VERMILLION, S.D. ― The percentage of University of South Dakota School of Law graduates who fail to pass the state bar exam has increased from about 10 percent in 2013 to about 50 percent this year.
The trend is prompting fears that a shortage of lawyers in rural South Dakota could get worse. Most lawyers in the South Dakota hail from the university, which is the state’s only law school.
The Argus Leader reported the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners’ decision to increase the minimum core needed in order to pass the bar contributed to the failure rate. South Dakota’s minimum score is equal to or greater than the score required by 30 other states.
According to Law School Transparency, the demand for law schools declined nationally during the Great Recession. In order to keep the schools running, administrators began accepting “higher risk students,” students with lower grade point averages or LSAT scores.
The group published a report last year that stated 30 law schools in 2010 admitted classes with at least 25 percent “higher risk” and by 2014 the number rose to 74 law schools and 37 law schools had admitted at least 50 percent of classes with students considered high risk.
“I think law schools need to take a look at their decisions to take these risks and ask why they’re doing it,” said Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency.
Law school dean Thomas Geu said USD is stepping up admittance requirements, updating curriculum and hiring a director of academic support and bar preparation.
According to McEntee law schools have to meet certain passage rates however no school has ever lost accreditation for not meeting them.
The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will meet next month to discuss a proposal that would require ABA accredited schools to meet bar passage rates.
According to the Argus Leader South Dakota Bar Associate officials did not respond for comment.