The Latest Issue of the Bar Examiner

March 15th, 2016 / By

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has released the March 2016 issue of their quarterly publication, the Bar Examiner. The issue includes annual statistics about bar passage rates, as well as several other articles. For those who lack time to read the issue, here are a few highlights:

Bar-Academy Relationships

In his Letter from the Chair, Judge Thomas Bice sounds a disappointingly hostile note towards law students. Quoting Justice Edward Chavez of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Bice suggests that “those who attend law school have come to have a sense of entitlement to the practice of law simply as a result of their education.” Against this sentiment, he continues, bar examiners “are truly the gatekeepers of this profession.” (P. 2)

NCBE President Erica Moeser, who has recently tangled with law school deans, offers a more conciliatory tone on her President’s Page. After noting the importance of the legal profession and the challenges facing law schools, she concludes: “In many ways, we are all in this together, and certainly all of us wish for better times.” (P. 5)

Law School Admissions

The Bar Examiner continues to chronicle the decline in law school admissions. Eight pages of tables and graphs document five-year declines in both law school enrollment and 25th percentile LSAT scores at ABA-accredited law schools. The numbers are depressing, but important for educators to know. (PP. 6-13).

UBE Updates

South Carolina and the District of Columbia have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), increasing the number of UBE jurisdictions to 21. (P. 4) Moeser expects even more states to join before the end of 2016.

Bar Exam Stats

The bulk of the issue reports statistics from 2015’s bar exams, as well as some comparisons with previous years. The bottom-line statistics are:

  • Overall, bar passage rates declined from 67% in 2006 to 59% in 2015. Pass rates for first-time takers declined from 78% to 70%. There are, however, significant variations among states. (P. 33)
  • Mean MBE scores continued their decline from a 10-year high of 143.3 in 2008. In 2015, the mean was 138.7–another 1.7 points lower than 2014’s mean of 140.4. (P. 41)

Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

An article summarizes the excellent study recently published by the ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation; this academic work documents high rates of alcoholism, substance abuse, and mental illness among lawyers and law students. Some of the highest distress levels occur among younger, less experienced lawyers. To combat this systemic, growing problem, the article offers nine recommendations.

The first of these focuses specifically on legal education: “Law schools should require students to take classes on the importance of maintaining personal well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction to ensure fitness to practice, similar to classes on other areas of professional responsibility.” Legal educators will also be interested in a recommendation that states embrace conditional bar admission, which allows graduates with prior instances of problematic conduct to begin law practice while subject to monitoring. (P. 55)

Computer Grading of Essays

Mark Albanese, NCBE’s Director of Testing and Research, devotes his Testing Column primarily to guidelines for re-grading essays and MPT answers. Near the end of that column, however, he drops a bombshell. States that re-grade these portions of the bar exam, Albanese suggests, might soon employ computer programs for that re-grading. He notes that the American Institute of CPAs already uses a computer program to grade some portions of the “written communications” section on that exam, and that some research supports the reliability of computer scoring.

Following up on this, Albanese reveals that “NCBE researchers are currently investigating the state of the art in the realm of computer grading for assessing legal writing, and we will have a report on this that may become fodder for a future Testing Column.” That’s an intriguing disclosure.


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