Many law schools have become increasingly concerned about the bar passages rates of their graduates. Low bar passage rates may negatively impact student morale, accreditation, and future admissions. Law schools are also concerned about the emotional and financial impact on their graduates of failing the bar examination. What, if anything, can and should law schools do to improve their graduates' chances of passing the bar examination?
Many law schools are deciding that they should do something. A significant number of law schools are now offering programs "specifically designed" to improve their graduates' performance on the bar examination. And these schools believe that their programs are positively impacting bar performance. significant percentage report seeing a recent "noteworthy success or improvement" in bar passage rates, and they attribute that improvement, at least partially, to these programs. But these schools have not subjected their programs to rigorous statistical analysis. None has "engaged in a statistically verifiable analysis of whether the programs materially affect a student's chance of passing the bar on a first attempt." As law schools struggle with the question of how to assist their students in preparing for the bar examination, 6 there is a gaping hole in the information necessary to make rational decisions: What works?
Our research starts to fill that gap. Our statistical analysis supports the conclusion that a bar support program has improved the University of Richmond School of Law's bar passage rate. More specifically, the bar support program has led to a dramatic improvement for those students most at risk of failing the examination: the bottom half of the graduating class.
Before presenting the statistical analysis, we first review both arguments for and against the bar examination and conclude that a bar examination is a reality, regardless of whether it accurately assesses an applicant's ability to practice law. We then briefly describe law school academic support grams, which increasingly include bar examination support. For schools considering a bar support program, we next describe the components of the University of Richmond's bar support program - individual tutoring and a bar preparation class. Finally, we use several statistical tests to evaluate the effects of the program on the students' initial bar passage rate. The results of our analysis supports the conclusion that a bar support program can, and in this case did, significantly improve bar passage rates. Especially given its modest cost, a bar support program offers an important solution to the perplexing problem of how to prepare at-risk students for the rigors of the bar examination. Importantly, a bar support program not only increases bar passage rates, it also improves graduates' abilities to reason, analyze, Write, and manage their time. Because these skills are critical to those graduates just beginning their legal careers, a bar support program is an ideal solution.
Linda Jellum & Emmeline Paulette Reeves, Cool Data on a Hot Issue: Empirical Evidence that a Law School Bar Support Program Enhances Bar Performance, 5 Nev. L.J. 646 (2005).