Bar Passage Rate Depends on Students

USD Law Grad studying for the California Bar Exam

Look to your left; look to your right . . . one of you will fail the bar exam.

Or so it seemed to University of San Diego School of Law students after the State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners released the July 2010 bar statistics. Across the state, only a dismal 68.3% of first-timers passed the bar. To add salt to the wound, USD was below the state average: 65% of USD’s first-time takers passed the bar.[1]

As one who is intending to sit for the July 2011 bar exam, the low overall pass rate—and particularly the low rate for the USD alumni—is both disappointing and terrifying. It seems to reinforce the idea that you never know how you’re going to do. You can be extremely confident in your abilities, but one bad day means you’re taking the bar exam for a dreaded second time and have to fear the question, “How did you do?” rather than embrace it.

In addition, USD Law’s poor 2010 performance will undoubtedly affect our U.S. News & World Report ranking. Yes, I know that how U.S. News ranks our school shouldn’t matter for numerous reasons, but the sad truth is that it does matter for a lot of people. Many of us considered the U.S. News rankings when we applied to USD. We were happy to see our school ranked #56 last year, and who wouldn’t love to see our school break into the top 50? So what happened? Was the July 2010 bar exam particularly difficult? Did those taking the bar just not study hard enough? Did USD fail to adequately prepare the recent graduates?

Some may blame USD, but I don’t think USD is entirely at fault. We should accept responsibility for our own failures just like we would want to take credit for our successes. We all come to law school knowing the bar is waiting for us. It’s our responsibility to properly plan for it, and the courses are available for those who want to take them. Sure, the times that classes meet are often inconvenient, but convenience alone shouldn’t dictate whether or not we take a course that would assist us in passing the bar.

If you still feel like USD should do more, ask yourself these questions: Would you want to be at a school that focuses primarily on bar passage? Would you want USD to set your schedule every year like a 1L so we must take every bar course? That’s not what I would want. I appreciate the opportunity to take classes that I am interested in. I enjoy setting my own schedule and having the choice not to take a particular bar course if I don’t want to take it. I like the fact that USD offers a legal education that focuses on more than just passing the bar.

Plus, USD is doing more. USD offered a bar writing course this semester, which was available well before the bar results were released. Arguing that USD knew the bar exam results before the rest of us did is pure speculation. This class was not offered as a response to the July 2010 results. Also, USD is offering a bar workshop for those of us graduating this year. If we’re really concerned about the bar, then there are resources available to us.

The low pass rate shouldn’t discourage us. In fact, I agree with fellow 3L Jennifer Zaharris, who says we should use the low pass rate as motivation to improve the first-time pass rate for our school. As law students, many of us are competitive people, so I would like to pose a challenge to those of us taking the bar this July. Let’s use the low pass rate as motivation to pass the bar the first time—not just to improve our school’s rating, but to blow the 2010 graduates’ rate out of the water! And for those graduating next year, I challenge you to beat the high pass rate we 3Ls will undoubtedly set this year. Good luck.


[1] See David Lat, California Bar Exam Results by Law School: Open Thread, ABOVE THE LAW, Jan. 11, 2011, http://abovethelaw.com/2011/01/california-bar-exam-results-open-thread.

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