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Fewer FSU Law Students Pass Bar
February results show drop to fourth place

DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER

The results of the latest Bar exam are out, and Florida State University has dropped from first place to fourth in students passing.

It's a hard fall - FSU was in the top two for five out of the past six Bar exams, beginning February 2001, records show.

On Monday, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners released the results from this February's exam, showing only 67.3 percent - or 33 of 49 test-takers - passed the Bar from FSU.

For the previous exam in July 2003, FSU was No. 1 out of the state's eight public and private law schools, with 85.4 passing, or 152 of 178. The Bar exam is given twice a year, in February and July.

"It's disappointing," said Don Weidner, dean of the Florida State University College of Law. "We're all trying to mull about what happened."

After the medical boards, a state Bar exam is considered the mother of all standardized tests - two days of grueling essays and multiple-choice questions on all aspects of the law.

"It's as much an endurance test as anything," said local attorney John Kenny, who passed the Bar in 1994. "If you prepare, you'll be fine. I studied my butt off."

As an FSU law graduate, "the fact that we fell to fourth (place) makes me upset," he added.

The University of Florida placed first this time with 88.8 percent - 142 of 160 - passing, according to the Board of Bar Examiners. Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville was second with 79.2 percent, and Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport was third with 76 percent.

Weidner noted that FSU's number of February test takers is about 3 times smaller than for the previous exam. More people, in fact, take the Bar in the summer.

He also wondered whether FSU law students have been resting on the school's laurels of recent years.

"Have we gotten too confident?" Weidner said. "Maybe that caused them to relax too much."

One factor may be the increase in the score needed to pass.

The Florida Supreme Court raised the passing grade from 131 to 133 as of the July 2003 test, and ordered it to 136 by this July's exam. The court rejected arguments that the move would cause more minority exam takers to fail.

And the dean surmised that an unusually large number of students with low class rank may have taken the latest exam.

"But we just don't know," he said. "We're going to look into it. We don't even yet know (which students) passed and who failed."

But Stan Huguenin, spokesman for the University of Florida's law school, said it's easy to read too much into who's first and who's not.

"It fluctuates, so it's hard to be shouting about coming in first one time and then not another time," he said.