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Struggling to pass the bar exam? It might not be your fault

Law School

The Van Hecke-Wettach Hall hosts UNC's School of Law.

Less than 83 percent of UNC's Law School graduates are passing the bar exam, and some of the school's administrators believe a difficult state bar and inconsistent data collection methods may account for the low rate.

According to Inside Higher Ed, 218 of UNC Law School’s 2015 graduates took the bar exam, a test used to determine if a person is qualified to practice law, within two years of graduation, but only 180 of them passed the test. The passage rate was 82.6 percent. That rate is one of the lowest in North Carolina.

Inside Higher Ed reported law passage rates for four other North Carolina law schools: North Carolina Central University had an 82.2 percent passage rate, Elon University had an 87.1 percent rate, Duke University had an 89 percent rate and Campbell University had a 97.9 percent rate. 

Law school Associate Dean for Strategy Jeffrey Hirsch said data variance and North Carolina’s difficult bar exam may account for the school’s low passage rate.

“The ABA for the first time this year began collecting data on all students who took a bar exam, including repeat test takers. However, because schools were not aware that they needed to track all of this information, the data seems pretty unreliable to me, especially for comparison purposes,” Hirsch said.

He said that most Carolina Law graduates take the state of North Carolina’s bar exam. Hirsch said that compared with the state’s average pass rates, UNC Law graduates perform well. 

 “One important thing to remember when interpreting bar passage rates is that states can differ significantly in their difficulty, including the content that is covered on the exam and the score required to pass the exam," Hirsch said. "Indeed, North Carolina recently has become one of the hardest bar exams in the country. The only three states with a lower pass rate than North Carolina’s were Rhode Island, Arizona and Mississippi.”

He said although the 2015 rate was less than 83 percent, it was 18.21 percent higher than the state average of 64.7 percent, and that in 2017, 83.2 percent of UNC Law graduates passed the N.C. bar, which was 18.6 percent higher than that year’s state average.

“Support for the bar exam is one of the many great services provided under our Academic Excellence Program,” said UNC Law Director of Academic Excellence Program OJ Salinas. 

Salinas said the school prepares its students for careers in law beginning with orientation and continuing until they pass the bar exam. 

“Unlike other law schools throughout the country, Carolina Law’s academic support services are taught and provided by full-time faculty members,” he said.

The school’s bar support services extend into general curriculum with a class on substantive law, which frequently appears on the test. First-year law students have access to the school’s legal research and writing program, which helps improve legal reasoning and writing. 

“What jumps out to me is our graduates’ success above the state bar exam averages. I believe that speaks well to the education that our students receive, in addition to the work that people like Professor Salinas do in preparing students to succeed both in their law school courses and on the bar. We constantly strive to do better, of course, but on the whole our students have performed admirably on the bar exam,” Hirsch said.


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