Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NY Times: 1/3 Of Law Schools Admit Entering Classes With 25% Or More Students At Risk For Failing The Bar Exam

NY Times Logo (2015)Following up on yesterday's post, 2015 State of Legal Education: An In-Depth Look Into Law School Admissions Choices:  New York Times, Study Cites Lower Standards in Law School Admissions, by Elizabeth Olson:

As law schools across the country try to keep their classrooms full, many are admitting students with lesser qualifications, including those with a lower admissions test score — considered an important predictor of whether a graduate will earn the credentials to practice law.

About a third of the 204 accredited law schools had entering classes last year with at least 25 percent of the class consisting of “at risk” students, or those with law school admissions test scores of below 150, according to a new study by Law School Transparency, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

Law school admissions scores closely mirror the final results of the state bar exams, which graduates must pass to qualify as licensed lawyers. Many in legal education consider a score of 150 as a telling dividing line between future success or failure.

“Too many law schools are filling their entering classes with people who face serious risk of not passing the bar exam,” said Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, which he helped to found six years ago to promote more open law school practices. He said that last year 45 schools, up from eight in 2010, admitted seriously at-risk students.

Most law schools maintain that test scores are only one indicator, albeit an important one, of the ability to pass the bar. They also say they need flexibility in selecting students to assure a diverse population of lawyers.

Yet many schools are also facing pressure from plummeting enrollments — the lowest in decades. Law school enrollment reached a peak in 2010, as many students fled a troubled economy to the schools’ safe harbor. With a swelling crop of students, bar passage rates soared, but it all began to come apart quickly when jobs in law seemed to melt away overnight as the industry adjusted to a changed economy.

Threatening to further weaken laws schools’ position, initial reports from states show that bar passage rates this year are again slumping.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners, a Madison, Wis., organization that oversees the 200-question multiple choice portion of the exam given in most states, found that overall results slipped again, to the lowest point since 1988.

Most states have yet to report the complete results of their July 2015 bar exam, but early numbers paint a dismal picture.

In Oklahoma and New Mexico, for example, the bar passage rates fell by double digits. Oklahoma’s rate tumbled 11 percent, to 68 percent, and New Mexico’s fell 12 percent, to 72 percent, according to Derek T. Muller, a Pepperdine Law School professor who collects the results and posts them on his blog, Excess of Democracy. Arizona was even lower, with an overall passage rate of 65.7 percent this year.

Law graduates typically can take the test over, and repeaters nudge up the pass rate. But the tumbling outcomes for first-time test takers are spurring debate over whether law schools should be admitting students who score poorly on the entry test. The top scores on the multiple-choice exam are between 156 and 180. Scores below 150 are viewed by many as warnings that test takers lack the skills necessary to practice law. ...

Mr. McEntee of Law School Transparency, a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, said his group’s recent study showed that many schools were admitting students whose lack of legal aptitude made them vulnerable to failing the bar. And, at the same time, they are incurring six-figure student debt that will weigh them down in the future.

The steady erosion in admissions scores between 2010 and 2014, Mr. McEntee, said in his study, is “directly linked to the falling bar exam passage rates in many states.” ...

While most law schools say no drastic changes are needed, Rebecca W. Berch, retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, who is currently chairwoman of the A.B.A.’s national accrediting body for legal education, said: “I’d like law schools to be up-front, telling students that your indicators say you may not have what it takes to pass the bar.” ...

At-risk law students, Mr. McEntee said, “have little chance of gainful employment in order to pay off the debt they are accumulating.”

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There are law schools where students get good jobs in high numbers and pass the bar in high numbers. Let's dump all over them just for fun.

Posted by: Phooey | Oct 27, 2015 12:24:49 PM

Jojo - I think the majority of law faculty, when faced with the facts that their students are not getting jobs and cannot pay off their debts, will blame the Dean. And when the students stop coming to the school because they are not getting jobs, they will blame the Dean. Nothing that goes wrong in a law school is, in any way, shape or form, the fault of the faculty, who have done a darn good job teaching their classes.

Posted by: Biggie Smalls | Oct 27, 2015 9:30:04 AM

At what point do the silent majority of law faculty, who love working as law professors but are otherwise social justice do-gooders realize what they've built? I have to envision that the paper of record opining that you've built a scam must strike a non-trivial percentage of the law faculty straight between the eyes. Think of the moment in Bridge on the River Kwai when Obi Wan recognizes what's he's done. That kind of moment.

Law profs, get aboard and right this ship. It has been listing for too long. Social Justice reformers of the world, reform yourselves!

Posted by: Jojo | Oct 27, 2015 7:17:32 AM

The timing for this onslaught could not be better. Just as potential applicants are making their final decisions. I am sure they will all withstand a crucible of questions from "concerned" relatives who read these articles at Thanksgiving and Christmas. This cycle will be very interesting. More to come when the New York and California bar results come out.

Posted by: JM | Oct 27, 2015 7:13:21 AM