JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA – Passing Florida’s bar exam can be a daunting task, and one law school dean recently expressed his frustration at the entire law school admissions process after a high number of students at his school failed the exam.
On Sept. 19, Scott DeVito, professor of law and dean of law at Florida Coastal University, penned a lengthy letter to Florida Coastal law students after the results of the 2016 Florida bar exam were released. Only 52 percent of the first-time exam takers from Florida Coastal passed the exam. (The state average is 68.2 percent.)
In his letter, DeVito wanted to encourage students who did not pass the bar exam on the first try. He also wanted to argue that the LSAT 150-point cutoff for law school admissions hampers diversity. His letter says: “Conventional wisdom tells us law schools should accept only students with LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores of 150 or above, and that students below that threshold will struggle with bar exams and experience disappointment in the job market.” However, DeVito argues that many non-white students who do not score 150 on the LSAT still have the ability to graduate successfully from law school and pass the bar, with some additional support.
Most practicing attorneys are still white males. Overall, the legal profession is just 12 percent diverse. African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, who may not have the same educational opportunities as white males, face more obstacles in the law school admissions process, and DeVito finds that frustrating.
DeVito was a practicing attorney in Arizona before moving to Florida to teach at Florida Coastal. He taught at Florida Coastal for seven years before becoming dean of the law school in 2015.
In recent years, as a result of the issues faced by students trying to pass the bar, DeVito has instituted a number of changes. Now, to be admitted, students have to have an LSAT score of at least 145. That’s not the only criteria for admissions, however. He explains, “We look at the students’ grades, what they’ve gone through in their lives, we talk to them – all of that comes into play.”
The school has also added additional courses to help students prepare for the bar, and all students get free test preparation help from a company called BarBri, which the school feels offers valuable assistance.
The Florida bar exam is one of the more difficult ones in the United States. “I think it’s one of the more difficult ones in America,” DeVito opines. Students are tested on more than 27 different subject areas of law. Students who speak English as a second language obviously are going to find it more difficult.
Florida Coastal’s bar exam results are not unique. DeViot explains: “Bar pass results around the country have gone down. One of the easiest ways to get the pass rates to go up is to raise the LSAT. As a result, you affect diversity very badly. This year we were at 43 percent diverse.” He hopes the school can maintain that despite raising the required LSAT scores for incoming students.
As he explains in the letter, “At Florida Coastal, we have had many students with LSATs below 150 and they passed at levels well above the ABA’s contemplated 75 percent pass rate within two years of graduation.”
The response to Dean DeVito’s letter has been positive. “People appreciate the context. The scores are not great predictors of people’s true ability,” he said.