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Bar passage rates rise in Md.’s first year using uniform exam

In Maryland’s first year using the Uniform Bar Examination, both the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore law schools saw a significant improvement in bar passage rates.

All told, 838 Maryland and out-of-state test takers completed the exam this past July, with 573 — or 68% — passing, according to results from the Maryland State Board of Law Examiners. The results are a noticeable increase from last year, when 782 people took the exam and 463 — or 59% —  passed, according to records from the board.

RELATED: Here are the 573 people who passed the July 2019 Maryland bar exam

Among graduates of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law who took the exam, 82% passed – a 10 percentage point jump from last year. For first-time test takers, 89% of UM Carey students passed, up from 84% last year.

Sixty-four percent of graduates of the University of Baltimore School of Law who took the exam passed it, an improvement over last year, when 60% of UB law students passed the examination. Among first-time test takers from UB, 75% passed, up from 71% last year. UB Law Dean Ronald Weich said he was pleased to see the school’s rates go up.

“We have work to do; we’re still not at the pass rate we want, but it’s obviously gratifying to see improvement,” Weich said.

According to UM Carey Dean Donald Tobin, it’s difficult to compare this year’s test results to previous years’ results because the exams are different. Tobin noted that the primary difference between the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and the old Maryland test is the essay section, which now focuses on national legal topics instead of legal issues specific to Maryland.

A task force created by the Maryland Judiciary recommended two years ago that the state adopt the UBE. Tobin — who, with Weich, served on the panel — said a benefit of adopting the UBE is that the exam opens up career options for Maryland lawyers, who can inform prospective out-of-state employers that they’ve already taken the UBE and therefore don’t have to take an additional state bar exam.

Likewise, out-of-state attorneys who want to become barred in Maryland no longer have to take a practitioner exam – a test that focused on Maryland law and had to be taken on the same dates as the Maryland bar exam.

Instead of the practitioner exam, test-takers can now sit for a Maryland component test, which can be taken at any time. Tobin said it was also less intensive than the old Maryland practitioner exam.

“The Maryland component isn’t set up as a barrier to entry, it’s set up making sure you know our distinctions,” Tobin said.

Before this year’s increase, there had been a steady decline in the number of people taking the test since 2012. The most notable drop was in 2018, when 782 people took the test compared to 1,045 in 2017. Tobin said that drop could be because some Maryland residents instead took the UBE in the District of Columbia, knowing that their test score would be applicable to jobs in Maryland in 2019.

Tobin said he believes people will be increasingly likely to take the UBE in the state where they live, since more and more states are using the same test.

“Now that Maryland is accepting the UBE as the same score as D.C. and New York, I think people are more likely to take the exam in the jurisdiction they’re comfortable in,” Tobin said.

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