Bar passage up 5%, but 9 schools still struggling

First-time bar exam takers in 2019 notched a 79.64% pass rate, up 5% from the year before, when 74.83% passed, according to recently released ABA figures.

The ultimate bar pass rate also rose, from 89.5% for 2017 graduates compared to the 88.64% for 2016 grads. That data is delayed because it measures the number of graduates who passed in two years — giving them four opportunities to take the bar exam.

While the most recent release of bar data is good news overall, it is still concerning for nine law schools that fell below the 75% ultimate pass rate.

That’s because the ABA toughened compliance in that area after a number of schools saw their numbers drop — which some argue was the result of the institutions lowering standards to fill seats.

Schools used to have five years to meet that 75% mark. That rule change — called ABA Standard 316 — starts with two-year results from the Class of 2017, figures which the ABA also recently released.

Not only are nine schools below the threshold, a handful more are also hovering just above it. 

Western Michigan University Cooley School of Law is one of the schools to fall below the ultimate bar passage rate of 75%. Cooley’s rate is 66%. And signs are not good for the next few years, considering its 2019 bar exam results.

For that class, WMU had a 36% pass rate, which was worse than its 2018 showing, at 42%.

The school with the lowest ultimate pass rate was Faulkner University, Thomas Jones School of Law, based in Montgomery, Ala., with a 62.5% rate.

The ABA, in a statement, cautioned against reaching conclusions concerning this data and any possible ABA action against law schools.

“This report is not a compliance report for ABA Standard 316, which establishes bar exam outcomes that a law school must achieve under the accreditation standards, which is a separate and distinct matter,” said Barry Currier, the managing director of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar for the ABA.

For the Class of 2019, the nation’s top law schools as usual peppered the top of the list, such as Harvard Law School with a 98.93% pass rate. Duke University School of Law followed at 98%.

Wisconsin schools have perfect or near perfect results, but their grads don’t have to sit for the state bar, which skews the totals.    

Florida International University College of Law continued its hot streak when it comes to bar passage. The Miami school got a near 95% pass rate, leading all Florida schools yet again. The school employs progressive learning techniques to prepare students.

Some schools saw sweet bumps. Take The University of Akron School of Law. It saw its pass rate jump from 61% in 2018 to 80% in 2019.


Schools below the 75% mark

Faulkner Law 62.50%

University of District of Columbia 64.06%

Mississippi College 64.15%

WMU-Cooley 66.01%

University of South Dakota 67.21%

Florida Coastal School of Law  67.29%

Atlanta’s John Marshall 67.32%

Florida A&M University 70.83%

Charleston School of Law 72.12%