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Mississippi Supreme Court Ends Unlimited Bar Exam Attempts With Four-Strike Rule

The Mississippi Supreme Court announced a decision on Dec. 14, 2022, limiting the number of bar examination attempts to four times. Chief Justice Mike Randolph (pictured) heads the court. The test is one of the requirements for admission to practice law in the state. Previously, aspiring lawyers could make an unlimited number of attempts. Photo by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

The Mississippi Supreme Court has decided that an aspiring lawyer can only attempt the bar exam four times before they are prohibited from trying again. The test is part of the requirements for admission to practice law in the state and the State previously allowed an unlimited number of attempts.

The justices announced the change to the Rules Governing Admission to the Mississippi Bar in a Dec. 14, 2022, press release, after a request from the nine-member Mississippi Board of Bar Examinations. They quietly approved the new rule on Nov. 10; it says an “applicant who has unsuccessfully taken the Mississippi Bar Exam at least four (4) times shall not be eligible for re-examination.”

The Supreme Court appoints the nine-member Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions, whose members each serve three year terms.

“The Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions requested the change in a petition, citing recent lower bar passage rates both in Mississippi and nationwide, in addition to the fact that large numbers of repeat exam takers ‘adversely and significantly affected pass rates in Mississippi’ as reasons for requesting the Rule change,” the Supreme Court said in the press release.

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, Mississippi’s overall bar exam pass rate in July 2022 was 71% for all applicants, 75% for first timers and just 33% for repeat takers.

Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions Chair Marcie Baria presented the recommendation to the Supreme Court in a May 6, 2022, letter.

“The escalating number of applicants retaking the exam has adversely affected pass rates in Mississippi, and those retaking the exam repeatedly have not shown any significant statistical likelihood of passing on subsequent attempts,” Baria wrote. “This is particularly true for those who have taken the exam on more than four (4) occasions. Further, continued retaking of the exam could adversely affect the accreditation standing of Mississippi’s law schools.”

University of Mississippi School of Law Dean Susan H. Duncan and Mississippi College School of Law Dean Patricia Bennett wrote in August 2021 asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to limit the number of allowed bar examination attempts to four. Photo courtesy University of Mississippi School of Law and Mississippi College School of Law

She said that before 2005, people who had taken the bar exam more than three times had to show that they had done certain things to improve. That year, the board got rid of the need for these kinds of corrective actions, but in 2019, it brought back a version of them.

University of Mississippi School of Law Dean Susan H. Duncan and Mississippi College School of Law Dean Patricia Bennett wrote to Supreme Court Justice Mike Randolph and the Board of Bar Admissions in August 2021. They represent the only two in-state law schools and requested the rule change because “the current rule’s requirement of an applicant earning an additional 12 credit hours has not been a workable, effective solution to the repeated retaker issue faced by the Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions.”

“The law school deans write today to renew our request for a Four Strike Rule as a replacement for the Three Strikes rule,” they wrote. “We support limiting the number of attempts that an individual can take the bar exam to four attempts.”

The “three-strike rule” the high court put in place in 2019 provides that applicants must complete 12 course hours at an accredited law school to take subsequent bar exams after failing three times.

The board said that not having a cap on the number of times an individual can take the test affects the pass rate, which “could adversely affect” the American Bar Association’s accreditation standing for Mississippi’s law schools.

“By 2018, without a cap on the number of times an examinee could sit for the now two-day bar exam, REPEATS were comprising approximately 23% of the July exam and 22% of the February exam, with REPEATS comprising close to half of some exam cycles,” Mississippi Board of Bar Admissions Chair Baria wrote. “A hard limitation will also eliminate a revolving door of re-takers that only acts as a disservice to all test-takers in Mississippi.”

“In recent years Mississippi has found itself mirroring the nation with smaller law school class size, and lower bar passage rates,” she added. “With all due respect, a majority of the repeat test takers are simply not minimally competent to practice law–regardless of remediation efforts.”

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