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Delaware Law’s ‘ultimate bar pass rate’ keeps pace with U.S. averages

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WILMINGTON – It may take more than once, but Widener University Delaware Law School students are passing the bar exam within two years of graduation at about the same rate – about 90% – as their peers across the country.

Of the 94 students who graduated from Delaware Law in 2017, 82 passed the exam within two years, an 89.13% rate that’s 34 basis points below the 89.47% rate of all 29,490 members of the Class of 2017 who passed. By comparison, the 10 law schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland – including Widener’s Commonwealth campus in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – reported pass rates within two years of graduation ranging from 83.7% (Villanova) to 99.6% (University of Pennsylvania).

Some 203 American Bar Association-approved law schools report to the lawyers’ association the exam outcomes for their graduates, who must pass a bar exam to qualify for a license to become a practicing attorney.  The ABA now requires that 75% of law school graduates pass a bar exam within two years of graduation.

“Delaware Law School’s ‘ultimate bar pass rate,’ the standard the ABA uses for accreditation, was 89% for 2017, the most recent year for which reports are complete,” Delaware Law Dean and Professor of Law Rodney A. Smolla said. “We expect the rate to again be over 85% for the next reporting cycle. These rates easily exceed the standard required to remain in good accreditation standing, which is 75%. The Delaware Law School continues to work intensely on adding new programming calculated to continue to improve the success of our students.”

Digging into the data a bit deeper, however, only 63.2% of the 82 members of the Class of 2017 – and another 25 graduates from earlier years – who took the bar exam for the first time in 2017 passed, according to ABA data. That compares with a nationwide first-time pass rate of 77.34%.

That 63.2% rate for Delaware Law’s first-time exam takers from the class of 2017 ranked last against the neighboring-state law schools, which reported rates ranging from 66.35% (Drexel) to 96.67% (Penn).

Although they don’t yet meet the two-year threshold for supporting accreditation, 62.96% of the Delaware Law Class of 2018 passed on their first attempt, compared with 74.8% nationally. For the Class of 2019, 54.6% passed the bar exam on their first try, compared with 79.56% nationwide. Those results include some first-time test takers who graduated in previous years.

“Our graduates ultimately pass the bar at rates of over 85%,” Smolla said. “As to all our exam-takers, including first-time takers, our goal is to get our pass rate to 100%. We will keep striving toward that. I am confident that the many measures we have implemented to help our graduates pass the bar the first time will yield positive results.”

Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said the public reports “provide important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education There is no other single outcome that better measures whether a law school is offering a rigorous program of legal education to a group of students that the school has determined through its admissions process are likely capable of completing the J.D. program and being admitted to the bar.”

Representatives from the Delaware State Bar Association declined comment on either the scores or whether the Delaware Bar Exam is more difficult than neighboring states, saying their focus is on education for attorneys who have already passed the bar.


By Peter Osborne

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