Bar Examinations and Bar Passage

Legal Education at a Crossroads: A Response to Measuring Merit: The Shultz-Zedeck Research on Law School Admissions

Document Type

Law Review Article

Publication Date



bar passage correlates, incoming indicators, standardized test scores, LSAT


In July 2014 the number of graduates who passed the bar examination declined at law schools across the country. How could this possibly happen? To be fair, one cannot automatically assume this decline is attributable to lower entering credentials. After all, the median LSAT and grade point averages for the 2011 entering classes were not significantly lower than prior years. Thus, National Council of Bar Examiners (NCBE) President Erica Moeser may have erred when she characterized this year’s test-takers as “less able.” Perhaps the July 2014 bar examination, particularly the Multi-State portion, had flaws in the design or scoring. Alternatively, as Professor Deborah Merritt explains, a flaw in Exam Soft may have contributed to the decline in scores. This is a plausible explanation, in part because an internal review by the NCBE revealed no flaws or “unintended differences in the processes used to perform the equating of a more recent test.”

Thus, if the median LSAT score of the 2011 entering class was similar to prior classes, if the bar examination is not to blame, and if the true cause was a technological glitch, then why should anyone be worried? This article suggests that, regardless of the factors causing the recent decline in bar results, bar pass rates will soon drop significantly due to the four-year decline in LSAT scores at the 25th percentile (and below). In other words, the median LSAT score of a law school can remain unchanged, but the bar pass rate of that school can plummet if the 25th percentile drops. That is precisely what has happened in recent years, and it should stop – now.