Both of South Carolina’s law schools posted lower pass rates for February’s bar exam than they did last year, and graduates of out-of-state institutions stole the show in the Palmetto State’s first administration of the Uniform Bar Exam.
Since the February 2013 bar exam, when the University of South Carolina School of Law saw 75 percent of its graduates pass, the school has steadily enjoyed less success on the exam’s winter administration. In 2016, 48.98 percent (24 of 49) of USC’s test-takers passed the bar after more than 58 percent passed the year before. This year’s dip was more marginal, with 47.92 percent (23 of 48) making the mark.
The decline follows a national trend that has seen passage rates plummet over the last few years, on both traditional bar exams and the UBE.
School officials did not return messages seeking comment.
The Charleston School of Law also notched a lower pass rate than it did last year, as 42.25 percent — 30 of 71 examinees — passed, compared to 45.9 percent a year ago.
Dean Andy Abrams said that the school created a Bar Task Force committee last fall that has recommended several measures designed to increase success in law school and on the bar exam. Among those measures are assessments to help students prepare for the bar, a required diagnostic exam to be taken before graduation, and closed-book exams for all required courses.
Abrams added that the school now assigns a faculty member or alumnus to mentor each graduate preparing for the bar; that every student (top 20 percent of the class excepted) must complete the school’s bar prep course prior to graduation; and that the school has entered into a long-term partnership with bar preparation company BARBRI. Charleston students will use BARBRI materials from their first-year orientation until they sit for the bar exam, Abrams said.
“Given the outstanding results that BARBRI has had in improving student bar passage, we are confident that this will play a significant role in improving the ability of our students to pass the bar exam,” Abrams wrote in an email.
February marked the first time that South Carolina, which announced in January 2016 that it would become the 19th state to adopt the UBE, administered the jurisdictionally transferable exam. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the purpose of the UBE is to test knowledge and skills that a prospective lawyer should be able to demonstrate before becoming licensed attorney.
“It results in a portable score that can be used to apply for admission in other UBE jurisdictions,” the NCBE website states.
The scoring requirement varies from one jurisdiction to the next, with passing scores ranging from 260 to 284. In South Carolina, a 266 — the second-lowest passing score of the 28 UBE jurisdictions — is good enough for bar admission.
While fewer than half of USC and Charleston graduates met the minimum standards this time around, overall, 60.66 percent (165 of 272) of examinees passed. That figure is bolstered by the 73.2 percent pass rate (112 of 153) of out-of-state law school graduates.
Abrams, Charleston’s dean, hopes that the modifications being made at his school will prepare future graduates for this new exam, which he described as much different than traditional law school exams.
He attributes the discrepancy in South Carolina’s pass rate and that of out-of-state graduates to his belief that many of the latter have already passed a bar exam in another jurisdiction.
“And the data is pretty clear that people who have passed one bar exam are more likely to then pass subsequent bar exams,” Abrams said.
The swearing-in ceremony for applicants who completed all requirements for admission to the South Carolina State Bar will be held May 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the Koger Center in Columbia.
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher