October 28, 2010
What happens to law school graduates who fail the bar exam?
Scholars and researchers have largely ignored the topic, but a new paper in the Journal of Legal Education examines that question.
The paper, titled “Marooned: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates Who Fail The Bar Exam,” concludes that, during the first five to 10 years out of law school, those who don’t pass the bar lag far behind their peers who do in areas such as earnings, job stability and marriage and divorce rates. Non-bar passers close that gap somewhat in the latter half of their careers, though they never fully catch up with most of their classmates who passed the bar. The paper concludes that the consequences of not passing the bar tend to dissipate around age 35.
Author Jane Yakowitz, who is the director of Project SEAPHE (The Scale and Effects of Admissions Preferences in Higher Education), analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Law School Admissions Council, the National Association for Law Placement and the State Bar of California from the past four decades. She also conducted interviews with law graduates who failed the bar. One reason little research has been done on the subject is that those who fail the bar are very difficult to track, according to the paper. They are less likely to fill out law school alumni surveys, and state bar associations have little reason to track them.
“There are probably on the order of 150,000 law school graduates in the United States who have taken but never passed a bar exam; this amounts to one in 10 JDs and the risk falls disparately on black, Hispanic, and Asian law school graduates,” the paper reads.
Yakowitz warns that the traits that can contribute to failing the bar, such as a lack of motivation, may also be a factor in career success, thus it’s difficult to separate out what is a direct result of failing the bar.
A breakdown of median salaries showed that those who did not pass the bar and were under the age of 30 earned less than bar passers and college graduates. However, between the ages of 30 and 39, those who never passed the bar eclipsed the median earnings of college graduates, though they still lagged behind lawyers.
“Law schools owe it to their most at-risk prospective students to provide candid information about the probability and costs of failing the bar examination,” the paper reads.