There was a front page article yesterday in the Clarion-Ledger about the 53% passage rate in Mississippi for the July Bar Exam. It opens:

Entering the legal profession in Mississippi is once again proving difficult for those seeking to become a licensed attorney.

The July Mississippi bar exam results released last week showed about 53 percent of the 172 who took the exam passed.

Passage rates are dropping as smart students decide against law school.

Above the Law covered the State’s passage rate in a snarky post here, saying Mississippi’s Bar Exam results “suck.” From ATL:

The results from Mississippi’s July 2017 administration of the bar exam were released yesterday, revealing that only 53 percent of all test-takers passed. That’s an 18 percentage point drop from the July 2016 exam, and a staggering 27 percentage point drop from the July 2013 exam. Something is wrong here.

ATL blames the low passage rates on declining admission standards and dismisses the suggestion that students from out of state law schools are failing the exam:

Some have speculated students from out of state attending law schools in Mississippi may be leading to lower passage rates.

Apparently Mississippi law school graduates who aren’t Mississippi locals are causing lower passage rates on the Mississippi bar exam. That’s a new one we’ve never heard before, and the logic it took to get there may explain why the passage rates on the Mississippi bar exam have sunk to historic lows.

For context, Ole Law School Dean Susan Duncan wrote about the issue here.

31 of 41 (75.6%) first time takers from Ole Miss Law passed the exam. Duncan’s explanation points out that repeat takers of the Bar Exam fail by a 2-1 margin. Duncan’s stats also peg Mississippi’s passage rate at 55.9%.

Ole Miss has reduced its class sizes and denies declining admission standards.

Also, according to this 2013 Witnesseth Blog Post, Mississippi’s Bar exam does not rank among the nations easiest to pass. It ranked 20th hardest.

The Clarion-Ledger article notes that the national average was 58% in 2016.

My Take:

I have trouble getting worked up over this issue.

There aren’t enough jobs waiting for the 53% who passed. No one will need a bar card to yell “Welcome to Moe’s” every time someone walks in the restaurant.

The sad fact is that we still have an over-supply of lawyers in Mississippi. That’s the reality that the people who do pass face on day 1.

As for the exam results, the main problem is that repeat exam takers keep failing. Some people try for years and never pass.

As fewer people take the exam, the people who keep taking it and failing have a disproportionate statistical impact on the passage rate.

Should the Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions pass more people to make the numbers better? No.

Should Mississippi go back to the days where state law school graduates don’t even have to take the exam? God no.

It’s easy to write about Bar Exam passage rates. But the bigger and more important stories are the job market for attorneys, fact that many talented attorneys are leaving the state for better opportunities and the mental health of attorneys.

  • Gulf Stream

    The scores started downward when the MBE added Civ Pro. Older practice materials did not include Civ Pro on the MBE, and the questions are apparently pretty specific/tough. It’s also my understanding that the Mississippi Essay Exam also no longer reuses the same questions that were tested for the prior 10+ years. That makes it harder to just memorize prior model answers and regurgitate them. That said, there is still no great explanation for the significantly lower passage rates. I think my year’s rate was in the very high 80s.

    • Philip Thomas

      Who was the lawyer from Greenville who wrote the state contracts questions and model answers? He had 40 page single spaced model answers for questions we had about 30 mins to write our answer to. That may be where my lawyer/anxiety started.

      • Anonymous

        I think his name was Hadley V. Baxendale, Esq.

        • Macy Hanson

          Forseeable comment.

      • Guest

        Jerry Hafter

        • Philip Thomas

          That’s it.

  • Gulf Stream

    And while I’m talking to myself, check out the response from Ole Miss. Apparently 31 of 41 first-time takers passed in July. While they offer that as proof that Ole Miss performed well above the mean, what I took away from it is that only 41 students at Ole Miss took the Mississippi bar! I graduated from Ole Miss with approximately 160 students, and most took the Bar in July. Are they taking in FAR less students, or are many more students looking to practice elsewhere?

    • Philip Thomas

      They are taking in around 110-120. I’m sure they have some attrition, but the stats make it look like most of the students leave the state after graduation. That would not be surprising.

      • Gulf Stream

        I can’t say I blame them for leaving (more jobs elsewhere), but I damn sure would have recommended that they go somewhere else for law school if that was their plan all along. I can’t imagine an Ole Miss JD gets many call-backs in New York, Chicago or San Fran.

        • Philip Thomas

          Ideally, yes they should go somewhere else if they aren’t planning to stay here. But if they are in state students, it is so much cheaper to go to Ole Miss that it might be the right decision. I wouldn’t recommend going way into debt at an out of state law school on the come.

  • MotionPractice

    The explanation that makes the most sense to me – law school used to be an attractive option to highly intelligent folks who were good at test-taking. Now it isn’t. So fewer highly intelligent folks who are good at taking tests are going to law school; thus, fewer folks are passing the bar exam.

  • Guest

    The average GPA and LSAT score of students attending MC has decreased (since 2012). The entering class size has also decreased during that time so the school is apparently struggling to find students who want to attend.

    If MC’s bar passage rate does not improve could it lose ABA accreditation?

    • wtfreqkenneth

      No. The ABA’s rules are written in such a way that is is essentially impossible to lose accreditation due to the poor academic or career prospects of your students. I don’t believe any law school has ever lost ABA accreditation. In the last year, 3 law schools have closed. Indiana Tech was provisionally accredited but gave up on full accreditation after a tiny fraction of a tiny first classed passed the bar exam. Whittier realized the real estate the law school was sitting on was worth more than the law school (Bay Area) and closed. Charlotte Law closed a few weeks ago after years of issues with the Department of Education, which cut off access to federal student loans last year. Finally the UNC system revoked their state accreditation and I think the AG is investigating them. The ABA finally put them on probation in March, but they remained accredited right up until the day they locked their doors.

  • wtfreqkenneth

    “Some have speculated students from out of state attending law schools in Mississippi may be leading to lower passage rates.”

    Who are “Some”? Who is making the accusation? There’s no source attributed to it. It’s just Jimmie Gates trying to stir up controversy and place blame on “others”– and definitely not on our states law schools. Remember, this is the same guy that wrote this puff piece last year:

    Are we supposed to believe there’s some massive migration of law students to Mississippi, trying to take advantage of our hot legal job market?

    Also, how is that an argument? They may be from out of state, but they were still trained by our law schools. Law school disclosures to the ABA don’t distinguish between the qualifications of in-state and out-of-state students, and why should they? Students from out-of-state are a convenient scapegoat because there’s no way to know if they’re more or less qualified than their Mississippi counterparts.

    I think it’s a logical assumption that these out-of-state students are going to return home to take the bar more often than not. These students aren’t going to have any impact on MS pass rates at all. At least for MC, the results for the students that take bar exams in other states are all over the place. Sometimes they’re terrible (Georgia 2014- 42% pass rate) and sometimes they’re great (Texas and Maryland 2015- 100% pass rate). It varies too much to draw any kind of generalized conclusion about their out-of-state students.

    • Philip Thomas

      I don’t know what the numbers are, but there are students from out of state law schools taking the Miss. Bar. Some of these are law schools you’ve probably never heard of. The people typically are from Miss.

  • Mediumlaw attorney

    The bar should be even harder, so less people will go to law school. Make the bar harder, then shut down MC’s overpriced law school. There are not even enough jobs for the lawyers coming out of Ole Miss right now.

  • homeward bound

    Well, I will be testing the waters soon. I didn’t go to law school in Mississippi and I am a time passer of Florida and California Bar but after many years of practice I want to return to Mississippi practice law in my hometown.

  • Bookwormbill

    Good luck. Are you taking the July, 2018 test or the Feb. 2019 test?