Failing Mississippi bar exam could mean return to law school

MGN Online

The Mississippi Supreme Court says an inspiring lawyer has to pass the bar exam within three attempts or risk going back to law school.

Posted: Jun 7, 2019 10:19 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Changes in rules for those seeking to become a lawyer in Mississippi could result in some returning to law school.

The Mississippi Supreme Court says a person seeking to become a lawyer has to pass the bar exam within three attempts or they will have to go back to law school for at least 12 semester hours before they can retake the test. After going back to law school and successfully completing the 12 hours or additional course work, an applicant will be permitted to take the bar exam one additional time, the court's order says.

The change comes after the annual passage rate on the Mississippi Bar exam has dropped from 79 percent in 2014 to 48 percent last year, The Clarion Ledger reported.

The order, written by Justice Leslie King, was filed last week. The rule change was adopted at the request of the Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions. It's to take effect with the February 2020 bar exam.

Some justices on the nine-member court said in separate written statements that they are opposed to giving an applicant an additional opportunity to try to pass the exam after three failed attempts.

"I would impose the three-failure limit, but I would not allow those candidates who fail three times to retake the Mississippi Bar exam," said Justice Josiah Coleman.

Coleman said the court didn't have any data to support or contradict that candidates who fail the bar exam three times will be rendered competent to practice law after studying and paying for 12 additional hours of law school.

Mississippi Bar exam statistics show that 10 of the 102 applicants, or 9.8 percent, who took the exam in February had previously failed three or more times. In July 2018, 14 of 178, or 7.9 percent, had taken the exam at least three previous times.

The number of students passing the twice-a-year bar exam has been on a downward trend over the last several years.

Board of Bar Admissions Chairman Marcie Baria said in the petition to the court that in recent years, Mississippi has found itself mirroring the nation with smaller law school class sizes, recent plummeting bar passage rates - now stagnated at a new low/normal - and a generation that appears to learn differently than those who have come before.

"Over the last few testings, repeat exam takers comprise approximately 40% of those sitting for each exam," Baria said, "the escalating number of applicants retaking the exam adversely and significantly affect pass rates in Mississippi and those retaking the exam repeatedly do not show a statistical likelihood of passing on subsequent attempts."

The Mississippi Supreme Court annual report for 2018 said 269 people took the bar exam overall during the February and July exams. The pass rate was 48 percent.

In 2017, 262 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 52 percent.

In 2016, 276 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 68 percent.

In 2015, 286 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 75 percent.

In 2014, 294 took the bar exam with a pass rate of 79 percent.

No one purports to know for sure why the passing rate is declining, but some have suggested it may be that law schools are accepting less qualified students.

Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, has said a 2015 investigation by the national organization found that law schools were accepting more students with lower incoming credentials than ever before.

Local Jackson attorney Jim Warren said he cannot correlate bar passage ability with ability to practice law other than the bar passage indicates an ability to prepare and successfully complete a task.

"Folks with better test-taking abilities and the resources to utilize prep courses are likely to do better than those without those advantages. But graduation from an accredited law school is no small feat, and probably indicates the potential attorney is qualified," Warren said.

"The decline in rate of passage may relate to changes in the test," he added. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that the test has gotten harder over the past several years."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 113876

Reported Deaths: 3238
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7850176
DeSoto685779
Harrison505083
Jackson445084
Rankin388186
Madison377993
Lee350779
Forrest299578
Jones287784
Washington255199
Lafayette245943
Lauderdale2418134
Lamar221238
Bolivar200177
Oktibbeha199354
Neshoba1831111
Lowndes176362
Panola169038
Leflore165187
Sunflower159749
Warren153655
Monroe147372
Pontotoc145819
Marshall139227
Lincoln138557
Pike137756
Copiah136236
Coahoma124736
Scott124729
Grenada121138
Yazoo120733
Simpson120449
Union116525
Tate114939
Leake114340
Holmes114160
Pearl River112259
Itawamba112125
Adams106743
Prentiss103719
Wayne99821
Alcorn98112
George97718
Covington95326
Marion93542
Tippah88121
Newton85227
Chickasaw83626
Tallahatchie83025
Winston82821
Tishomingo80041
Hancock79827
Attala78926
Clarke73450
Clay68321
Jasper67717
Walthall63627
Calhoun61912
Noxubee59617
Smith58916
Montgomery53523
Claiborne53316
Tunica52817
Yalobusha51914
Lawrence50714
Perry48623
Carroll47612
Greene46918
Stone46214
Humphreys42616
Amite42113
Quitman4196
Jefferson Davis40011
Webster37013
Wilkinson33520
Benton3255
Kemper32015
Sharkey28014
Jefferson27410
Franklin2373
Choctaw2046
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22861374
Mobile14468314
Tuscaloosa10148139
Montgomery9875196
Madison915094
Shelby720462
Lee649665
Baldwin647569
Marshall433049
Calhoun418960
Etowah418749
Morgan403635
Houston369232
DeKalb330229
Elmore314852
St. Clair287142
Limestone276530
Walker272293
Talladega261035
Cullman235724
Lauderdale214841
Jackson210015
Autauga202330
Franklin202131
Colbert196731
Russell19233
Blount189325
Dallas186227
Chilton184132
Escambia171929
Coffee171710
Covington169929
Dale165451
Chambers133643
Pike132313
Tallapoosa130587
Clarke130017
Marion106229
Butler100140
Barbour9979
Marengo99222
Winston91313
Geneva8527
Pickens82417
Lawrence82131
Randolph81216
Bibb81114
Hale74930
Clay72912
Cherokee72614
Lowndes70328
Monroe64010
Henry6396
Bullock63717
Washington63412
Crenshaw60230
Perry5836
Wilcox56212
Fayette56113
Conecuh55713
Cleburne5438
Macon52920
Sumter47021
Lamar4665
Choctaw38812
Greene34216
Coosa2023
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