The Marooned Law School Graduates: An Empirical Investigation of Law School Graduates that Fail the Bar Exam
38 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2009 Last revised: 13 Dec 2012
Date Written: August 3, 2009
What happens to law school graduates that fail the bar exam? This invisible population makes up a significant portion of the graduating law school classes, but we don't know anything about their long-term prospects. We don't even know how many of them there are. In contrast to the rich body of literature examining the long-term outcomes of lawyers, this is the first serious attempt to understand the costs imposed by bar failure. I use a number of data resources, all of which have limitations, but which in combination tell a consistent story. I rely most heavily on the 1993 National Survey of College Graduates which allows for the identification of subjects likely to have failed the bar exam. I also use the 1994 LSAC Bar Passage Study and a bank of nearly 200 interview transcripts with law school graduates that failed a bar exam. Law school graduates that never succeed in passing a bar exam have a very difficult 'first term.' Five to ten years out of law school, they lag well behind lawyers on every measure - earnings, employment stability, even marriage and divorce rates. Moreover, as a group, bar-failers fare worse than college graduates despite having left college with better-than-average grades. But after an initial adjustment period, they spring back and out-perform the average college graduate for the second half of their careers. Though they never catch up to the prosperous outcomes of their lawyer peers, the earnings of the median bar-failer does catch up to the 25th percentile lawyer, which might have been about the center of their distribution if the group had passed the bar exam.
Keywords: bar exam, bar failure, legal education, bar passage, fail the bar exam, failing the bar exam
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation