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Fun With ABA 509 Disclosures: Best, Worst Law School Bar Pass Rates

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 25, 2015 9:37 AM

Have you always wanted to compare different ABA-accredited law schools' numbers? Do you have a strange affinity for Excel? Well, now you can put both of your odd hobbies together!

The American Bar Association has made available its "509 disclosures" -- all the self-reported numbers that ABA-accredited schools have to provide every year -- online and in Excel spreadsheet format. You can get 509 sheets for each of the 202 ABA-accredited law schools in the United States, or -- and this is where we had some fun -- you can get spreadsheets on a variety of different metrics (like undergraduate GPA, cost of attendance, and attrition), compare schools to each other, and discover trends.

Let's have fun with statistics -- together!

Bar Pass Rates

We looked at the 2013 bar passage rates for all 202 law schools and found some interesting figures. The numbers reflect what the ABA calls "Composite Average School Pass Percentage," which is the average pass rate for all state bar exams taken by students from a particular school.

Here are the 10 best (law schools with the highest bar pass rates are on top; also see the Editor's Note below):

  1. University of South Dakota, with a 97.83% bar pass rate;
  2. Baylor University, 96.99%;
  3. Harvard University and the University of Alabama, 96.36%;
  4. Columbia University, 96.26%;
  5. New York University, 96.19%;
  6. Yale University, 96.16%;
  7. Vanderbilt University, 95.59%.
  8. University of Pennsylvania, 95.55%; and
  9. Duke University, 95.44%.

We also looked at the 10 worst (law schools with the lowest pass rates are on top):

  1. Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, 32.05%;
  2. Southern University, 46.62%;
  3. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 51.45%;
  4. University of Puerto Rico, 53.63%;
  5. University of the District of Columbia, 54.67%;
  6. Thomas Jefferson School of Law, 55.24%;
  7. Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, 55.56%;
  8. Golden Gate University, 55.67%;
  9. University of La Verne, 56.37%; and
  10. University of Detroit Mercy, 61.06%.

(Belmont University had a pass rate of zero percent, but that's either because there were no bar exam takers in 2013, or the school didn't report the numbers.)

Correlation, Causation, Consternation

We also took a stab at regression analysis, trying to figure out if anything correlates to anything else. People have criticized the U.S. News rankings as focusing too much on inputs -- undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores -- rather than outcomes. But do inputs equal outputs?

Removing two schools that skewed the numbers -- Belmont University (which didn't have bar takers or didn't report numbers in 2013) and Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (which apparently didn't report a GPA figure), we graphed 50th percentile GPA and 50th percentile LSAT scores against 2013 composite average school bar pass rates.

For the GPA v. bar pass rate figure, the graph had an R-squared value of 0.4441; for LSAT score v. bar pass rate figure, the graph had an R-squared value of 0.4377. (R-squared is a measure of how well variables correlate, so a value of 1.0 would mean that the two things you're measuring correlate perfectly.)

So what does a value of 0.4 mean? Does it mean that law school does little to nothing to improve students? Or that GPA and LSAT score are irrelevant? (At the least, it means they have something to do with bar pass rates.) We're not sure, but it does mean is that we played around a bit with Excel, and thanks to the ABA making these spreadsheets easy to work with and publicly available, you can too!

If you come up with any interesting figures, or you have grave doubts about our admittedly haphazard methods, be sure to let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals)!

Editor's Note, February 25, 2015: We initially posted that the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University reported 100% bar pass rates; however, a Twitter user points out that this is probably because of Wisconsin's "diploma privilege," which waives the bar exam requirement for graduates of those law schools. We have updated our list accordingly, because graduates of those schools who were admitted in Wisconsin (and that's the only jurisdiction those schools report in their 509 disclosures) never had to take the state bar exam, so reporting their pass rates as "100%" is fairly misleading.

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