IRVINE – The first graduating class of UC Irvine's law school posted a 90 percent pass rate on the state bar exam, putting it on pace to compete with the nation's most elite law schools, the school announced.
During the exam's July 2012 administration, 46 out of 51 members of the School of Law's inaugural class passed on their first try.
"It's one thing for us to praise ourselves," said UCI's law school dean, Erwin Chemerinsky. "The bar exam shows us by an external measure that we are doing really well for our students."
A school-by-school breakdown of July 2012 exam results hasn't been released yet, but during the July exam last year, UC Berkeley's law school posted an 87 percent pass rate with 222 first-time test-takers, UCLA an 85 percent pass rate with 299 first-timers, and USC a 91 percent pass rate with 179 first-timers.
The average pass rate for first-time test-takers was 77 percent among schools accredited by the California Bar Association.
Among all California law schools, the average pass rate was 55 percent.
"I had no doubt that so many of us would pass, because we are all smart and worked very hard," said UCI law school graduate Denisha McKenzie, 25, of Santa Ana, an associate at Allen Matkins in Irvine. "It's unfortunate not all of us passed, but I'm sure they will next time."
Chapman University in Orange announced this week that its law school reached an all-time-high pass rate of 82 percent, up from 79 percent last year. The school is 13 years old and had 179 first-time test-takers in July.
"Our 2012 graduates make us all proud, and reconfirm: Chapman Law is on the rise!" Chapman law school dean Tom Campbell said in a statement.
The three-day General Bar Examination is administered twice annually, in February and July, and consists of a multiple-choice section, six essay questions and two performance tests. Most first-time test-takers take the July exam and, if they don't pass, retake it in February.
UCI's inaugural law class of 60 students all received full-tuition scholarships. One student dropped out, and five others for various reasons did not graduate in May and/or have not taken the bar exam yet, Chemerinsky said.
Three additional members of UCI's inaugural class passed the bar exam in other states, two in New York and one in Pennsylvania.
The founders of UCI's law school set the bar high from the outset, with a goal to rank among the top 20 law schools nationwide. The acceptance rate for UCI's inaugural class in 2009 was 4 percent, the lowest in the nation.
Already, UCI's School of Law is gaining national recognition. In July, it was ranked No. 7 in the nation for the "scholarly impact" of its faculty, according to a University of Chicago study. The study measured the number of times faculty members were cited in legal literature.
U.S. News & World Report is scheduled to rank the school for the first time in 2015, Chemerinsky said.
"We are committed to having the quality of the students remain exactly the same or get better," Chemerinsky said. "I think we really emphasize preparing them to be lawyers. If a law school does a good job preparing students to be lawyers, it's doing a good job preparing them for the bar exam."
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