Local News

Bar exam failure rates rising nationwide and in NC

Posted April 3, 2015 6:35 p.m. EDT

— In a troubling trend across the nation, more and more law school graduates are failing the bar exam.

According to figures from the Board of Law Examiners of the State of North Carolina, the combined pass rate for students at the state’s seven law schools has hit a five-year low.

In July 2005, 83 percent of in-state students and 68 percent of all students passed the North Carolina bar. In July 2014, those numbers dropped to 69 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

And in February 2015, the rate slipped to 40 and 43 percent, respectively.

Campbell University School of Law boasts the state's highest bar exam pass rate over the past 25 years, and three of its students recently won a national mock trial competition.

Rich Leonard, dean of Campbell’s law school, said he thinks law schools are doing enough to prepare students.

“We don't think we produce students of any less ability," he said.

North Carolina Bar Association President Catharine Arrowood said the numbers are concerning and likely indicative of a change in the quality of the student.

She cites an influx of law students during the recession, but she also supports a new look at licensing that may include more hands-on legal training.

“How do we find the best way to get the right number of lawyers properly trained working in our state so that every citizen of our state can get legal representation when they need it?” she said.

Leonard and Arrowood both said there is also a need to evaluate the testing process.

“There needs to be a wide open look at the bar exam, what it tests, how it tests and let's just all have some confidence that we're all on the same path about this,” he said.

Added Arrowood, “Is there some way we can redesign bar exams and the licensing of lawyers to permit more mobility and more openness in where people can practice law?”

As part of that evaluation, the North Carolina Bar Association in May will bring together experts from across the legal profession to explore everything from judicial funding to the bar exam.

Randel Phillips, chairman of the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, said it "weighs on the board" that the bar exam pass rate is declining, but he stands by the integrity of the test. He cites declining credentials from students and welcomes "ongoing dialogue" about the licensing process.