I've been comparing Charlotte Law School and University of La Verne College of Law. Although both law schools are similar in many ways, recently, the Council of the section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar fully accredited Charlotte, but denied full accreditation to La Verne, and allowed its provisional accreditation to lapse.
As I discussed earlier (A Tale of Two Law Schools: Introduction), the reported reasons for La Verne's denial were:
- Standard 301 (quality of program, citing Interpretation 301-3;
- Standard 303 (continuing enrollment of unqualified students), citing Interpretation 303-3 (academic support); and
- the lack of progress on La Verne's Bar passage rates.
The most glaring difference between the two law schools is first-time Bar passage rates and differences from the average first-time Bar passage rates for takers from ABA-approved law schools (difference scores).
As with the value of real property, the key to relative Bar passage rates and difference scores is location, location, location. Charlotte is located in North Carolina, while La Verne is located in California. As is true with most lower-tier law schools, most of the graduates of each school take the local Bar exam. The Bar exam cut score in North Carolina is 138.3/200, which is high (84th percentile), while the cut score in California is very high--144/200 (98th percentile)--second only to Delaware's 145.
As I discussed in Interpretation 301-6: Low LSATs and High “Cut Scores,” Bar passage rates are affected not only by LSAT scores, but also by cut scores; bar passage rates fall as cut score goes up. For example, compare the 2009 overall first-time Bar passage rates for takers from ABA-approved law schools for selected states:
|2009 First-Time Bar-Passage Rates
Takers from ABA-Approved Law Schools
|State||Cut Score ||Rate|
The idea of difference scores is to adjust for differences in state cut scores. As I discuss in Benchmarking the Bar: No Unity in Difference Scores, the effect on Bar passage rates of a one-unit fall in a law school's middle LSAT grows as average passing rates fall towards 50%. As a result, the difference scores of lower-tier law schools in high cut score states, such as California, will be lower (farther below the state average) than law schools in lower cut-score states.
Moreover, in high cut score states, it will take longer for cumulative (ultimate) Bar passage rates of an annual cohort to rise 9and level off). According to Carol Chomsky (Society of American Law Teachers), Report on the April 2011 Standards Review Committee Meeting (Part II), that Committee recognized this. According to Chomsky, that Committee also suggested that
it would be a good idea to push California to lower its cut score and so increase its bar pass rate, especially given the high minority population there.
As the saying goes, "Good luck with that."
In the meantime, La Verne, and other lower-tier law schools in California, must either go back to having only a California accreditation, or
- take fewer chances in admissions--and fewer minority students--or
- work harder--including academic support--to prepare their students for the ordeal ahead.
The usual approach of ABA-accredited schools has been to do both.
But how does the ABA decide whether a school is giving enough academic support? I've already discussed Academic Attrition, but there's more to academic support than that But that's the next installment of this tale.