The Secret Sauce: Examining Law Schools That Overperform on the Bar Exam
bar passage correlates, law school curriculum, doctrinal courses, incoming indicators, law school performance
Despite recent signs of improvement, since 2010, law schools have faced declining enrollment and entering classes with lower predictors of success. At least partly as a result, the rates at which law school graduates pass the bar exam have declined and remain at historic lows. Yet, during this time, many schools have improved their graduates’ chances of success on the bar exam, and some schools have dramatically outperformed their predicted bar exam passage rates. Our study examines which schools do so and why.
We began our research by accounting for law schools’ incoming class credentials to predict an expected bar exam passage rate for each ABA-accredited law school. We then examined each law school’s aggregated performance on the bar exam tests for which its graduates sat based on relative and absolute performance, weighing the difficulty of each state’s bar exam. Through this analysis, we identified law schools that have consistently higher and lower first-time bar exam passage rates over a period of six years: 2014-2019. In addition to identifying overperforming law schools on the bar exam, our methodology is a novel contribution not only to the legal education literature but also to the quantitative methodological literature, given its unique tailoring of the classic value-added modeling design to the realities of the bar exam.
In the second phase of our research, we surveyed administrators at these overperforming and underperforming law schools, as well as law schools in the middle of the distribution, to qualitatively assesses how these law schools approach bar support and bar success of their students. Collectively, this research provides significant insight into how law schools are responding to recent negative trends in bar passage rates, validates successful approaches to mitigate this trend, and recommends a suite of options available to law schools seeking to improve their bar passage rate.