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Study Blames Law Students - Not Law Schools - for Low Bar Pass Rates

Professor during her class
By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 22, 2019 12:01 PM

Bar pass rates declined by more than 20 percent for students from 35 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association between 2013 and 2017, according to the latest statistics.

In a study of 203 ABA schools, about 20 percent saw pass rates fall anywhere from 10 to 20 percent. Analysts blame the decline on lower admission standards. They said the falloff in applicants with high LSAT scores was "particularly steep."

In other words, they blame the students -- not the law schools -- for lower bar pass rates. Others say law schools need to rethink their teaching methods.

Students to Blame

Of course, law students have to take responsibility for preparing themselves for the bar. They take the exam, not their professors. Looking at declining pass rates, Law.com put the blame on the quality of students. "The upshot is that incoming law students on the whole had lower LSAT scores and undergraduate grades than their predecessors -- a trend that has only begun to reverse," the ezine said.

It's a national problem, the report says. The average score on the Multistate Bar Exam fell to a 34-year low on the July 2018 exam, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. In another study, the State Bar of California said declining credentials of law students accounted for 50 percent of the state's bar-pass failures.

That begs the question: what about the other half?

Law Schools to Blame

Even the studies suggest that law students are not entirely at fault. After all, it's the law schools that let them in and push them out. Kelly Testy, president of the Law School Admission Council, said maybe law schools have to take some of the blame. It's not just their lower admission standards, it's the way they teach.

Professors put less emphasis on memorizing rules in law schools today. She says they have backed off some teaching methods -- like the Socratic method -- that used to be the norm in classrooms. "The way we used to teach wasn't as good for caring for the student, but it made sure you could take a closed-book exam," she said. "You knew the doctrine. It was much more like a bar exam, in some ways."

Today, she says, classrooms are all computers and PowerPoint. "There's a different student approach and a different faculty approach," she said. But does that approach work for the bar? For practice? Maybe we all need to bone up on getting a passing grade on the bar, and beyond.  

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