Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 1, 2021

A New Study Identifies Law Schools Whose Graduates Overperform And Underperform On The Bar Exam

Bar Exam Standouts: A New Study Identifies Law Schools Whose Graduates Overperform on the Crucial Test, Nat'l  Jurist, Jan./Feb. 2021, at 16: 

National JuristThe bar exam is the price of admittance for those who want to practice law, and passing the dreaded exam, particularly on the first try, is far from a given.

In 2019, statistics show, 79.6% of first-time test-takers passed the bar in their states. That means more than 20% of law grads failed, and that’s a big number given how much time and money they had invested.

When Paul Caron became dean of Pepperdine Caruso School of Law in Malibu, Calif., in 2017, improving the school’s bar passage rate was a top priority.

“Historically our students had done much better on the California bar exam than their incoming LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs would have predicted,” Caron said. “But around 2015, we had begun to see a slump.”

In an effort to turn things around, Caron hired a new director of academic excellence to expand the school’s bar prep efforts and provide additional support and mentorship to students.

And it worked. The school’s bar passage rate went from 87.2% within two years of graduation in 2015 to 91.4% within one year of graduation in 2018.

“While it helps to have entering 1Ls with top LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, there is also a definite correlation between how well a school prepares its students and the school’s bar passage rate,” Caron said.

Indeed, a recent study by Jeffry Kinsler, founding dean of Belmont University College of Law in Nashville, Tenn., confirms the important role schools play in their students’ ability to pass the bar [The Best Law Schools For Passing the Bar Exam].

Using linear regression models — translation: serious math — Kinsler and his colleague, professor Jeffrey Usman, assessed the performance of graduates from 187 ABA-approved schools for a five-year period (2015-19) to determine which schools were providing the most bar-passage value to their students. (Twenty schools were excluded because of missing or inconsistent data.)

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