Lawyers with Low Bar Scores More Likely to Face Discipline, Study Says

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 07, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If the bar exam weren't tough enough, now you can add a shot of stress from the ethics committee.

According to a new study, lawyers who perform poorly on the bar exam are more likely to have disciplinary problems. Unlike fine wine, it gets worse with age as attorneys have more bar complaints as they get older.

In other words, by the time you figure out how to practice law you will be in jeopardy of losing your license. No wonder so many lawyers have drinking problems...

The Other Bar

There's nothing funny about alcoholics, except that you can tell them drunk jokes and they might not get it. I'll be here all week...

Seriously, two law professors have concluded that the rate of discipline goes up measurably for lawyers each decade of their practice. The bigger concern, the research suggest, is that attorneys who have low bar pass scores are the most likely to have ethical problems.

"The results show that the estimated bar exam score is strongly related to the probability of discipline, as is the number of years since admission to the bar," write Robert Anderson IV and Derek T. Muller.

The Pepperdine profs acknowledge that their study has "modest predictive power of subsequent discipline," but they are trying to prove a point. Basically, they don't want California bar examiners to lower bar exam requirements.

Lower the Bar, Let In Ethics Problems

Muller and Anderson are cutting against the grain of law schools in California, where 20 deans have asked the state Supreme Court to lower the cut score on the bar exam. The legislature is also investigating the proposal.

Admittedly, the professors bent their numbers to make their case; they used LSAT scores for law schools to estimate bar pass rates for their graduates. They didn't have data from the State Bar for individual pass rates.

As a result, the study actually shows that students will have more ethical problems as lawyers based on their school's average LSAT scores. Western State fares the worst; Yale the best. Pepperdine, where Muller and Anderson teach, falls in the middle of the pack.

In any case, they say it's a bad idea to lower the bar. What law student won't drink to that?

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