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by Jay Reeves |

NC Bar Exam Pass Rates Hit 30-Year Low

bar exam pass ratesOnly 69 percent of lawyers taking the July 2015 North Carolina bar exam for the first time passed.

That’s down from a 75 percent pass-rate in 2014 and 72 percent in 2013.

The statewide drop mirrors a national trend. In 2015, the pass rate for the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) fell to its lowest level since 1988, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

In California, for example, only 47 percent of all applicants and 60 percent of first-timers passed. Those were the lowest levels in 30 years.

The most frequently cited reason for the decline: law schools are admitting students with lower GPAs and LSAT scores.

“As demand for law schools has dropped over the last few years, law schools, as a result, have been admitting and graduating less-qualified students,” says Pepperdine law professor Derek Muller in this National Law Journal article.

Bar Exam Failures Unsurprising

The president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which creates the multiple choice part of the test, says she’s not surprised at the plunging pass rates.

“It was not unexpected,” says Erica Moeser. “We are in a period where we can expect to see some decline, until the market for going to law school improves.”

 We are in a period where we can expect to see some decline, until the market for going to law school improves.

It is also thought that that Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) might be getting more difficult. The July 2015 MBE was the first to include questions on a seventh subject area, Federal Civil Procedure. The average July 2015 MBE score was 1.6 points lower than the previous year.

Duke Grads Top NC Results

Of all NC law schools, Duke graduates fared best on the July test.

Twenty of the 24 Duke Law grads – or better than 83 percent – passed, according to the N.C. Board of Law Examiners.

Here’s how the state’s six law schools ranked in pass rate percentage

  • Duke – 83.3 percent
  • UNC – 82.8 percent
  • Wake Forest – 82.5 percent
  • Campbell – 78.1 percent
  • Elon – 69.4 percent
  • NCCU – 65.6 percent
  • Charlotte Law School – 47.1 percent

The state’s pass rate has been trending downward since 2011. From 2009 to 2011, the rate never dipped below 83 percent.

Some observers downplay the schools’ role.

“I’m not sure that it’s very relevant," says Mayssoun Bydon of The Institute for Higher Learning. “The same applicant, no matter what law school they attend, if they’re going to have a hard time passing the bar, they’re going to​ have a hard time passing the bar."

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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