Last week, we reported on the positively abysmal Florida bar passage rates. We all had a good laugh at Florida’s expense, because Florida is a ridiculous place, but — as is so often the case in what passes for modernity in a world where the “Cash Me Outside” girl is famous — this only inspired another state to sink to even greater depths to steal the spotlight of negative attention. If “hold my beer” weren’t such a played-out meme at this point, we could say this was a “hold my beer” moment. Instead, we’ll label this, oh I don’t know, a “pass the spittoon” moment.
Few things are certain in this life, but one of them is that Mississippi will find a way to be worse at everything. After Florida posted a 57.7 percent passage rate for the February exam, Mississippi pulled up and delivered a glorious 36 percent passage rate.
Well, I do declare!
To put this failure in context, the 2016 February exam yielded a passage rate of 63 percent, which is not great, but at least respectable for a population of students, presumably, mostly taking the exam a second time. But when you consider the February exam passage rate in 2014 was a whopping 81 percent, it’s clear that hard times have fallen on Mississippi. James Mullen of Bar Exam Stats put it this way:
Mississippi’s February Bar Exam pass rate was 36%, approximately a 27% decline from last year. Not only that, but they also saw continued decline in the overall number of people taking the exam as well. This is a major departure from the average 67% pass rate in recent years. I am honestly baffled why it declined so much as I have not seen any major changes to their exam format, nor did they adopt the UBE.
Could we blame declining standards designed to keep students in the seats paying tuition? Hmmm. Who knew that years of brutal cuts to public education might yield an underperforming populace? Oh, right, f**king everybody.
And it’s a serious problem. Mississippi is a state that desperately needs attorneys. According to the Mississippi Access To Justice Commission, almost 700,000 people in Mississippi live below the poverty line, and the state has only “one legal services lawyer per every 21,000 eligible individuals.” Poor, rural, with a heavy African-American population and civil rights problems that curiously seem to persist despite what Chief Justice Roberts wrote in Shelby, the state needs more competent attorneys, and that’s not something that gets fixed by lowering standards — it’s something that’s fixed by investing two decades into growing students more prepared to enter law school.
But in the meantime, declining standards have played hell with bar passage rates at schools across the country. While many have begun the process of course correction — bringing in smaller, more credentialed classes — we’ve still got a few more years of this trend ahead of us. As we’ve noted before, there are laudable justifications for loosening admission standards, but all too often those are cynical fig leafs to justify taking money from students that the school “knew or should have known” would struggle to pass the bar and earn the license required to pay off their debt. Bottom line, no matter how a state got to this point, when states see bar exam struggles, it’s usually the fault of admissions moves.
I mean, I’d say res ipsa loquitur, but I’m not sure Mississippi students would know what I meant.
Earlier: Most Law Schools Did Horrendously On This State’s Bar Exam
Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news.