Home » Maine Law » Maine’s July 2019 Bar Results Are Out – The Slide Continues.

Maine’s July 2019 Bar Results Are Out – The Slide Continues.

Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq.

September 13, 2019 (updated through 11/17/19, with release of California bar results)

Maine’s July 2019 Bar Results Are Out – The Slide Continues.

How Did Maine Do On the July 2019 Bar Exam?

Maine’s July 2019 bar exam results are out, and the plunge continues.  Don’t get me wrong, the July 2019 numbers are a marked improvement over the February 2019, nation-beating low pass rate of 31%. According to the Maine Board of Bar Examiners web site, the official July 2019 pass rate is 52%.  Once again, the Board’s official rate is higher than the rate to be gleaned from dividing the number of passers, 67, by the number of applicants listed in the exam’s immediate aftermath, 142.  That comparison yields a pass rate of 47%, so a fair number of applicants must have jumped ship at the last minute, cancelled scores, or some such thing, again.  And look, a 47% July pass rate would be something to be concerned about, wouldn’t it?  But 52% is pretty darned good in comparison, right?

Back when I posted that Maine’s February pass rate was the absolute lowest in the entire U.S.A., even worse than that of perennial last place finisher California, a number of people replied that it might only have been the case because we were dealing with the February exam.  Traditionally, February scores are worse than July scores because the February exam has more repeat takers, and repeat takers don’t do as well as first-time takers.  Of course, that  overlooks that the February bar exam was the February bar exam EVERYWHERE IT WAS ADMINISTERED.

Nationally, some expect July 2019 bar passage rates to rise, given that the July 2019 Multistate Bar Exam mean score rose nearly 1.6 points from the July 2018 mean score.  Last year’s overall annual pass rate for Maine — February and July exams combined — was 55%. For 2019, going by the Board’s official pass rates and their official posting of passers (by name in February and by number in July), it appears approximately 173 test takers* finished the Maine bar exam in February and July combined.  Of those 173 takers, 81 passed.  That’s an overall pass rate of 46.82%, which will probably be rounded up to 47% for the official number.  Following are Maine’s overall annual bar passage rates, 2009 through 2019.  Observe the ugly trend.

2009: 77%

2010: 88%

2011: 68%

2012: 68%

2013: 76%

2014: 71%

2015: 61%

2016: 68%

2017: 63%

2018: 55%

2019: 47%*

For years 2009-2014, the mean pass rate was 74.666%, the high 88% and the low 68%.

For years 2015-2019, the mean pass rate was 58.8%, the high 68% and the low 47%.

Who’s still in denial?


How Did Other States Do on their July 2019 Bar Exam?

For comparison purposes, I’ll endeavor to post the July 2019 bar exam results from other states as they become available. A number of states don’t post pass rates online, so the project isn’t as easy as it looks, but the Deceptively Blonde website is a good place to start tracking down the numbers.  For those states, like Maine, that administer the Uniform Bar Exam, the number shown in parentheses following the pass rate is that state’s Uniform Bar Exam “cut” score, required for bar passage.  Here goes nothing…   And, update 11/16/2019, I’ve got as many as I’m going to get, below.  With its 47%*, 2019 annual bar passage rate, it appears Maine shares the distinction with California of being one of only two jurisdictions in the U.S. with a 2019 overall bar passage rate below 50%!

Kansas 85% (266)

Montana 81% (266)

Iowa 80% (266)

Nebraska 79% (270)

Missouri 78% (260)

Minnesota 77.96 (260)

Virginia 75.2%

Oklahoma 75%

Oregon 75% (274)

Florida 73.9%

Ohio 73.1%

Pennsylvania 73.07%

North Carolina 73% (270)

North Dakota 73% (260)

Colorado 72% (276)

New Mexico 72% (260)

Massachusetts 71.5% (270)

West Virginia 71% (270)

Tennessee 70.9% (270)

Washington D.C. 69% (266)

Texas 68.47%

Louisiana 68.39%

Maryland 68.37% (266)

South Carolina 68.24% (266)

Washington 68% (270)

New Jersey 66.45% (266)

Mississippi 66.4%

Arizona 66% (273)

Kentucky 66%

Georgia 65.8%

New York 65% (266)

Wisconsin  64%

Idaho 63.6% (272)

New Hampshire 63% (270)

Indiana 62%

Alabama 61.3% (260)

Michigan 61%

Vermont 61% (270)

Nevada 61%

Connecticut 60% (266)

Rhode Island 60% (276)

Alaska 56% (280)

Delaware 52%

Maine 52% (276)

California 50.1%

Here’s a fun fact about California that might partly explain why its bar passage rate is so low — California has more than 40 non-ABA accredited law school programs whose students are allowed to sit for the California bar exam.  In the race to the bottom, that makes California a cheater, which means they should be disqualified.  Maine wins!!!


Why Does New England (Other than Massachusetts) Lag as a Region?

