Over at his blog Excess of Democracy, Derek Muller (Pepperdine) has a provacative post titled "NCBE Has Data To Prove Class of 2014 Was Worst in a Decade, And It's Likely Going to Get Worse." Derek recounts that the overall bar passage rate across the country for the July 2014 sitting was down as compared to previous years, and he posits that the lower results were caused by "student quality and law school decisionmaking." He believes that the data suggests that lower quality students, and educational decisions of law schools, are producing graduating classes that are less qualified overall, in turn resulting in lower bar passage rates.
In essence, students come into law school having done worse on the LSAT, and they leave law school doing worse on the bar exam.
Apropos of which, Paul Caron has the latest California bar passage data:
The big story this year is the striking decline in the bar passage rate:
- First time test takers from ABA-aproved law schools: down 6.5 percentage points
- All test takers: down 7.1 percentage points
These declines are concentrated in the lowest ranked schools:
- First time test takers at the 5 highest ranked schools: down 1.5 percentage points
- First time test takers at the 5 lowest tanked schols: down 12.3 percentage points
The state’s overall passing rate has declined in the past five years, from 89 percent in 2009 down to 80.9 percent this year.
One might reasonably infer that the slump in law school applications has meant that all schools are taking in students today that they would not have taken 10 years ago, but that the bottom tier schools have been disproportionately affected by this trend, which makes sense. As Brian Tamanaha has noted:
A sharp decline in applicants inevitably leads to a decline in the quality of law students, manifested in declining LSAT/GPA medians and rising acceptance rates. A decade ago, for the entering class of 2003, only 4 law schools accepted 50% or more of their applicants (the highest at 55.4%). Jump forward to 2011: 42 law schools accepted 50% or more of their applicants, broken down as follows: 29 schools accepted between 50% and 59%; 7 schools accepted between 60% and 69%; 5 schools accepted between 70% and 79%; one law school accepted 80.1%.
Here is another comparison to put the decline in perspective: A little more than half of the applicants who applied to law school in 2004 were accepted somewhere; in 2013, around seventy-five (and perhaps eighty) percent of the people who apply will be admitted somewhere. As law schools reach ever deeper into the applicant pool, they will admit students who should not be in law school. Applicants with low LSAT/GPA scores, in particular, have a higher risk of failing out and a higher risk of not passing the bar exam.
The bottom tier schools now are truly scraping the bottom of the barrel, which is reflected in their bar passage rates.