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State bar exam passage rate highest in a decade

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California's state bar passage rate for the July 2008 exam was its highest in more than 10 years, helped, in part, by Thomas Jefferson School of Law's best showing ever. (View the list)

The overall pass rate for the most recent state bar exam was 61.7 percent, the highest it's been since 62.9 percent passed in 1997.

Meanwhile, an unofficial review of Thomas Jefferson students revealed 75.5 percent of its first-time test-takers passed.

"It's terrific news, and I think it's only going to go up a little bit," said Thomas Jefferson dean Rudy Hasl, referring to the school's verification of the results. "We've really made a concerted effort to work with our students to have them as prepared as possible to take the examination.

"We've implemented the bar secrets program, which has been really the key to the improved success of our graduates."

Hasl said that 24 of 26 students who took the test out of state passed as well.

During the past three years of the bar secrets program, Thomas Jefferson has seen its passing rate double, according to the dean.

"We've been able to make some steady improvement, and we hope to continue even more in the future," Hasl said.

In the state of California, 5,330 of 8,637 applicants passed the bar in July 2008. The passing rate for first-time applicants from American Bar Association-accredited schools was even higher at 83 percent.

The official breakdown of how students from each individual school fared won't be available for several weeks.

Kevin Cole, dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, said the higher passing rate might be attributed to increased emphasis on bar results by the state's law schools.

"There are more schools integrating into their curriculum programs designed to increase their students' chances of passing the bar," he said. "A few years back, the ABA changed its rules to allow law schools to offer some (bar preparation) courses for credit toward a degree, and then other schools are doing more by way of providing extra resources, not for credit, that might help students get a leg up on the bar."

Cole said USD is looking at some non-credit programs to help its students with the test.

"We have always tried to emphasize a good, solid legal education," he said, "and, in addition, we've tried to have a very rigorous first-year class in legal writing, which is such an important part for the students passing the bar."

The three-day general bar examination is given twice a year, in February and July. The exam consists of three sections: a multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination, six essay questions, and two performance tests that are designed to assess an applicant's ability to apply general legal knowledge to practical tasks. The mean scaled MBE score in California was 1475 compared with the national average of 1456.

"The increase could be explained in part by the high MBE (the national 200-item multiple-choice portion of the examination) scores that were achieved by applicants taking the examination," said Gayle Murphy, senior executive of admissions for the California state bar.

"The MBE is scaled to ensure the difficulty of an examination remains the same from administration to administration; thus, one could assume that the applicants taking the July 2008 bar examinations were better prepared to take it. This could be due to several reasons, including the increased emphasis by the ABA on bar passage rates and the new or enhanced academic support/bar-related programs provided by the law schools."

Related: List of San Diego County bar exam results

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