Robert Anderson

Professor of Law Pepperdine University School of Law

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Unfortunately, I completely disagree with your analysis. The New York bar exam has a very high passage rate when you look at test takers who actually graduated from an ABA accredited law school. It appears that California also allows people who have not graduated from an ABA accredited law school to take the exam. I attended school with many students who went back to the state of New York and had no problem passing that exam, while nearly half of the bar exam takers failed the Michigan exam during the July 2012 administration. Most of these people had significantly lower LSAT scores than I had. (I'm talking 5-10 points). This analysis doesn't really account for the dramatic change in the Michigan Bar exam grading scale, which started with the July 2012 exam, and your data focuses on the bar passage data from 2010 and 2011. Michigan is now the hardest bar exam in the country. California being second.

Considering that you are focusing on 2010 and 2011 you may be right to place Michigan where it is on your chart, but this certainly isn't helpful for people who are registering to take the bar exam soon and need information on the current grading of bar exams in the nation. I would be interested to see how you break this down after analyzing the bar exams as they are currently being administered and graded.

Additionally your link to an article saying that people who were passing the Michigan exam before were incompetent is not based on anything but lies. It is embarrassing that a spokesperson for the Michigan Supreme Court is saying one thing, when the July 2012 bar takers were told that the decision was made at the end of June 2012 to amend the grading starting with the July 2012 exam. Now, after a backlash by some in the legal community, Ms. McBrien is making a claim that there were changes made to the grading of the February 2012 bar exam. Of course that had a lower passage rate because February has traditionally been an exam primarily for those who fail the July bar. The claim that the change began in February 2012 is completely in conflict with everything we received from the Michigan Board of Law Examiners and what Mr. Raubinger, the Secretary of the Board of Law Examiners said. It did not begin in February 2012 and every member of the Board of Law Examiners that I have spoken to has personally said something to the contrary to the article that you posted. It is disappointing that the response is to lie, to cover themselves up and to attempt to discourage all of us who were essentially victimized by the Michigan Board of Law Examiners to pursue this matter. I thought attorneys were supposed to be held to a higher standard of ethics. What happened on the Michigan Bar exam had a lot more to do with other "legal politics" in the state of Michigan, other than just keeping incompetent lawyers out. That claim has never been substantiated by any evidence, such as showing that there were more attorneys grieved, or anything that would should a real purpose for a dramatic shift in the grading, which no one frankly knew about (aside from the Board of Law Examiners) until a week after the results came out in November. Perhaps Ms. McBrien, and the entire Board of Law Examiners, should have to retake the bar, since they only had to meet the standards for incompetent lawyers.

I realize that the point of your article was not to discuss the Michigan bar exam, but putting a link to an article that outrageous is not doing a service of fair reporting. There have been many articles written on the Michigan July 2012 exam and the article you shared has a completely different vibe than nearly every other article I have read. Maybe you should have shared an article like this one instead, which is actually from the State Bar of Michigan, which focuses how the Board of Law Examiners failed to provide proper notice to the applicants of the July 2012 bar exam. If this change had truly happened for the February 2012 bar exam, then we would all have had more than enough time to be notified. Mr. Raubinger stated in a meeting in November 2012 that the Board of Law Examiners made the decision at the end of June 2012 to amend the grading and that they posted something on their web site about it. They could have emailed all the applicants to notify them, as they were doing with other important information, but did not for whatever reason (none given when questioned). I am shocked by the claims made in the article you shared and that is the first I have ever heard that claim. Furthermore, I have no idea who Ms. McBrien is and what her relationship is to the Board of Law Examiners (or if she even has any direct relationship to the BLE). While the Michigan BLE is under the Supreme Court, it is completely autonomous. This is the first I have ever heard her name in the discussion of the July 2012 bar exam. If it really was changed for the February 2012 exam, then why did not one person who sat for the July 2012 exam, or any of the Michigan law schools know anything about it? Why didn’t Kaplan or Barbri talk to those about the change? In bar prep, they are constantly sending us messages about changes in Michigan law,and changes in the bar exam. No one knew until 3 months after the exam. If it really had been changed in February, then why didn’t all the deans react when the February results came out, instead of in November when the July results came out?

