Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 17, 2015

LSAT Mean Of 152 Correlates With 88% Eventual Bar Pass Rate (For 160, It's 97%)

Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), LSAT Scores and Eventual Bar Passage Rates:

Are LSAT scores related to eventual bar-passage rates or just to first-time rates? Most people who raise this question acknowledge that there are serious costs to retaking the bar exam--so first-time rates matter. Still, it is valid to ask whether LSAT scores correlate with eventual bar passage: eventual passage rates matter too.

The first, and most important, response to this question is that each law school knows (or can readily determine) the answer for its own graduates. Bar examiners used to hoard bar passage information in some states, but most now share it readily. My law school knows which of its graduates pass the bar, not only the first time but in subsequent attempts. We also, of course, have a wealth of other data about those students. It's not hard to create both simple correlations and more complex regression analyses identifying factors that predict eventual bar passage or failure. ... To act responsibly toward their students, law schools should make these analyses. What variables correlate with eventual bar passage at your school?

National Research
Let's say, though, that your school can't obtain the data for these analyses. Or maybe the credentials of your current students are quite different from those who have already graduated and taken the bar. Is there any existing research that suggests a correlation between LSAT scores and eventual bar passage?

Sure. The LST report includes some of the relevant research; Robert Anderson and David Frakt cite other sources. The table below summarizes one more dataset that I find illuminating. The first and third columns in the table come from LSAC's landmark study on bar passage.  ... The table helps visualize the association between LSAT scores and eventual bar passage rates. (The middle column offers a rough translation between the LSAT scores used before 1992 and those used today.)


Three points/caveats about this table.

First, the table rather clearly shows that higher LSAT scores predict higher eventual bar passage rates--while lower scores are associated with more risk of failure. ...

The data offered above, along with data already publicized, support an association between LSAT scores and bar passage--whether one examines first-time bar passage or eventual passage. Association, of course, is not causation. The relationship suggests that LSAT scores can predict an applicant's eventual success in passing the bar. The score doesn't cause bar passage or failure, any more than an LSAT score causes a student to get particular law school grades. Predictors, however, can offer useful insights when making decisions.

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No hyperbole, actually my law school unemployment figures are ONLY "unemployed and seeking work." I didn't even include the well-known ruse "unemployed and not seeking work," to say nothing of those back in grad school, whose start dates were delayed, or who could not be found. So it's not apples and oranges.

"Use the same definitions in the same data source and people with the same level of work experience--or same age enough years past graduation--and you'll see the same result that everyone who has seriously looked at this question has found."

I can't help that you fail to actually provide evidence of what you are saying here. Gosh, it's almost your statement is just bluster! Go find me that data, eh? Because it goes against every accounting I've seen of the unemployment rates for these two cohorts. Good luck.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 29, 2015 7:49:05 AM

@ Unemployed Northeastern

Any apples to apples comparison will show lower unemployment with higher levels of education of the long run.

You aren't comparing apples to apples.

You're defining unemployment for law grads to mean "unemployed or not in the labor force" but defining it to mean only "unemployed" for recent college grads.

And you're looking at unemployment for law grads 9 months after graduation and for recent college grads a few years after graduation.

Use the same definitions in the same data source and people with the same level of work experience--or same age enough years past graduation--and you'll see the same result that everyone who has seriously looked at this question has found.

Posted by: hyperbole | Dec 28, 2015 10:15:50 PM

If more education = lower probability of being unemployed, then pray tell why is the unemployment rate for recent four-year college graduates 7.2% while the unemployment rate for the two most recent graduating law school classes has hovered between 9.8% and 11.2% ??? The data directly contradicts your supposition.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 24, 2015 9:27:38 AM

@ Unemployed Northeastern:

"education strongly influences the probability of becoming unemployed during working life and
weakly affects the expected duration of unemployment spells"

Nothing new there. More education = lower probability of becoming unemployed and less time being unemployed.

Even better, 1 semester of education can help the long term unemployed get back in the saddle.

All this doom and gloom talk is just encouraging people to sit on their duffs instead of doing the hard work of getting educated and finding a job.

Posted by: hyperbole | Dec 24, 2015 7:17:43 AM

So 146 LSAT--"very high risk" of not passing the bar exam according to law school transparency--translates into an 80 percent chance of eventually passing the bar exam? And a lot of the remaining 20 percent don't pass simply because they stop trying.

It sounds like the studies are saying that pretty much everyone going to law school has a very good chance of eventually passing the bar exam, especially if it's what they want to do.

Given the odds, not going to law school sounds like the much greater risk, because students miss out on so much upside out of fear of an unlikely, and frankly not all that bad, downside scenario.

No risk, No reward.

But hey, for those who think stuffing cash in your mattress is a sound investment strategy, has Law School Transparency got a report for you!

Posted by: hyperbole | Dec 24, 2015 7:03:44 AM

@Dale - To your point, Ted Seto put this together almost a year ago ( He attempts to understand the value added by particular CA law schools, given varied incoming LSATs.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Dec 19, 2015 6:27:18 AM

@ Unemployed Northeastern

True about the differences between the CPA and Bar exams. HW, I still wonder about the validity of Bar pass rates as a measure of law school success for two reasons. First, high LSAT candidates would probably pass the Bar regardless of what law school they go to. Second, and related to the first, it is my understanding that most law schools teach little if any state Bar material. Stanford, for example, focuses solely on the fed system and ignores the California Bar exam.

