Law school alumni outperform state average for bar exam

By Erin Renzas

According to new statistics recently released by the Illinois Board of Admission to the Bar, 92 percent of graduates from the University’s College of Law taking the exam for the first time in July passed. Of those who graduated in 2005, 93.38 percent passed.

This is a slight increase from the 91.2 percent bar examination pass rate of 2004 graduates taking the exam for the first time last year.

University graduates consistently have a high passage percentage, said Virginia Vermillion, assistant dean for academic and student administration at the College of Law.

“We don’t teach our students to the bar (exam), but they receive an all-around legal education,” Vermillion said. “I think these numbers reflect the caliber of our students, of our school and of our faculty.”

Statewide, 81 percent of all those who took the exam in July 2005, including those who had taken the exam previously, passed. 86 percent of those taking the examination for the first time passed.

These numbers are nearly identical to pass rates for July 2004, in which 80 percent of all those taking the exam passed, and 86 percent of first time takers passed the exam, according to the Illinois Board of Admission to the Bar.

Comparatively, first time bar examination takers in July 2004 in Indiana had an 84 percent pass rate, and those in Wisconsin had an 85 percent pass rate. First time takers in California for July 2004 had a 63 percent pass rate, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

According to Karl Camillucci of the division for media relations and communication services of the American Bar Association, the difficulty level between bar examinations is dependent on personal viewpoints.

The American Bar Association does not keep data about the correlation between the caliber of an educational institution and its graduate pass rate, Camillucci said.

According to the “ABA’s Standards for the Approval of Law Schools,” standard 301 requires that a law school maintain an educational program that prepares its students’ admission to the bar.

Vermillion said the University ranks in the top three universities in the state in bar examination pass rates, with only Northwestern University and the University of Chicago posting comparative passing rates.

“We are consistently the public school in the state with the highest pass rate,” Vermillion said. “We always expect to be in the top three and often we are in the top two.”

Paul Pless, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid for the College of Law, said the college is a desirable law school because the bar passage rate is so high.

The College of Law ranked eighth nationally in bar passage rate among all law schools and twenty-sixth overall, according to the 2005 U.S. News and World Report “Guide to Law Schools.”

“I think that we begin with a very high caliber of students and a high caliber of faculty who is literally ranked as one of the top in the nation and that helps us to consistently rank highly among law schools,” Vermillion said.

The past four years has seen an increase in applicants, Pless said. This increase, however, could be a result of several factors, including last year’s winning season for the Illini Men’s Basketball team, he said.

This year, the College of Law admitted 15 percent of applicants. The class of 2008 has 188 students, Pless said.

“Prospective students are a very savvy group of individuals; they know what they want, and they know what they are looking for,” Vermillion said. “So I think that our passing rates tell them that they will be marketable, they will be able to compete in the job market and that they will receive a great education.”