Oklahoma Law Students See Low Passage Rates on Feb. Bar Exam

Article excerpt

Oklahoma law students who took the bar exam in February experienced one of the lowest passage rates in recent memory, a fact that has state law deans concerned. University of Oklahoma College of Law students scored highest, with a first-time passage rate of 93 percent, compared with 67 percent for students from the University of Tulsa College of Law and 44 percent for those from Oklahoma City University School of Law.

The schools' overall passage rates were as follows: OU, 71 percent; TU, 63 percent; and OCU, 42 percent.

For all exam takers, including students from out-of-state law schools, the bar passage rate was 56 percent.

The next-lowest overall passage rates since February 1995 occurred in 2002 and 2003, which experienced rates of 65 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

OU law Dean Andrew Coats said he found the numbers disappointing.

"I think that's the lowest passage rate I've ever seen, overall," he said.

Relatively few students take the February bar exam, 110 this year. Most law school graduates sit for the July exam, with 339 taking it last year.

Last July, OU law grads achieved a 97-percent passage rate, both overall and for first-timers. TU's July numbers were 90 percent overall, with 93 percent of first-time takers passing the exam. OCU law graduates experienced an overall passage rate of 90 percent in July, with 94 percent of first-timers passing. The overall passage rate for the state last July was 91 percent, 94 percent for students taking the bar for the first time.

Coats said some of OU's repeat exam takers failed the bar several years ago and apparently took the exam this year without proper preparation.

"That accounted for our very poor showing on the repeat takers," he said.

OU had seven exam repeaters, of whom two passed.

"They've been away doing other things and came back and took the bar again without doing the preparatory courses, which I can't imagine," Coats said. "That's like playing Russian roulette with all the cylinders full."

Overall, Coats said, it's difficult to say whether the February group of law graduates gave below-average answers, "or if there is somehow a tightening of the grading on the bar exam."

Although pleased that OU students scored highest, Coats said the 71-percent total passage rate for graduates is the lowest he's seen in a long time.

"I don't think we have been anywhere short of the mid-80s in a long time," he said.

In February of last year, OU law grads scored an overall bar passage rate of 84 percent, with 86 percent of first-timers passing. TU graduates achieved an 89-percent passage rate, 93 percent for first-time exam takers. OCU law graduates scored an overall passage rate of 79 percent in February 2008, with 82 percent of first- timers passing.

For all students taking the February bar last year, the overall passage rate was 84 percent, 87 percent for first-timers, 72 percent for repeat exam takers.

Among Oklahoma's three law schools, last February's repeat bar- exam performance was as follows: OU, 80 percent; OCU, 60 percent and TU, 75 percent.

Usually, repeat bar-exam takers are in single digits for each school, although this year 10 of OCU's 33 exam takers had previously failed the bar.

TU law Dean Janet Levit said she tends to be a "glass half-full, glass half-empty" kind of person.

"I think you can look at these results through both lenses," she said.

Levit said she believes the 56-percent overall passage rate constitutes a historic Oklahoma low for bar passage.

However, she took note of Tulsa's overall passage rate of 63 percent and the 67 percent achieved by first-time exam takers, both of which exceeded the state rate.

"I'm proud of that," she said. …