As previously posted, 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.  If low LSAT’s and GPA’s have something to do with low bar passage rates, we should expect to see low bar passage rates for this group.  The group graduated this year.

Although 2019 bar passage rates are not yet available for these 7 schools, their 2018 bar passage rates are.  The 2018 numbers for U Maine Law and U Mass Dartmouth were pretty good:  72.22% of U Maine’s first-time takers  and 79.55% of U Mass first-time takers passed a bar exam (U Mass Dartmouth has a high first-year attrition rate that might be shaking out the bottom of its class).  The passage rates for these 2 schools on the Maine and Massachusetts bar exams, respectively, were above the rates for first-time takers from ABA accredited schools overall on those same bar exams.

The other 5 schools in this group did not do as well.  Their 2018 first-time taker numbers are as follow:  Suffolk 60.4%, New England 55.49%, Western New England 47.76%, Vermont 69.57%, and Roger Williams 51.67%.  Mind you, these 2018 rates are for first-time takers from these schools.  Passage rates decline markedly for repeat takers.

Do graduates of these 5 poorly-performing schools take the Maine bar exam in significant numbers?  If so, maybe that explains Maine’s rock-bottom overall bar passage rate.  Clearly, graduates of these 5 schools take bar exams in significant numbers in New England as a whole, which might explain New England’s poor overall performance.  On the other hand, 3 of these schools are in Massachusetts – the state that scores the best of the New England bunch. And, Massachusetts even lets graduates of the non-ABA accredited Massachusetts School of Law sit for its bar exam.  Do most graduates of these schools take the bar exam outside Massachusetts, or are graduates of Harvard Law, B.C. Law and B.U. Law sticking around Massachusetts, pulling up the statewide average?

A couple of years ago, the passage rate on the North Carolina bar exam began rising significantly when a single law school, Charlotte Law, was shut down by the ABA for its abysmal performance.  Low performance from a cluster of schools located in New England might be producing a similar drag on the northeast, including Maine.  For instance, New Hampshire’s overall 2018 bar passage rate for ABA accredited schools was 56.25%.  The rate for first-time takers from UNH Law was 84.44%. Did the takers who pulled down New Hampshire’s overall pass rate graduate from schools in this poorly performing group of New England schools?

Here’s What I’m Starting to Think, November 17, 2019.

At this point we have numbers, above, for 44 states and the District of Columbia.  California’s July bar results were released on November 15, 2019.  The other states whose numbers we are missing — Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming — are opaque, so I doubt I’ll see those numbers until they show up sometime next year in a compilation released by the ABA or the National Conference of Bar Examiners. But there’s no reason to think any of the missing states’ rates will scrape the bottom with Maine. The numbers we have show Maine tied with Delaware for next to last place on the July exam. California is in last place. Delaware does not administer a February exam so we know Maine’s overall 47% pass rate for 2019 places it below Delaware’s 52% rate for 2019 overall.  California likely has a rate below Maine’s 47% for 2019 overall, so Maine probably end ups with the next-to-lowest bar passage rate, #50 in the United States, for 2019.  Isn’t that special?

At this point, I hypothesize that low admissions standards, especially among the New England law schools mentioned above, are what’s put our bar exam takers near the bottom of the pile. Then, having the next to highest UBE cut score in the U.S. nudged us the rest of the way to the bottom.  If we had Connecticut’s 266 cut score, or New Hampshire’s 270, would we have avoided next to last place as they did?  Only the Board of Bar Examiners knows for sure, but I call it likely.

We can hope the bottom has been reached for bar pass rates. The LSAT and GPA numbers for the 25th percentile have risen from their class-of-2019 low. At this point I’m thinking those rock-bottom numbers are the culprit.  Several years ago, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners commented that then-declining scores on the multi-state bar exam were caused by “less able” students.  Law school deans, who were admitting droves of students with lower LSAT’s and GPA’s (to keep the seats filled and the doors open) bristled at the suggestion.  And now, here we are.  I think the schools owe those students a special obligation that they have failed to uphold.  If New England’s class-of-2019, rock-bottom 25th percentile have the ability to pass the bar exam, they clearly have less aptitude for it.  The schools that admitted these students and helped them run up massive debt in quest of a professional credential they have yet to achieve can’t have it both ways. Either the schools were wrong, and the 25th percentile students they admitted were in fact “less able,” in which case the schools owe the students something for using them as cash cows and guinea pigs, or the schools were correct, and the students do have the ability, in which case the schools failed them.  Which is it?





Related Articles: Maine’s February 2019 Bar Pass Rate Worst in Nation.

The Big Fail:  Why Bar Pass Rates Have Fallen to Record Lows.

Congrats Law School Grads — Bar Exam Results Are Looking Good, Really Good.

Vermont Bar Exam Pass Rate Down 9%




*Plus or minus 1 or 2 people, depending whether the Board rounded up or down to reach its official February and July pass rates of 31% and 52%, respectively.