So what does Bar passage rates say about a specific law school, other than their median LSAT acceptance scores?

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Dec 18, 2015 1:45:50 PM

Oh, and while we are on the subject, it should be noted that those "eventual" bar passers will be, if they continue to study full-time in lieu of landing one of those mythical satisfactory & remunerative JD-Advantage jobs, members of the long-term unemployed. Anyone care to challenge the myriad peer-reviewed studies by actual economists showing just how doomed the long-term unemployed are regardless of education level? Where's the magical JD-holding exemption for long-term unemployment, eh? The truth is, of course, that long-term unemployment kicks in after six months by most accountings, which helps explain why the law school-lobbied change in employment reporting from 9 months after graduation to 10 months after graduation didn't add more than a few percent to the LT, FT, license-required pile. Whether 9 or 10 months out is irrelevant: if you don't have a job by then, you are pretty well sunk.

@ Dale,

A key difference being that accountancies know full well that most people do not pass all of the CPA sections the first time out (and far from every accounting major ever takes the CPA exam in the first place); it is pretty well expected that every law school graduate take at least one bar exam and pass it on the first go around. Different employer expectations, in other words.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 18, 2015 12:08:46 PM

The overall pass rate on the CPA exam is roughly 50%, and this includes multiple attempts. Moreover, I suspect no more than two-thirds of all accounting graduates even sit for the exam in the first place. Using my handy calculator, this means the accounting equivalent of the Bar pass rate is about one-third.

Given this, I wonder how far LSAT scores would have to fall to predict a one-third pass rate? If, for example, the number is 140, I suspect, given past comments here, most of you would see a 140 cutoff for entry into law school as another sign of the end days and would lobby for closing any school that adopts this metric.

Accounting does not have an entry exam like the LSAT. At most schools, becoming an accounting major is as easy as checking a box. But, given the two-thirds failure rate on the CPA exam, can the claim be made that accounting programs are fraudulently inducing young numbnuts to become accounting majors similar to the charges currently leveled against bottom-tier law schools?

Granted, I’m comparing pseudo/graduate programs (you have to have 150 hours to sit for the CPA exam) to true post-undergrad work like law school. Another potential fallacy might be the difference in career paths. Most CPAs do not stay in public accounting, while I’m guessing most licensed attorneys still practice law in one form or the other.

My point (finally, you say) is I wonder about the validity of the LSAT/Bar metric for evaluating law schools. As had been repeatedly pointed out to me by my lawyer daughter (who made 174), LSAT scores are good predictors of academic success in law school and Bar pass rates. However, I wonder if LSAT scores are good predictors of being a successful lawyer?

At any rate, I find it amusing given all the legal challenges over arbitrary admission standards that law schools get away with using a single number as their main admission criteria.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Dec 18, 2015 10:19:54 AM

Anyone want to take a stab at the FT, LT, license-required employment rates for those 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-attempt bar exam passers? Or their salaries?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 18, 2015 10:18:36 AM

All this tells us is those who do well on standardized tests needed to get into law school do well on standardized tests after law school. I think we might be better informed if we look at the number of grievances and malpractice claims filed against attorneys based on their LSAT.

Posted by: Diana | Dec 18, 2015 9:02:33 AM

Dan, the LSAC study collected data for at least two years after graduation--allowing grads at least four opportunities to take the bar. Their data showed that passage plummeted between the third and fourth attempts, suggesting that further attempts rarely lead to passage. I think that other studies have used a similar cut-off, considering two years post-grad to be virtually synonymous with "ever passed."

Posted by: Deborah Merritt | Dec 18, 2015 8:12:42 AM

Thanks for the questions. As the original post indicates, the data come from LSAC's study of bar passage rates (conducted during the 1990s). LSAC obtained most of its data directly from law schools and bar examiners; it did not survey individuals. 163 of the then-existing 172 mainland schools participated; they sent LSAT scores and other data for every student who matriculated in 1991. Bar examiners similarly disclosed bar results in a way that could be linked to individual student data (confidentially, of course).

LSAC acknowledges, and I agree, that there is a slight upward bias to the results. E.g., some schools with low bar pass rates may not have participated. This affected estimates of the overall percentage of passers, but it is less likely to have affected the relationship between LSAT and bar passage.

Posted by: Deborah Merritt | Dec 18, 2015 8:00:49 AM

What does "eventual mean?" How many times? Anon.

Posted by: Dan subotnik | Dec 18, 2015 6:18:55 AM

I would have to agree with Lonnie's comment, "Someone who never passed the bar exam is probably less likely to respond, logically". If the case study does not take this into account. How much could that information impact the results of the study? Thanks,

Posted by: Seth | Dec 17, 2015 7:20:52 PM

Does the cited study take into account the response rates? Someone who never passed the bar exam is probably less likely to respond, logically.

Posted by: Lonnie | Dec 17, 2015 2:46:51 PM

It would be helpful to show the percentiles associated with each bar score. For example, which number is the median? The 25th percentile? The 75th percentile?

Posted by: Gus Santorano | Dec 17, 2015 2:07:24 PM

I like Cooley's latest "commentary" by Mr. LeDuc, which attempts to explain that the school fully complies with the ABA's accreditation standards for bar passage. It also laments LSAT abuses.

Cooley's 2015 Median LSAT was 141. That means that half of the entering class had a 141 or lower on the test.

Posted by: Jojo | Dec 17, 2015 1:40:38 PM