I seem to recall that proper notice is one concept that is predominant in legal studies. A competent, licensed attorney in Michigan should know better.

It should also be noted that in addition to taking the Delaware Bar Exam you must complete a law clerkship in Delaware before you can be admitted, even you do pass the bar exam.

Dear Michigan Bar Taker,

It is clear that the 2012 changes to the Michigan bar exam have been very painful and that the 2012 exam was not comparable to previous years' exams. I tried to be clear that my ranking was not based on the 2012 results, and I even mentioned Michigan specifically as a state that would have ranked differently if the 2012 results were included.

I plan to do a follow-up post on the 2012 Michigan results that will put them in context of other states. For now, I will just say that it looks like based on the 2012 Michigan pass rate the bar exam would have been about as difficult as California's.

As for why I linked the article, I did not do so to endorse the article or its opinions, but merely to provide background on the 2012 changes. I am not an advocate of more difficult bar exams, or necessarily of bar exams in general. I see arguments on both sides.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments and perspective of a bar exam taker in Michigan. I appreciate it.

Best, RA

Robert - While I respect your efforts, without Delaware your ranking is incomplete. Delaware is far and away the most difficult exam to pass. I could not comment on the calculated average LSAT score, but Delaware only permits graduates of ABA schools to sit for their exam, which suggests a calculated average LSAT score in the average to high range and the pass rate is at least 10 percentage points lower than any other state represented in your analysis. I have passed four bar exams and Delaware was the only one I worried about. I studied diligently for it and, after passing, took New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania without cracking a book. I passed them all with a good margin (don't know about Delaware because they don't tell you what you scored if you passed - or at least they din't in 2008).
Contact Widener Law School if you want Delaware data. I'll bet they have it or can point you in the right direction.

I have taken and failed the New York and Louisiana Bars.

I was wholly unprepared for the NY Bar as I had some very unfortunate things to deal with during Bar review and was perpetually behind.

In studying for the LA Bar, I was completely focused, present and diligent. I walked into that exam feeling as prepared as anyone could feel.

I received my results from both Bars; NY requires achieving 665 of 1000 points to pass and LA requires achieving 650 of 900 points. I was 30 points from passing NY and 85 points from passing LA.

I remember thinking that the NY essay questions were well-written and comprehensive, but the NY multiple choice questions were impossibly difficult.

The LA essay questions, upon which the entire exam is based - save for a random 40 multiple choice questions that were so poorly worded one could wonder whether anyone even proofread them for grammar - were unorganized and poorly written. The questions often did not even match the subject of the scenarios. There were frequent typos and confusion of characters that were named in the scenarios and later asked about in questions - this is a huge problem when answering questions about property law and successions. It was like fumbling around in the dark.

I am only one person, so I can only speak to my experience. Frankly, these rankings do not mean a lot. Bar exams are difficult no matter where you take them. But, some administrations are certainly superior to others and I believe that is the criterion upon which these tests should be ranked.

NY publishes its model answers and provides failed papers to examinees. Its questions are fair, comprehensive, well-organized and well-written. NY's Committee takes and relies upon feedback from examinees to revise and improve its questions. I would argue that based upon its transparency and organization, the NY Bar is easier than the LA Bar.

