Class of 2016 ultimate bar passage rate nears 90 percent

Congrats to the law school Class of 2016. You are more ultimate than the Class of 2015 when it comes to bar passage.

Well, just barely.

For just the second time, the American Bar Association (ABA) has compiled and released ultimate bar passage rates for the nation’s law schools.

The analysis looks at how well their graduates do in the two years following their exit from law school instead of just for first-time test-takers. That means the tally includes graduates who could have taken the bar exam as many as four times.

For the Class of 2016, the rate was 88.57 percent.

For the Class of 2015, it was 88.49.

The numbers remain virtually unchanged, which may provide some relief to law schools over growing concerns regarding bar outcomes. Some states, such as California, have seen disheartening results. Just 55 percent of first-time test takers passed the July 2018 bar, for example.

And the results for first-time test-takers dropped in 2018, the ABA reported. (That would be the first time grads from the Class of 2016 could sit for the bar.) They notched a 74.82 percent pass rate, compared to the 77.34 percent pass rate for those taking the bar in 2017. 

But law schools note that while some graduates may fail initially, nearly 90 percent gain the all-important ability to practice law. However, as was the case last year, the data shows that all schools are not performing equally. So it was good news for some, but bad news for others. In some cases, it was really bad news. Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix tallied only 50 percent, the lowest of all marks. That school is about to close in part because of such woeful results. 

When it comes to accreditation, the ABA looks at bar passage as an important component. One benchmark used is for a school to reach a 75 percent bar passage rate for students five years from graduation.

The ABA has been considering cutting that down to two years. More than 20 schools in this most recent analysis did not meet that threshold, including a number of diverse law schools. For instance, Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, one of the nation's more diverse law schools, had an ultimate bar passage rate of 63.83 percent. 

Leaders of diverse law schools have been the most ardent opponents of cutting the timeframe to achieve the 75 percent rate. They take more marginal students to help diversify the profession, and that pipeline is too valuable to be threatened, they say.

But proponents note that the vast majority of law schools meet or exceed the rate and changing it would encourage borderline schools to be more selective in their admissions.

For the Class of 2016, four schools scored 100 percent, but only two — the University of Chicago Law School and Yale Law School — achieved it without asterisks.

Concordia University School of Law had only 24 graduates (23 passed) and the University of Wisconsin Law School graduates don’t have to sit for the state bar.

Most of the nation’s top law schools had ultimate bar passage rates well into the upper 90 percent range.

Here are some notable improvements:

Temple University: 97.5 percent (The Class of 2015 had a 90.12 percent rate.)

Nova Southeastern University: 93.3 percent. (The Class of 2015 had an 84.6 percent rate.)

University of Arkansas Fayette: 92.16 percent. (The Class of 2015 had an 86.15 percent rate.)