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Indiana bar exam passage rate settling back down after temporary improvement

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush stands on the floor of the Indiana House before a speech. Rush is a White woman with brunette hair. She is wearing glasses and her judge's robes.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Chief Justice Loretta Rush said there are multiple reasons to be concerned about Indiana's bar exam passage rate.

After a temporary improvement in the passage rate for Indiana’s bar exam, that number is coming back down.

Attorneys must pass the bar to be licensed. And that success rate had been hovering around 60 percent for years. But in the 2021 fiscal year, it jumped up to 72 percent, likely in large part because pandemic changes allowed an open-book exam.

This past year, the passage rate went down to 67 percent. Chief Justice Loretta Rush said there are multiple reasons to be concerned. One is student debt – if law school graduates can’t pass the bar, they have little chance to dig themselves out of that financial hole.

“You know, the average debt is like $125,000 coming out,” Rush said.

READ MORE: Indiana makes bar exam changes amid pandemic, online testing issues

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Rush said there’s also Indiana’s ongoing and worsening attorney shortage.

“It’s a balance. You want to make sure of a competent bar," Rush said. "And you want to make sure we have people to represent – we have so many people that are in courts right now unrepresented.”

Rush said part of the struggle is keeping new attorneys in the state. She said just 10 percent of Notre Dame Law School graduates remain in Indiana and less than 50 percent from the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.