Charleston School of Law recurring (copy)

Students enter the law library building at Charleston School of Law in 2014. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

For the second year in a row, fewer than half of Charleston School of Law graduates were able to pass the South Carolina bar exam.

Of the 92 applicants to the bar from the private, for-profit law school, 40 scored high enough on the July examination to earn admission to the bar, which authorizes them to practice law in South Carolina.

That brings the school's pass rate to about 43 percent, roughly the same as the school's 44 percent pass rate from last year, according to the S.C. Supreme Court's Office of Bar Admissions, which posted the results Friday.

The rate is down significantly from 2008, when 72 percent of bar applicants from the Charleston school passed.

The public University of South Carolina School of Law fared better, with 76 percent of its applicants passing. The overall pass rate on the state bar exam was 64 percent, including graduates from law schools outside the state.

The Charleston School of Law, founded in 2003, often has trailed behind the more established USC law school in Columbia. The Charleston school's short history has seen some turbulence, including an attempted sale in 2012 to InfiLaw, a Florida-based chain of low-performing, high-tuition, for-profit law schools.

Students and faculty openly protested that proposed sale, which eventually was scrapped in favor of a plan to convert the school into a nonprofit entity. The conversion still has not been completed.

Dean Andy Abrams said the school lost some of its most promising students when they transferred to other schools during the tumultuous time.

"Those transferring students actually passed the bar but ... did not count as bar passers in our reported numbers because they were not at our law school at the time of their bar passage," Abrams said Monday. "Fortunately, with the restoration of a positive, exciting and continuously improving learning environment, we are now holding on to those top students."

The Charleston School of Law has also absorbed dozens of transfer students from the InfiLaw-owned Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina, which was put on probation by the American Bar Association in 2016 and closed in 2017, according to a disclosure filed with the American Bar Association.

According to Abrams, there is some good news to be found in the details obscured by July's overall 43 percent pass rate. Looking specifically at students who graduated last school year and took the bar for the first time in July, Abrams said the pass rate was 59 percent, up significantly from July 2017, when that figure was 48 percent.

In the past year, Abrams said the school has added staff to its Office of Academic and Bar Success, given weekly writing workshops for first-time bar applicants, and put on Bar Exam Bootcamps overseen by law school faculty.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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