Fewer people took and passed the Wisconsin State Bar Exam in 2012 than in the two past years, according to an annual report released last week by the state Board of Bar Examiners.
In 2012, according to the report, 235 people passed the Wisconsin exam, down from 271 in 2011 and 272 in 2010. The number of people who took the exam, which is offered in February and July, also decreased during the three-year period, dropping to 283 in 2012 from 323 in 2011 and 303 in 2010.
Proportionally, the number of successful exam-takers only dropped one percent from 2011 to 2012, however, with 83 percent passing in 2012 compared with 84 percent the year before. In 2010, 90 percent passed.
Daniel Blinka, chairman of the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners and a law professor at Marquette University, took issue with reports that have concluded such relatively high pass rates are evidence that Wisconsin’s bar exam is easy. He said the test is designed to ensure those who practice law in the state have a “minimum measure of competency.”
Other states, Blinka said, use bar exams as a means of protecting practicing lawyers from the competition of newcomers.
“That,” he said, “has never been our attitude in Wisconsin.”
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Because Wisconsin offers diploma privileges to most graduates of the UW and Marquette University law schools, many of those who sit for the Wisconsin bar exam are from out of state.
Blinka said he doesn’t think the decrease in exam-takers is indicative of a trend, saying the numbers tend to fluctuate every year.
“We usually get 100 examinees in February for the exam,” he said. “And for the summer bar exam, we get about 200.”
Jonathan Zarov, associate dean for external affairs at the University of Wisconsin Law School, likewise said it would be presuming too much to say such numbers point to a trend. Although the economy has not been particularly strong in recent years, the enrollment decline at UW Law School has not been as precipitate as some thought it would be.
UW Law reports on its website that 2,153 applied to attend the school in 2012, down from 2,870 in 2011 and 2,829 in 2010. The number of students who are actually enrolled has likewise decreased, going from 246 in 2010 to 215 in 2012.
Zarov said economic forces tend to have a lagging effect and that he and others expect to see a greater decline in enrollments in 2015 and 2016.
“The economy has not been kind to emerging graduates in the past few years,” Zarov said. “At some point, it’s particularly reasonable that someone contemplating a professional career might be discouraged.”