UND law students struggle to pass bar exam
People are struggling to pass the North Dakota bar exam and the University of North Dakota Law School is looking at how to address the problem. The state offers the exam annually in both February and July, and only 56 percent of UND graduates who...
People are struggling to pass the North Dakota bar exam and the University of North Dakota Law School is looking at how to address the problem.
The state offers the exam annually in both February and July, and only 56 percent of UND graduates who took the test for the first time this summer passed.
The overall pass rate for all test takers in the state, which includes those who have practiced law elsewhere but are taking the exam for the first time in North Dakota and those who have taken the test before, has fluctuated between 69 and 83 percent, according to National Conference of Bar Examiners Data. Concrete numbers aren’t available yet for this year.
“We believe overall pass rates are the lowest they’ve been in 10 years, but we don’t know the reason for that and that’s something that the data will help us drill down on,” Law School Dean Kathryn Rand said. “We want these numbers to be higher. We want our graduates to be ready to practice in North Dakota and launch successful careers here.”
UND Law School graduates are allowed to take the state bar exam, or Multistate Uniform Bar Exam, up to five times. Once they pass the exam, they must still pass a moral character and ethics exam to be sworn in as a licensed attorney in North Dakota.
Graduates planning on practicing in other states must take that state’s bar exam to practice there. This also applies to current law practitioners who choose to move their practice into another state.
North Dakota’s overall passing and first-time rate is in line with national average, but this last group of 50 first-time test-takers was extremely low.
“This is not a proud moment for any of us,” Rand said. “This is an important milestone. It’s not the only shot our students have at being a successful attorney... but everyone who takes the bar exam hopes to pass it.”
The numbers published by the American Bar Association, the NCBE and the North Dakota Supreme Court all vary slightly because they have slightly different ways of defining “first-time” testers, among other things.
But Patricia Hodny, the Law School’s director of career services, said the school works to provide 100 percent of the data they have access to.
Looking for answers
In light of the test results, Rand said the school will work toward providing more support for existing students and looking at what qualities failing students had.
The Law School also recently lobbied the state to get more specific information about the results of the bar exam and succeeded, so starting in 2013, Rand said the school has started compiling more specific data to find out where students are struggling.
“What we really want to do is reach out to our students and to increase the support we provide while they’re in law school and leading up to the bar exam,” Rand said. “And for those students who don’t do as well as they’d hoped, we’d like to have support for them.”
For example, Rand would be able to figure out if students with a low undergraduate GPA did poorly, or whether a specific section of the three-part bar exam is proving most difficult.
“We’re not at this point, but if we knew students with a certain undergrad GPA were more likely to pass the bar than students below it, that might influence our admission standards, but it would certainly influence our academic support efforts if they’re admitted to law school” Rand said.