Charleston School of Law’s big win (copy)

Students enter the law library building on the first day of classes at the Charleston School of Law on Monday, August 18, 2014. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

Graduates of the private for-profit Charleston School of Law continue to lag behind their peers at the public University of South Carolina School of Law on the latest round of bar exams.

For the second year in a row, about one-third of Charleston School of Law graduates — 34 percent — passed the state's Uniform Bar Examination when it was administered in February, according to results released last week.

USC Law alumni fared better, with 71 percent of graduates passing the bar this time. Overall, 141 of 219 applicants passed the bar in South Carolina.

Administrators at the School of Law have given a variety of reasons for students' poor performance on the test in recent years.

The school's founders made an ill-fated attempt to sell the school to the Florida-based law school chain InfiLaw System in 2013, leading to an exodus of dissatisfied students that included some of the school's top talent.

Later, when the InfiLaw-owned Charlotte School of Law closed its doors in 2017, the Charleston School of Law absorbed some transfer students who needed additional help, according to president and part-owner Ed Bell.

Also, starting in 2017, Dean Andy Abrams has said students were thrown off by the state's adoption of the nationally standardized Uniform Bar Examination, which focuses more on federal law than on state law.

The school's February pass rate has dropped off since then, from 42 percent in 2017 to 34 percent in 2019.

Looking to better prepare its students, in 2017 the school hired Dyann Margolis from the test-prep company BARBRI Group to serve as assistant dean for academic and bar success.

The law school currently works intensively with students on practice exams, partners them with second- and third-year mentors, and offers faculty-run bar exam boot camps, among other test preparation opportunities.

"We’ve worked really hard for the past two years to build in more support for our students," Margolis said. "The students that are engaging, we’re seeing a positive effect. It’s just working to spread that engagement as much as we want."

Margolis said her goal is to bring the Charleston School of Law back up to the same level of bar performance at USC Law. As recently as 2013, the Charleston law school had a bar admission rate above 75 percent.

The most recent bar results do not indicate how many students were re-taking the exam or taking it for the first time. More repeat test-takers tend to apply to the bar in February than in July, according to Margolis, and February pass rates tend to be lower. 

For the last two years, about 43 percent of Charleston School of Law grads passed the July bar.

Margolis added that the overall passage rates obscure some good news for recent graduates. On the July 2018 bar exam, for example, Margolis said 57 percent of first-time test takers passed.

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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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