Maine’s February 2019 Bar Pass Rate Worst In Nation.
Posted May 19, 2019.
Edmund R. Folsom, Esq.
Maine’s Overall February Pass Rate 31% — Declining Law School Admissions Standards.
Maine’s February 2019 bar pass rate was the worst in the nation, with an official 31% pass rate that squeaked-out California’s 31.4% rate for the U.S. low slot.* Why are things this bad? …Good question, right? Bar passage rates have plummeted in all 50 states over the past 10 years, as can be seen here. It’s likely that declining law school admissions standards have a lot to do with the trend. For instance, in 2016 the pool of law school applicants was so shallow that 7 New England law schools (U Maine Law, Suffolk Law, New England Law, Western New England Law, U Mass Dartmouth Law, Vermont Law, and Roger Williams Law) filled their entering classes with students 25% of whom who had LSAT scores below the 35th percentile and 25% of whom had undergraduate GPA’s below 3.0. (see here for correlation between LSAT scores and percentiles).
Most of those students graduated this year and will take their first bar exam in July. We’ll see how that turns out. Although the quality of the applicant pool has improved somewhat since 2016, some of these schools are still admitting entering classes 25% of whom have LSAT scores at or below the 30th LSAT percentile and 25% of whom have undergrad GPA’s at or below 2.9.
Is It The UBE “Cut” Score?
The downward trend in bar passage rates is a national trend, but only 1 state came in last among all states for its February 2019 pass rate—Maine. That’s a rough distinction to own. Why is Maine dead last? Does anybody care? Maine does have nearly the highest Uniform Bar Exam “cut” or passing score in the nation, at 276. Only 2 other states, Colorado and Rhode Island, have a 276 cut score, and only Alaska’s is higher at 280. Certainly, more people would have passed if Maine’s cut score were lower, and cut scores in other states do range as low as 260 (In New England, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts are at 270, Connecticut is at 266 and Rhode Island is 276).
What Does It Mean For Prospective Law Students?
Still, I doubt Maine’s cut score is entirely to blame for Maine’s dismal bar exam performance of late. Maybe nobody else will tell you this, but If you are considering going to law school and practicing law in Maine, you should think long and hard before jumping in. If you have solid undergraduate academic credentials and score very well on the LSAT, you’ll probably do just fine on the bar exam. Then, you’ll only have to worry about finding work in a glutted lawyer market. But you need to realize that nobody in the law biz is watching out for you. Get real and watch out for yourself. Law schools are still keeping their doors open by letting in students who will have a very difficult time passing the bar exam.
With grade inflation and the need to keep seats filled being what they are, you’ll find it much easier to pass your law school exams than to pass the bar. If you have an LSAT score below the 50th percentile, think seriously about how well you’ll do facing-down that big, scary post-law school standardized test that will determine whether you are allowed to practice law or not. And don’t buy a lot of jive about all the wonderful things you can do with a law degree if you don’t pass the bar exam. Although you might intend to practice somewhere that provides better odds of passing the bar exam than Maine, keep in mind, the ABA reports that nationally only 54% of the 67,250 people who took the bar exam in 2018 passed it. That would leave about 30,935 people who didn’t.
How Many Years Can You Afford To Study For The Bar Exam After Law School?
The ABA’s disclosure requirements now call for ABA-accredited law schools to report their pass rates for graduates who take the bar within 2 years after graduation. If it takes a graduate 2 years to pass the bar exam (possibly taking the exam four times during that period) that goes down in the school’s stats as a success story. Do you have the time and money it would take to spend 2 years after law school learning the things you need to learn to pass the bar that they didn’t teach you in law school? Again, nobody in this business is looking out for you. Look out for yourself.
The Pass Rate Numbers, Nationally.
Here are the pass rate numbers I managed to glean nationally, from multiple sources, for the February 2019 Bar Exam:
Delaware does not have a February bar exam. South Dakota’s passage rate is unavailable.
Maine’s Annual Overall Pass Rates from 2013 through 2018 (and estimated for 2019):
Related Articles: Bar Passage Craters – Too Many Law Schools.
*Delaware does not administer a February bar exam. I have the numbers for all but 1 of the remaining 49 states. I am unable to get the numbers for South Dakota because they are highly secretive. However, Maine is clearly in last place.
** Calculated based on Board of Bar Overseers information on official February and July 2019 pass percentages and the number of those who passed both exams.
The list of applicants for the July 2019 Maine Bar Exam has 150 names on it. That’s up somewhat from the 133 listed applicants for the July 2018 exam, and it probably reflects some churning, as those who failed the February exam (and the one before that, and before that?) throw in their lot with recent graduates to have another go. It will be interesting to see the pass rate this time. Of the 62 applicants listed for the February 2019 exam, only 14 later appeared on the list of passers. I am still surprised by the complacency surrounding Maine’s nation-beating worst February 2019 rate. A number of people have pointed out, “Well, that was February….there are a lot of repeat takers in February.” They must not think the February 2019 bar exam was administered in February everywhere else in the U.S.
Immediately following the July 2019 Maine bar exam, the Maine Board of Bar Examiners’ list of 142 applicants for admission through the July exam now has 142 names on it. Eight have been dropped from the initial list.
The results are out for the July 2019 Maine bar exam — 67 people passed. The Board of Bar Examiners has posted the official passage rate as 52%. As near as I can figure, this puts the overall 2019 pass rate at 47%. Read about it here.