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Whoa! Is the Mississippi Bar Becoming Impossible?

Standardized Test with yellow pencil
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 03, 2019 | Last updated on May 07, 2020

If Maxcy Filer had taken Mississippi's bar exam instead of California's, he probably never would have become a lawyer.

California was hard enough for Filer, who took the test 48 times before he passed. It was a record that will never be beaten, especially in Mississippi. That's because the Mississippi Supreme Court has come up with a new rule: if you fail the bar exam three times, you have to go back to law school. It could have been worse: some justices would have barred you forever.

Three Strikes

Apparently, the new rule is a first for any state in the nation. Mississippi bar takers will have three chances to pass the bar. If they don't, they will have to take 12 more hours at an ABA accredited law school before they can reapply for the test. After completing the additional instruction, they may take the test again -- once. If they fail again, it's back to law school again.

Some justices objected to the rule, saying there was not enough evidence that 12 hours would make a difference. (You would think the embarrassment of going back to school after graduation would be motivation enough.) But the objectors were not being merciful. Instead, they would have capped the retesting at five strikes and you're out. "After three unsuccessful attempts, an applicant should not be allowed to retake the examination without additional legal education," wrote Justice Kenny Griffis. "However, I disagree with the Court's decision to allow an unlimited number of re-examination attempts. I would impose a maximum number of attempts."

Mississippi had to do something; the pass rate has been declining steadily over the past several years. It dropped from a high of 75 percent to 40 percent. Then this past February, less than a third of the bar applicants passed the exam. That was about the same pass-rate as California.


Known for having one of the toughest bars, California turned in its second-worst performance in more than 30 years. In February, barely 30 percent passed. Falling bar pass rates is a national problem. It can be traced to 2007, when the Great Recession drove down the market for law jobs. Law schools saw their enrollments drop, and responded by lowering admission standards for incoming students. Many of them, however, haven't been able to pass the bar.

Of course, Maxcy Filer would have taken it again. And again. And again....

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