Following up on Saturday's post, Robert Kuehn (Associate Dean for Clinical Education, Washington University), Whither Clinical Courses and Bar Passage: Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Experiential Education and Bar Passage:
Robert Kuehn has written an excellent post about clinical courses and bar passage. He notes that Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, suggested in print that declining bar passage rates might stem in part from the rise of experiential learning in law schools. NCBE’s Director of Testing and Research has made the same claim, noting that: “There has also been a trend toward incorporating non-core courses and clinical experiences into the law school curriculum. These, too, can take students’ time away from learning the core concepts that are tested on the bar examination.”
When Kuehn contacted Moeser to ask if she knew about any empirical research supporting this purported connection, she admitted that she knew of none. Nor did her testing staff.
Kuehn, in contrast, assembles the available research in his post. There is very little evidence that taking courses on bar subjects correlates with success on the bar exam. There is evidence–cited by Kuehn–that well designed academic support programs can improve bar passage. Where do clinical, writing, and other experiential courses fall on this spectrum? We don’t know; this is an essential subject for research.
I’d also like to turn this debate around: If completion of law school courses in bar subjects doesn’t improve bar passage rates, then what does that tell us about legal education or the bar exam? Are we teaching our courses in a way that fails to stick with students? Or is there something wrong with the bar exam? ...
Lawyers add value if they understand how to work with uncertain facts, to identify client goals, and to solve problems in a complex environment that includes shifting legal principles, facts, and goals. Memorizing the law and applying those principles to neat hypotheticals are no longer enough. Let’s demand a bar exam that measures what lawyers really do.