Friday, July 22, 2011

The Hardest Bar Exam in the World?

With July bar exams right around the corner, a weekend of panic is perfectly normal. We hope you’ve kept up with your study program, and consulted our additional tips for bar exam success from earlier this month. But if you just can’t shake that sense of dread, here are some fun (or maybe not-so-fun) facts about bar exams in other jurisdictions to help put things into perspective.

The ABA’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (Reference KF302 .Z9 C65 2011) is chock-full of statistics about the bar exams in other states and U.S. territories, and it just might reassure you that the grass is greener than you think. Take, for example, the length of exams, which is compared in Chart 6 on page 23. California has long been famous for its grueling 3-day bar exam, but did you know that Mississippi and Palau also triple the fun? Nine other states also use a two-and-a-half day format, which might as well be three for those souls who must hole up in a hotel. Suddenly that 2-day format isn’t looking so bad (or 1.5-day, if you are heading to Wyoming or Nebraska).

The cost of examination application fees is also covered in Chart 7 of the ABA Guide. Duke Law students who plan to remain in North Carolina are unfortunately near the top of the first-time test-taker expense list at $700, but are edged out by Alaska ($800) and Massachusetts ($815).

Passage rates can be found in the ABA/LSAC Official Guide to ABA Approved Law Schools (Ref KF273 .A86 2011). A country-wide “Career Placement and Bar Passage Chart” uses 2008 exam data to compare state overall passage rates: while California’s 3-day marathon is undeniably difficult, with an overall 78% passage rate throughout the state, the dubious award for toughest exam in the continental U.S. surely goes to Louisiana, whose civil law influence probably plays a part in the nationwide low 67% passage rate.

The alphabetical entries for each law school further break down passage statistics for an individual school. Our grads should be happy to hear that Duke generally scores 5 to 8 percentage points higher than the state’s average, and has a bar passage average of 93% overall. If you’d like to calculate the odds yourself, this guide is also available online.

“But what about that other 7%?” asks the truly nervous Duke Law grad. OK, we’ll need to travel internationally to help ease your troubled mind. As the ABA Journal recently reported, some law schools in Japan reported a zero percent passage rate in 2010. The overall passage rate in the country last year? A dismal 25%. Who’s worried about a measly 7% now?

Finally, while Japan’s bar exam is indisputably tough, nothing beats the passage rate (or lack thereof) from fellow Pacific Ocean island Guam. This tiny U.S. territory doesn’t attract a lot of bar-takers each year, but as the Official Results from July 2006 suggest, they just might have administered the hardest bar exam in the world.

Good luck to all of our recent graduates who will sit for a bar exam next week, in whatever jurisdiction you’ve chosen. (But hopefully not Guam.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Test-Drive Two New Legislative Research Databases

“Try before you buy” isn’t just good advice for car shopping – the Duke University Libraries share that motto when purchasing shiny new research toys, too. The Duke community has always been able to test-drive Trial Databases at, but this summer offers two trials which are particularly interesting to the Duke Law community, since both can help a great deal with federal legislative research.

First, there’s the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1981-1994. The Serial Set is an essential resource for legislative history research, as it reprints House and Senate committee reports and other congressional documents. The Duke University Libraries already subscribe to the online serial set from 1817-1980, and the additional years featured in this trial could help fill gaps in our online access through other sources to congressional reports and documents (outlined in our Federal Legislative History research guide). This trial of 1981-1994 runs through August 6. If you have a legislative history research need this summer, be sure to try it out and leave your comments for the purchasing committee at

The University Libraries have also set up a trial with CQ First Street. First Street aggregates legislative and policymaking data (lobbyist disclosures, congressional staff directory information and biographies, legislative information from THOMAS, and Federal Election Commission disclosures) into nifty visualizations, which make it easy to identify relationships between members of Congress, federal staff, lobbyists, and PACs. (We don’t see Stephen Colbert’s recently-approved Super PAC yet, but we’re sure it’s coming soon.) This trial ends on August 12, and comments left at will be considered in the libraries’ decision whether to purchase a subscription.

If you have questions about using these databases, or about legislative research generally, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beating the Bar Exam

With the bar exam now less than three weeks away, the Goodson Law Library staff have noticed an increase in questions about additional study resources. In our online catalog, try a subject keyword search for “Bar examinations—United States—Study guides”. This will retrieve some helpful resources for any state’s bar exam, including a 2010 edition of Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (Reserves KF303 .W345 2010) and other titles like The Essential Rules for Bar Exam Success (KF303 .F75 2008).

If you have a hole in your bar exam study outlines from a particularly confusing area of law, check out Part III of our Law School Success guide for an overview of popular law school study aids. Many of these series, like Examples & Explanations and the West Hornbooks, can be found on Reserve. (Tip: Although Reserve Collection items are loaned in 4-hour blocks, arrive at the Circulation/Reserve desk less than 4 hours before our 5:00 p.m. summer closing time to borrow a Reserve Collection item overnight. Arrive less than 4 hours before 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, and you can borrow a Reserve book until we reopen the following Monday morning.)

If you’re interested in seeing past exams from North Carolina, start at the NC Board of Law Examiners site. This site offers past exams from 2005-2007 free for download, for those who would like a peek at the structure of state-specific essay questions. (Even older essay questions are available in the library at the call number KFN7476 .N671, but the latest exam available in print is 2003.) The Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Bar Association has also prepared a brief guide to Drafting a Bar Exam Essay Answer (Reserves KFN7476.Z9 D73 2004), with tips and tricks for NC test takers. An updated (2009) version of this pamphlet is available in PDF at

To view older bar examinations from 31 other states, consult our collection of past exams in the Microforms Room on Level 1 of the library (cabinet # 35, top drawer). Available dates vary by state, although many of the most popular bar exam destinations for Duke Law students (like California and New York) have sent us past exams dating up to February 2010. To see which years are available for a particular state, search the Duke Libraries catalog for the subject heading bar examinations [state]; e.g. bar examinations Maryland; then look for the catalog result labeled “[microfiche]”.

Note that many states also make past exams available for free on their bar exam websites, such as New York’s page of Past Exam Questions, which may be more up-to-date than our microfiche collection. Visit to locate the Board of Law Examiners site for your state.

Good luck to all of our July 2011 exam-takers!