A little more than half of those who took the Florida bar exam for the first time this February passed and can become attorneys, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners announced Tuesday.
Out of a total of 678 first-time test takers, 371 passed, or 54.7%. That’s down from a first-time passage rate of 61.6% for the previous February, records show. And only three schools – Florida International University College of Law, University of Florida College of Law and Florida State University College of Law – had more than half of their students pass.
In Florida as in most states, the bar exam is given twice a year, in February and July. More law school graduates typically take the summer exam than the winter exam administration. Last July, for example, 2,225 took the exam for the first time and 1,432 passed, or 64.4%.
Test scores in Florida had been trending downward over the last decade. In part, that’s because law schools nationally lowered admission standards to fill seats as the number of overall applicants declined.
Scores took a further hit during the coronavirus pandemic; “related problems mentioned by academics include getting used to online learning, isolation, anxiety and exhaustion,” the ABA Journal reported.
As a precaution, the exam had temporarily moved online instead of being held in person at the Tampa Convention Center. This most recent exam was again in Tampa.
Of the 12 accredited law schools in Florida, Florida International University College of Law had the highest passage rate of first-timers, 72.2%, or 13 of 18 passed. The lowest was Florida Coastal School of Law, with 1 out of 3 people passing, or 33%. That school closed in 2021 amid accreditation and financial problems.
There were 2,108 February test-takers in all, including those who repeated the exam, of which 536 had been cleared for admission to the Bar. Some do not repeat all parts of the exam, but may retake only the portion they failed previously, the Board explained.
The Florida exam is given over two days, with the first being written essays, the second a multiple-choice test called the Multistate Bar Examination. Applicants separately must pass a legal ethics test known as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
Moreover, to become an attorney, applicants not only have to pass the bar exam but also must clear an in-depth background check, generally known as a character and fitness review. The Florida Supreme Court ultimately decides who becomes an attorney.