July bar exam sees
highest failure rate

By The Associated Press

Friday October 10, 2003; 11:15 AM

One-third of would-be lawyers who took the state bar exam in July failed it, the highest rate ever for a group taking the exam in July, according to state Board of Law Examiners.

Sixty-seven percent of the 227 would-be lawyers passed the exam, 3 percent lower than in July 2002 and 10 points lower than five years ago.

West Virginia University College of Law graduates fared better than their out-of-state colleagues, with 70 percent passing compared to 63 percent.

The bar exam is a two-day test involving essay and multiple-choice questions covering laws and legal ethics. Lawyers must pass it to practice in West Virginia.

The state offers the exam each February and July.

Nationwide, the rate of people passing the bar is declining, said John Fisher, dean of the WVU law school. About 63 percent passed the bar exam in 2002, when July and February results are combined. In West Virginia, 64 percent passed in the same period.

The nationís mean scores for 2002 were the lowest in 10 years, said Sue Rubenstein, administrator for the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners.

There also is a larger number of people retaking the test after failing it, Rubenstein said.

About 74 percent of first-time test-takers passed the bar exam in the U.S. last year. Just 33 percent of repeaters passed the test in 2002.

In West Virginia, more than 73 percent passed the test on their first try in July. But if the July exam was a repeat attempt, the passing rate was below 50 percent.

Law school graduates can take the exam four times. After that, the Board of Law Examiners must approve another attempt.