Letter from Dean Testy Regarding Washington Bar Exam

October 17, 2005

Dear Students, Alumni/ae, and Friends of Seattle University School of Law:

You may already have heard from friends or colleagues that the results of the July Washington State bar exam are out. Please join me in congratulating the 175 SU Law graduates who passed the exam and will now enter the next phase of their legal careers. The overall pass rate for the State was 69%, and first-time applicants from SU passed at a rate of almost 74%. Though the overall state pass percentage is lower than in previous years, the performance of our graduates is comparable to our recent experience. Moreover, a number of our graduates are also within the appeal range, and thus may join the ranks of new bar members after successful completion of that process.

That said, I also want to acknowledge that a number of our graduates did not pass the bar at this sitting. As the dean of an academic institution committed to preparing students for the practice of law, I find this very troubling. I intend to make it one of my top priorities to improve our performance in this area – without sacrificing the principles on which our educational mission is founded.

In an ideal world, every one of our students would pass the bar the first time they sit for the exam. In fact, over 99% of our students do pass the bar – if not the first time, then on a subsequent application. That is, however, cold comfort for those who will be taking the exam again.

Accordingly, we will seek to do even more to meet our obligation to do an outstanding job of preparing our students for the one hurdle they must clear before they can exercise their skills as a practitioner. As a first – and admittedly incremental – step, we will begin offering special workshops open to all of our students and alumni/ae who will be sitting for the bar. There will be no fees charged for these workshops, which will be designed to supplement both our students’ law school training and their commercial bar preparation courses. The workshops – a portion of which I will teach – will cover two areas of particularly heavy emphasis and challenge on the bar exam: business and commercial law subjects and professional responsibility.

An important part of our mission of educating leaders in law for a just and humane world is ensuring that everyone who is qualified has access not only to a legal education but also to practice their chosen career. We do not believe that standardized test scores are the only – or even the most accurate – indicator of future success as a lawyer. Unlike some other law schools, we have made a conscious decision to accept students who have demonstrated their potential in ways other than being top-tier test-takers. We do this with the expectation and the proven history that the students’ performance in law school and as practitioners will bear out our assessment of their abilities.

Bar passage rates present complex issues for both educational institutions and the administrators of each state’s exam and bar admittance process – questions about testing and scoring methodology, law school admissions criteria, and the content and pedagogy of legal education.

During the course of this year, I will meet with various members of our faculty and the local bar, with an eye to raising our pass rate to an even higher level, a level that I believe is commensurate with the abilities and achievements of our student body. As we do this, I invite your comments as well. We appreciate your continued support of Seattle University School of Law as we seek to provide leadership in reaching the delicate balance the public interest requires on these issues.

Best Regards,

Kellye Y. Testy
Dean and Professor of Law