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Moving toward a goal of 100 percent bar pass rate, a Utah law school is bucking the national trend of declining bar exam scores.
The University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law pushed 87 percent of its graduates over the state bar exam hump this year, edging closer to its goal for the second straight year. Dean Robert Adler credited the students and faculty for committing to the "100/100 Initiative" launched in 2015.
"Improved performance on the bar exam shows how well prepared our students are at graduation, but it is also the last hurdle our students must overcome to use their law degrees for most of the jobs they seek," he said.
Adler said the law school focused on identifying students who have struggled, giving them help in one-on-one and group settings. The school also increased staff for the task.
By all standards, the Utah college has an ambitious goal. Nationally, bar pass rates have steadily declined in recent years.
The average score on the multistate bar exam in February this year dropped to its lowest level in 45 years. Bar pass rates fell to 58 percent last year, the lowest in 10 years' of statistics released by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Erica Moeser, president of the organization, attributed the decline to changing law school admissions. In an interview with the ABA Journal, she declined to say that law schools have lowered admission standards but did say that there are "different enrollment patterns."
In a struggling economy, law school enrollments started falling years before the bar pass rates tanked. And as enrollments went down, so did LSAT scores of students who were admitted to many law schools.
Paul Caron, editor of TaxProf Blog, said the highest-scoring applicants have opted not to go to law school. Last year, the number of those applicants with scores between 175 and 180 dropped 23 percent.
"The story could be that better-credentialed college graduates are turning away from going to law school, because they feel they have other opportunities that they feel are more attractive," Caron said.
If Utah's Quinney College is successful, it would be the second nationally accredited law school to boast 100 percent admission bar pass rate. All University of Wisconsin Law School graduates consistently pass the bar, but that's because the state admits students who graduate from an accredited law school there by "diploma privilege."
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