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Only 40% of Candidates Passed the Connecticut Bar Exam in February

A view of the Thomas J. Meskill Law Library at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford.

A view of the Thomas J. Meskill Law Library at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford. Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn

For the second consecutive year, the percentage of law students passing the February Connecticut bar exam fell to less than 50%, the latest sign of a downward trend both statewide and nationally.

The numbers for the July Connecticut bar exam, traditionally higher than the February bar exam, have also dropped precipitously in the past few years.

The February Connecticut numbers, released late Friday, show that 63 of 158 test takers, or about 40%, passed the exam.

One year earlier, just 38% passed the February bar exam. At least 50% of test takers passed the February bar exam every year from 2000-2017.

The University of Connecticut School of Law, Quinnipiac University School of Law and Western New England Law School in Massachusetts had the most candidates.

See the full results here

The pass rate from February 2018 to February 2019 for the University of Connecticut School of Law fell from 63% to 40%.

At Quinnipiac University School of Law, 31% passed in February, compared to 61% one year earlier.

There was good news of sorts at Western New England Law School, where the pass rate increased from 26% to 41%.

Connecticut Bar Examining Committee Administrative Director Jessica Kallipolites said she didn't see anything unexpected in the overall February 2019 bar exam results, noting the big surprise was one year earlier.

"Given we were at 38% last year, I do not think that a 40% pass rate this year is shocking," she said.

Kallipolites said she does "not have a theory" as to why the pass rate the past two years for February fell below 50%.

Meanwhile, University of Connecticut School of Law Dean Tim Fisher pointed out the drop is not just a statewide trend, but a national one.

"There is an ongoing dialogue between the deans of law schools in America and the national bar examining committee about the reasons for the change," he said.

It's hard to say why candidates are failing in large numbers, but Fisher suggested, "One possibility is that this generation learned in a different fashion."

"Major studies are being started to examine the validity of the bar exam," he said, and the goal is to "determine the extent to which the bar exam actually tests the skills and attributes most relevant to the success as a lawyer."

Quinnipiac University School of Law Dean Jennifer Gerarda Brown issued a statement Monday.

"Of course, we'd like to see a high passage rate with every administration of the bar exam, but we're reluctant to draw any conclusions from these latest results given the small number of test takers," Brown said. "We remain very pleased with our July 2018 results, which were 12 points above the state average."

Quinnipiac Law professor John Thomas echoed Brown's statements, saying it would be unfair to make judgments on the February bar exam because the sample size—158 test takers—is so small.

Most candidates and full-time students sit for the bar in July.

"Statisticians will tell you that you can't draw conclusions with such a small sample size," he said. "Certainly, though, it provides cause for law schools to examine the preparation they offer students."

Fisher said at his university that preparation includes two new courses offered just this year. One, a bar preparation course, focuses on the methodology of taking the bar exam. The second course, a commercial bar prep course, teaches the subject matter of the exams.

With the new courses offered, Fisher hopes to see a spike in successful candidates come February 2020.

For the second straight February, Yale University Law School had no one take the exam. Five Yale students took the July exam in 2018 and all passed. Yale has traditionally smaller class sizes than some other law schools, graduating only about 200 students a year.

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