Posts Tagged ‘diploma privilege’

A month from now, it’ll be exam time. Not an oral exam — but the July bar exam administered the last week of the month everywhere except for Wisconsin, which has the “diploma privilege.”[1]

For the rest of the states, including the District of Columbia, this year’s May crop of law school graduates will be tested to satisfy “what bar examiners have always posited as the bar exam’s purpose, i.e. minimum competence to practice law unsupervised.”[2]

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/t/taliesin/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0001110781475.jpgMeanwhile, law school applications continue to fall.[3] And as law schools vie for a dwindling number of enrollees, some schools are competing for cheeks in the seats by cutting admissions and by lowering admission standards.

Bar exam scores are also plummeting at some schools. So questions are naturally arising on whether falling exam scores are attributable to a decline in law school standards.

Driven in my view mostly by self-preservation, “frustrated law school deans” are suddenly complaining to anyone who will listen about the exam. Their criticism of bar exam methods and mechanics is largely unprecedented. One law school dean went as far as calling the bar exam “an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.” See “Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Sgarton/09/l/1379295120ysjr3.jpgNot to be missed, however, is how one school is trying to slow their own nosediving exam scores. Charlotte Law School’s Assistant Dean of Student Success employed four-letter exhortations to her professors serving as bar prep coaches. Straddled with Charlotte’s abysmal bar passage rates, Assistant Dean Odessa Alm admonished the professors to insist on more urgency from their graduates. “We’re not cheerleaders. We’re coaches. ‘Get down on the f***ing floor and give me 40. You’re going to run more laps.’ That’s what a coach is. A coach is not a cheerleader.” See “Recordings Shed Light On Charlotte School Of Law’s Methods To Boost Bar Passage.”

In 2014, with scores falling, the Iowa State Bar Association looked for another remedy. It proposed an in-state “diploma privilege” like its Wisconsin neighbor. But the Iowa Supreme Court closed the door on the proposal opting to keep the bar exam in place. According to one news report, “Critics said it was a way for Iowa law schools to boost enrollment, which has been falling in recent years.” Also see “As schools lower standards, more flunk the Iowa bar.”

And in a step akin to moving the iceberg closer to the Titanic, the American Bar Association (ABA) put law schools on notice last year that it intended to tighten the deadline rule for graduates to pass state bar exams. Yeah, full steam ahead.

According to data compiled by the Internet Legal Research Group, the bottom ten law schools with the worse bar passage rates reflecting first-time test takers for the summer 2014 and winter 2015 bar examinations were:

1. Appalachian School of Law                                 33.3%
2. Thomas Jefferson School of Law                      44.7%
3. Golden Gate University Law School                45.1%
4. Mississippi College                                                 45.8%
5. Whittier Law School                                               45.9%
6. U. of the District of Columbia                             52.2%
7. Liberty University                                                   52.8%
8. Ave Maria School of Law                                      54.4%
9. Arizona Summit Law School                              54.7%
10. Southern University                                              55.8%

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/28/Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpg/356px-Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpgSince the report, life hasn’t gotten any easier for some of the listed schools. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that“due in part to low student achievement,” Whittier Law School was closing. And earlier this month, Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix was put on probation by the ABA after just 24.6 percent of its graduates who took the Arizona state bar exam for the first time in July 2016 passed.

In California, after the state’s bar exam passage score fell to a 32-year low, the deans of 20 California law schools wrote the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court asking that the minimum or cut score needed to pass its bar examination be lowered to allow a higher pass rate.

In truth, with apologies to John Randolph, the mackerel have been shining and ripening in the moonlight for sometime. Declining law school enrollments; falling admission standards; and collapsing bar passage rates are mere symptoms.

Until the legal establishment makes a substantive, detached, top-to-bottom assessment of what’s ailing the profession, the diagnosis will be incomplete; the medication will be misprescribed; and the patient will remain as sick as ever.



[1]”Under diploma privilege, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School are admitted to the practice of law by complying with the terms of SCR 40.03 — their school certifies their legal competence and the Board of Bar Examiners certifies their character and fitness for the practice of law.”

[2]Kristin Booth Glen, Thinking out of the Bar Exam Box: A Proposal to “MacCrate ” Entry to the Profession, 23 Pace L. Rev. 343 (2003)

[3] As of March 31, 2017, the total number of applicants was down 1.9 percent. See Karen Sloan, Number of LSAT Takers is Up, But Law School Applications Are Down, April 7, 2017.

Photo Credits: Oral exam, by Ben Sutherland at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; Quiet Please Testing, morguefile.com; stdy break, by nerissa’s ring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Young Scholar in His Study: Melancholy by Pieter Codde, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Long-jawed mackerel by Christian Gloor at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.











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