Texas School's Bar Exam Pass Rate Improves
McKen V. Carrington, dean of Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, recently had two reasons to celebrate. On May 6, after serving as interim dean for three years, the TSU Board of Regents named him dean, and he learned that the percentage of the school's graduates passing the February Texas bar exam improved by 18 points compared with the results of the previous year.
Carrington joined the faculty at Thurgood Marshall after graduating from Albany Law School in 1982. He was a tenured professor, teaching courses on wills and estate planning, when the TSU Board of Regents appointed him interim dean in May 2002. TSU provost Bobby Wilson says that, during Carrington's tenure as interim dean, the student performance on the Texas bar exam and the job placement rate of graduates have improved. Prior to Carrington accepting the interim dean post, the American Bar Association raised concerns, during a routine accreditation review, about the bar exam pass rate of the school's graduates. Wilson notes that Carrington resolved those concerns while interim dean.
Carrington says his priority is, and has been, developing stronger graduates. "We're going to continue to emphasize [job] placement and bar rates," Carrington says. Nine months after graduating, more than 80 percent of the school's graduates have employment, he says. He says that the number of applicants to the law school has almost doubled from 1,100 in 2002 to 2,100 for the class starting in August of 2005.
Although not content with a 60 percent pass rate on the February bar exam, Carrington notes the improvement compared with the 41.67 percent and 37.5 percent pass rates on the 2004 and 2003 February exams, respectively. "The students are confident about their ability on the bar," he says. "I expect it [the bar passage rate] to keep going up."
More than 300 graduates of Texas law schools passed the February Texas bar exam, according to the Texas Board of Law Examiners (BLE) in Austin. The pass rate among the 414 first-time test takers -- 78.26 percent -- was almost 8 percentage points higher than the 70.33 percent success rate of February 2004.
Overall, 754 first-time and repeat exam-takers passed the February 2005 bar exam. Those passing totaled 64.01 percent of the 1,178 test-takers. The overall pass rate for the February 2004 exam was 57.04 percent. Of the total first-time takers, 477, or 75.59 percent, of 631 passed, besting the 69.33 percent rate of February 2004. Of the repeat-takers, 277, or 50.64 percent, of 547 passed, also besting the 40.09 percent repeat-takers successful on the exam the previous year.
The success rate for first-time takers from Texas' nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools ranged from 60 percent at Thurgood Marshall to a high of 90.63 percent at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock.
Unlike the results from the July bar exam, when most graduates take the test, the February results are not necessarily trend indicators, says Julia Vaughan, the BLE's executive director. "The number of people taking the exams is so small it is difficult to say if there are meaningful trends when one looks at it school by school, especially when the numbers are so small for given schools," Vaughan says.
First-time test takers from Texas law schools numbered 1,693 on the July 2004 exam, slightly more than four times the 414 who sat for the February 2005 exam.
Nonetheless, Texas Tech law Dean Walter Huffman has bragging rights for the February results. "It's always nice to be No. 1 and recognized once again because of the talent and dedication of our students," Huffman says. "We're not in uncharted territory here; historically, we've had strong bar passage," Huffman says.
Pass rates for first-time takers at other Texas schools, that exceeded the rates attained in February 2004, were 90.38 percent at Baylor University School of Law in Waco (just 0.25 points behind Texas Tech); 84.62 percent at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas; 73.33 percent at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth; 72.73 percent at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio; and 70.83 percent at South Texas College of Law in Houston. Graduates of the University of Texas School of Law in Austin and the University of Houston Law Center attained pass rates slightly below the February 2004 levels -- with 87.8 percent of first-time takers passing at UT Austin compared with 89.13 percent in 2004 and 81.67 passing at the UH Law Center compared with 81.82 percent the previous February.
A list of the individuals who passed the February exam can be found at BLE's Web site.