Bar exam statistics and law school entrance examinations

By J. Art D. Brion (ret.)

Dean Art D. Brion
J. Art D. Brion

As early as the release date of the 2017 Bar examination results on April 26, 2018, the nation already knew the overall as well as the individual law school passing/failing rates. The overall passing rate was a measly 25.5% (or in concrete figures, only 1 successful examinee out of every 4). These limited data did not satisfy at all those with keen interest in legal education who wanted data that are more specific.
They wanted the passing rates in every Bar subject, which the Supreme Court made available only last May 31, 2018. These data showed the following per subject passing rates:
Political Law – 21.22%
Labor Law – 22.00%
Civil Law – 59.70%
Taxation – 23.77%
Mercantile Law – 21.28%
Criminal Law – 17.67%
Remedial Law – 47.98%
Legal Ethics – 52.07%
Read with the individual law school’s passing/failing rates in every Bar subject, these data serve as good reckoning points for subtler conclusions relevant to legal education, the individual law schools’ performance, and the admission to the practice of law.
For example, Ateneo de Manila University (with a total of 156 Bar candidates, an overall passing rate of 85.26% for first time Bar candidates, and 83.44% for both first timers and repeaters) had a passing rate of 96.32% in Civil Law and only 53.37% in Criminal Law.
A direct comparison of these data with the national per-subject passing rates may be interpreted to mean that Ateneo Bar examinees performed very well in the Civil Law exam: their 96.32% result was 1.6l times better than the national passing rate of 53.37% in that subject.
On the other hand, Ateneo’s passing rate in Criminal Law, read in the same manner, points to its students being 3.02 times better than the general performance of Bar examinees nationwide, again pointing to a strong Ateneo performance in Criminal Law.
These direct and simple comparisons, however, are only a few of the many interpretations that a critical observer could make. Other conclusions may arise when observers examine the overall Criminal Law exam passing average nationwide (17.67%) in relation with how the various law schools performed in Criminal Law.
A first and obvious observation is that most, not only a few, law schools performed miserably in the exam. This view invites the further view that the exam could have been very difficult as only 17 out of every 100 Bar examinees nationwide (or using rounded off lower numbers, roughly 2 out of 10 examinees) secured a score of 75% or better in the subject.
On the other hand, the Civil Law exam, viewed in the same manner, could have been relatively easier to handle since roughly 6 out of 10 Bar examinees passed.
These readings hold lessons that both the law schools and the Supreme Court should not miss. For law schools, a result of less than 57% in the easier Civil Law exam situates that law school below the national per subject average. This situation may require it to reinforce its Civil Law faculty to improve its general passing average in the future.
On the other hand, the national passing average of around 17% in Criminal Law (which points more to the difficulty of the exam rather than to the deficiency of the Criminal Law teaching faculties all over the country) should prod the Supreme Court to sit up and take notice.
The Court should perhaps take a closer look at the Criminal Law exam questions or even at the way the answers were graded to ensure that this type of exam or the grading system used should be avoided in the future as a matter of fairness to Bar examinees and the law schools. The element of fairness necessarily emerges as the Bar exam grade, even in one subject, affects a Bar examinee’s overall grade and could spell the difference between his or her passing or failing the Bar exams.
I point out all these examples to stress that after every Bar exam, the Legal Education Board (LEB) should analyze the Bar exam statistics for a sound approximation of the status of general legal education and of every law school in the country.
Specifically, separately from the much publicized passing or failing rates nationwide and of individual law schools, the LEB should attempt to qualitatively find out which law schools are intrinsically weak and why, and should then determine if they should be allowed to continue to operate in light of the public interests involved.
In other words, to undertake its functions fully and responsibly, the LEB should go behind and beyond the raw Supreme Court data. It should flesh out these data to secure meaningful assessments understandable to all, particularly to the public who send their children to law schools.
The Court should do the same as a matter of concern in the admission of applicants to the practice of law. Lawyers who only squeak past the Bar exams because of the attendant laxity in the formulation of the exam questions or in the grading of Bar exam answers will always be a concern for the litigating public and for those with transactions based on the law.
Separately from these Bar-based considerations, I wish to point out, too, that the LEB cannot be wrong in giving a special focus on the capabilities of students entering law schools. I point this out in light of the resistance that I can discern against the LEB’s efforts to screen law school applicants through nationwide standardized entrance exams, a measure used with great success in other countries.
The validity of entrance exams proceeds from the truism that everyone has his or her unique individual talents and that some may not have talents suited to law studies. Those whose talents lie elsewhere should actively be discouraged from law studies and persuaded to go where their talents truly lie in order not to waste their time, efforts, and resources. In this age of specialization even in the job market, such wastage could spell the difference in the competitiveness of businesses and in the national employment rates.
This commonsensical approach needs no elaborate arguments to justify. The same goes true for those who have not undertaken the necessary preparation for law studies and are therefore unprepared for the rigor that these studies require.
From these perspectives, I believe that the LEB should not listen at all to the law schools’ objections to its national law entrance exams. If the LEB would grant exceptions at all, it should perhaps only exempt the top-tier law schools who already require their own meaningful entrance exams. These exceptions will not discriminate against lower-ranking law schools because the reasons are merits-based, founded as they are on the Bar exam performance of the top-tier law schools.

[email protected]