The Golden Gate Bridge, as seen from my hotel room last weekend. (I just got back from the AALS conference in San Francisco.)


Here in New York, home to Above the Law and Breaking Media, we’re gearing up for more epic snow. Those of you lucky enough to live in the Golden State might have to deal with earthquakes, mudslides, and obnoxious celebrities, but at least you don’t have to deal with blizzards.

Falling snow? Not in sunny California. Falling bar exam passage rates? Yes — at least for 2010.

A few days ago, the State Bar of California released overall statistics for the July 2010 administration of the (notoriously difficult) California bar exam. The overall bar pass rates went down by a little — but at some schools, the pass rates went down by a lot.

Which law schools’ pass rates tumbled, and by how much?

Before we get to specific schools, let’s look at the overall picture. From Professor Paul Caron over at TaxProf Blog:

The July 2010 California bar passage rates by school are out. For first-time takers, the overall pass rates were 68.3% for all takers and 75.2% for graduates of the twenty California ABA-approved law schools.

Compare the July 2010 overall pass rates to July 2009:

For first-time takers, the overall pass rates were 70.4% for all takers and 79.3% for graduates of the twenty California ABA-approved law schools.

So the pass rate for the 20 ABA-approved schools in California went down by a few percentage points, from 79.3 percent in 2009 to 75.2 percent in 2010. Not good, obviously, but not a disaster either.

Professor Caron also breaks the July 2010 bar-passage data down by gender and by race. Gender doesn’t seem to make a difference when it comes to passing the bar. As for race — well, Amy Chua won’t be happy, and maybe Crimson DNA was on to something.

Now let’s look at the schools. Check out our table comparing the 2010 and 2009 bar exam pass rates for California’s eleven highest-ranked law schools (per U.S. News, with California and overall U.S. News rankings noted parenthetically; we would have stopped with the top 10, but there was a tie for #10).

LAW SCHOOL

2010 PASS RATE

2009 PASS RATE

Stanford (1/3)

97.8%

92.8%

UC – Berkeley (2/7)

91.5%

93.2%

UCLA (3/15)

83.5%

85.7%

USC (4/18)

90.2%

90.8%

UC Davis (5/28)

81.3%

89.1%

UC-Hastings (6/42)

80.8%

86.1%

Pepperdine (7/52)

88.3%

79.9%

Loyola-LA (8/56)

83.7%

85.3%

San Diego (8/56)

65.3%

78.1%

Santa Clara (10/93)

70.5%

81.9%

Chapman (10/93)

69.6%

81.0%

(There was manual transcription involved in producing this table. If you see any errors, please email us, and we will fix.)

Some brief notes:

  • Nice work by Stanford, once again #1 in bar passage, with its rate up by five points (from 97.8% to 92.8%). You’re proving the truth of Justice Scalia’s quip: “The best minds are going to the best law schools. They might not learn anything while they’re there, but they don’t get any dumber.”
  • What the heck happened at Davis and at Hastings? Davis’s pass rate plunged from 89.1% to 81.3%, while Hastings’s dove from 86.1% to 80.8%.
  • Go Pepperdine! Dean Ken Starr might be gone, but the glow remains. Their pass rate rose almost ten percentage points, from 79.9% to 88.3% — placing Pepperdine in California’s top four schools when ranked by 2010 bar passage rate.
  • Double-digit decreases in bar passage rates at San Diego, Santa Clara, and Chapman — ouch.
  • It’s not on our chart above, because it’s a fourth-tier school, but Western State University College of Law had an impressive pass rate: 83.3%. This puts Western State behind just four schools — Stanford, Berkeley, USC, and Pepperdine (all at over 88%) — and essentially ties Western State with Loyola and UCLA (at 83.7% and 83.5%, respectively).

Feel free to make your own observations, in the comments. We’ll kick off the discussion with some commentary from one ATL reader, an alum of UCLA Law:

Interesting statistics for UCLA School of Law: Considering that we are ranked #15 [nationally], we had a lower bar passage rate than Pepperdine and Loyola and were tied with Western State and were beaten by a non-ABA school (Empire College of Law). We were also beaten by USC this year, not to mention Boalt and Stanford.

My $0.02, we have some great professors but we don’t get any specialized bar preparation from the school outside of taking classes (then again, should students at such a relatively reputable school need such help)?

Also very troubling is that our bar passage rate for students of color, specifically African-American and Latino, is abysmally low (from my anecdotal observations, at or below the statewide levels for ethnic group). To me that’s very troubling, because if we assume comparable proportions of students of color at UCLA relative to other schools (it may actually be lower after Prop 209), then our people of color are doing worse than at places like USC or even Loyola. I don’t have an explanation but these are some of my friends we are talking about, and it bothers me.

(Full disclosure, I passed.)

What are your thoughts on the bar exam passage rates for various California law schools? Feel free to discuss — to brag about your law school or alma mater, talk trash about rivals, or offer dispassionate analysis — in the comments.

P.S. We hope that students at UC institutions are happy about their schools’ performances, since administrators and deans at these state law schools are being paid handsomely to educate their young charges. According to public records, accessible via TaxProf Blog (see the link near the end), over 50 University of California law school faculty earned $245,000 or more in total compensation in 2009.

To read more about the controversial pay packages of UC law school administrators and professors, check out the links below (especially those to Nuts & Boalts, by Berkeley law students).

General Statistics Report: July 2010 California Bar Examination [State Bar of California]
July 2010 California Bar Exam Results [TaxProf Blog]
July 2009 California Bar Exam Results [TaxProf Blog]
Edley Responds to Pension Concerns [Nuts & Boalts]
Dean Edley Says to UC: Give Me More Money [Nuts & Boalts]
UC Faculty, Administrators Earning > $245k to Sue for Higher Pensions [TaxProf Blog]


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