first-time takers. And for UM Law first-time takers, the pass rate was 60%.

Furthermore, the Mississippi February bar numbers are small — 87 takers. The best annual comparison for small population states like Mississippi is to look at the year’s total.

For the 2016-17 year, Mississippi’s pass rate for all first-time takers was 66.7%. AND OUR STUDENTS’ PASS RATE FOR THE YEAR WAS 72.6%. While this is lower than our traditional pass rate and we want to improve it, it is a far cry from 36%.

In contrast to most law schools, the University of Mississippi has not lowered admissions standards, as the author of the ATL article speculates. We have great confidence in our students’ abilities and are proud of their accomplishments.

My Take:

Hey, you can’t say Mississippi sucks and is last in everything. Only we can say we suck and are last at everything.

Condescending articles like these are why Mississippians have a chip on their shoulder when they mix with the coastal elites.

Drawing a broad conclusion that we’re a bunch of dumbasses in Mississippi is pretty sketchy based on a sample of 87 test takers. The fact that the author made an apples to oranges comparison [later conceded in an update to the original post] didn’t help.

Everyone in the Mississippi legal community knows that February bar exam passage rates are traditionally lower than July. The principal reason is because of all the re-takers, some of whom never pass.

Perhaps less well known is that many of those failing and re-taking the exam didn’t even attend law school in Mississippi.

Sure, MC Law School might have lowered its admission standards. But many of those students are from out of state. It’s unfair to blame Mississippi’s education system for low achievers from other states who MC Law admits so it can keep the lights on.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I’m no fan of people going to law school or starting their legal career in Mississippi. But it’s because there are too many lawyers in Mississippi.

‘Smart’ is an overrated quality for lawyers. It ain’t rocket science. If I had to rank the qualities of what it takes to be a good lawyer, ‘smart’ would not be near the top of the list. What does it even mean to be smart?

I’ve seen lawyers who were too smart for their own good and couldn’t communicate with regular people. And most of our huge verdicts in Mississippi trials were tried by out of state geniuses. There have been so many huge verdicts over the years that would have been much lower if the cases had been tried by a Mississippi defense lawyer.

The vast majority of bad lawyers are bad lawyers because they are: lazy; and/or don’t have their shit act together. Not coincidentally, those are the same reasons many people fail the bar exam.

Most people I know who failed the bar exam weren’t disciplined in studying. Some of them turned out to be great lawyers once they did pass.

Some people just never learned to study efficiently–something required for the bar exam. Some people freak out due to the pressure. Most, are ‘smart’ enough even if they fail.

I don’t buy the premise that people who pass the bar exam are smart and everyone else is dumb. One of the best experiences of my life was working a manual labor job with men who had little formal education. It’s where I learned the difference between ‘smart’ and ‘educated’. I am certain that my co-workers’ bar passage rate would have been 0%. But they weren’t dumb–not by a long shot. When it came to problem solving, thinking logically, reading people, etc…, those guys were just as smart as any group of lawyers I’ve been around–and smarter than a lot of the out of state geniuses I’ve seen practicing in Mississippi.

But the slam on Mississippi wasn’t the part of the ATL article that bothered me the most. The article’s suggestion that Mississippi needs a bunch more lawyers–without explaining who is going to pay those lawyers–is ridiculous. I’ll discuss that more in my next post.