Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Academic Attrition And Transfers, Not Pedagogy, Drive A Law School's Bar Exam Performance

Rory D. Bahadur (Washburn), Kevin Ruth (PhD Mathematics, Miami) & Katie Tolliver Jones (Lincoln Memorial), Reexamining Relative Bar Performance as a Function of Non-Linearity, Heteroscedasticity, and a New Independent Variable, 52 N.M. L. Rev. 119 (2022):

New Mexico Law ReviewOne might believe that a law school’s graduates doing better on the bar exam than their matriculating credentials predicted must be primarily attributable to the teaching ability and performance of the institution’s faculty. Some scholarship makes such a claim. However, it is empirically untrue. Prestidigitation rather than legal pedagogy yields such superficial results. Law schools manipulating their matriculant pools via academic attrition and transfer is the sleight-of- hand that improves their graduates’ barperformance rates. This article reveals the math behind the magic.

This article demonstrates that effective pedagogy may not be the only driver of a law school’s students overperforming on the bar examination.

Statistical analysis supports such an assertion by revealing the model misspecification of linear regression upon which previous studies rely. We wrote original code for the program Mathematica to generate regression equations which clearly illustrate the error of previous studies that applied linear regression to heteroscedastic, non-linear data. Linear regression of such data creates bias in favor of schools that matriculated students who have mid-range UGPAs and LSAT scores.

We demonstrate mathematically that academic attrition and net transfer rates—by combining those factors into a single, independent variable—likely affect institutions’ over and underperformance on the bar examination relative to the entering credentials of their matriculants. We observed a marked difference in the value of this variables between schools that over and underperformed on the bar examination relative to their students’ matriculating credentials.

Our findings are significant because the unwarranted attribution of bar success to legal pedagogy harms educators, especially untenured, support faculty. This article shows that factors beyond the control of such faculty drive bar performance. Another lingering, unresolved question might also be harming legal educators: whether ABA standard 316—which mandates a certain level of bar passage by law schools’ graduates—is ethically and morally supportable given the ability of schools to manipulate bar passage rates by modulating academic attrition and transfer rates.

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