LA's Committee is so secretive that not only will it not allow examinees to keep their failed papers, it will not release model answers. Examinees must make review appointments during designated weeks of the year, at the Committee on Bar Admissions office, which last a mere 3 hours. During this 3 hour review period, examinees are not permitted to take notes, or keep their failed papers - no cell phones, etc. are allowed. For an exam that is the longest in the country, at 22.5 hours, a 3 hour review period is laughable. Furthermore, no model answers are provided, only answers on exams that passed. LA's Committee does not take feedback and does not revise its questions except to change them enough that they are not always exactly the same each examination. (This has proved to be very faulty and I believe is one reason why there is such great confusion in characters [asking about either a character who does not exist in the fact pattern or referring to the wrong character entirely], and so many typos.) Therefore, there is no room for improvement; every year the same bad exam is administered over a grueling and unnecessarily long period of time. The exam is repetitive and daunting. Recently, the Committee has decided to use multiple choice questions here and there. These questions are ridiculous. There were many on February's exam that caused examinees to laugh out loud.

Why not start ranking Bar administrations? Of NY and LA, there is no contest. LA loses every time, worst administration ever.

Isn't this a bad measure of exam difficulty though? I mean, all states could give the same exam. If each state, though has discretion to admit students, it can set the pass mark at any arbitrary point it wants. So, one state would set the pass mark at the highest level, but that does NOT mean that the exam is any harder than any other.

I will tell you, I am much more concerned about the UBE, which only gives you 30 minutes to write each essay, than the Cal Bar, where you have a whole hour to write each. Also, objectively, the UBE and other bar exams have subject matter that they don't test in California. You don't have to know family law, tax law, UCC Section 9, and many other things to pass in California. All in all, I think the Cal Bar is probably a relatively easy test, except for the fact that, perhaps, the state arbitrarily sets a higher pass mark.

Second thing, you're saying that the average LSAT score in California is in like the 80th percentile of all LSAT test takers? That can't be right, can it? Do the smartest students in each state try their luck in California?

California's bar exam is three full days. I just wanted that clarified. It was the first bar exam I took and the pass rate for my exam was 36%.

This chart is inherently flawed because most difficult does not necessarily correspond to lowest bar passage rate. Obviously California is extremely difficult. But Oklahoma sits at the bottom of this list when it is actually exceedingly difficult. 16 30-minute essays in the first day, followed by the MBE. It's the longest single day among any of the state exams. Sure, the passage rate is high, but that doesn't make the test any less difficult.

It should be noted that Louisianas bar is different than all others (I attended law school in Louisiana for the most part, albeit finished in California, and most friends took the Louisiana bar). You may condition the bar there, meaning you may fail a large portion, simply retake that portion at the next bar sitting, and as long as you pass a certain portion of that, you are barred in Louisiana. This has always struck me as massively unfair, as no other states will bar you upon failing a chunk of the bar, and later conditioning (making you barred), if you merely pass a portion of what you failed, retaking nothing else. Many classmates and friends studied only some subjects, passed those subjects in their first bar sitting, then studied different material (subjects) for the first time upon their second bar exam sitting, thereby making it exponentially easier to get barred in Louisiana than any other state.

Nice idea. This study would be complemented by a "soft" study by someone who has a lot of experience across states--- maybe, a veteran national law school placement director. It's an example of how a regression is useful for both generating results directly and pinpointing which observations to look at individually (because they're way off the regression line)

Thanks, Eric. It's always nice to hear from you. I have had anecdotal reports both ways, but mostly in support of the general direction of the rankings. Really, this whole exercise would be trivial if the state bars were transparent. Most states scale their essays to the MBE and then have a passing score expressed on the MBE scale, making a direct, exact comparison of difficulty possible. The problem is that some states don't scale their essays, and others have various procedures for rereading essays that effectively undermine the scaling process. Much of this could be compensated for if state bars would release the distribution of MBE scores in their states. A few do, such as California, but most don't.

I understand the ABA wants to market the LSAT as the "be all" test, but it isn't. The LSAT test is only designed to be predictive of a student successfully passing their 1L year. Beyond that is has little predictive success. It would be more interesting to see data with what Bar Prep course the students took and how that effected their pass scores. I don't know anyone in my class that challenged the Bar Exam cold without a prep course.

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