In his post about interviewing for the Florida Coastal deanship, and his later post on preparing at-risk students for the bar at Western State, David Frakt has raised interesting and important points worthy of further discussion. In Frakt's (reasonable) view, any student who achieved a 149 or lower on the LSAT is at high risk of failing the bar exam. Obviously, this is going to vary by state, and many students with a 149 might not truly be at risk (just as many students who score a 151 are at risk) - but it's a fair starting assumption.
Jerry Organ noted that, for the entering class of 2013, 32 law schools had a median of below 150. But a notable 68 law schools - basically, a third of all programs - have a 25th percentile LSAT below 150. And for those of you feeling relief about your school's 25% percentile of 150 or 151 - there are 26 more schools in that category - you might want to dig a bit to see how many of that bottom quartile are in fact below 150. It's likely you have a good number of high risk students as well.
The point is that figuring out how to help high risk students pass the bar is an important, and probably urgent issue at over 45% of all law schools. That's bracing. But faculties and administrations must confront the issue.
To be sure, they have uncomfortably high 1L academic attrition rates - around 25% reported in 2011, 17.5% reported in 2012, and 15% reported in 2013. In 2011 and 2012, the school reported a 25% percentile LSAT of 149,and in 2013 it reported a 148, so those attrition numbers might reflect substantial filtering of the highest risk 1L's. Still, it seems to me that they must be doing something other than failing out weak students.
I spoke with Allen Easley, who is the current dean at Western State, to discuss their bar prep strategies in more depth. In addition to the usual bar prep tactics - academic support and bar prep classes - the law school is using two other methods to bolster the odds of at-risk students passing the bar. The first one, Foundation Law Points, requires students to hit a minimum target grade of 2.5 in 8 core courses. (Western State grades on 0-4 scale, in gradations of 0.1, which may actually be a part of their strategy. They are keen on moving the 2.3 student into being a 2.5 student, something that may actually be easier than moving a C+ student to a B- and, perhaps more importantly, may be perceived by students as more achievable.) Students can get these points in 1L classes and the school isn't so worried about those who do so; they're already most likely to pass the bar. But weak students who haven't earned their 8 FLP's as 1L's will have to keep up the effort beyond 1L year in order to graduate.
Easley - like Frakt - believes that the key here is training students to maintain focused work for three years. The weakest students cannot afford to learn that they can slack off and still survive. In his view, it isn't the school's (fairly extensive) mandatory upper level course requirement that matters; it's that at-risk students never let down their effort. He thinks that it makes the transition to the bar prep intensity easier and more familiar.
The school's fourth strategy is also interesting. They have a bar pass incentive program that provides: a) if a student takes a 3L bar prep class either from Western State or BARBI; b) if a student takes either a BARBRI or PMBR bar review course; and c) if the overall first time taker class passes at a rate of 70% or higher...every passing student gets $3000. The goal is thus to motivate individual and communal action.
I'm curious what other schools are doing to meet this emerging challenge. Are they requiring more upper level courses? Creating new 1L and 2L academic interventions? Paying for bar review? Motivating bar prep?
I will moderate comments to limit them to the terms of this discussion - how law schools can maximize the odds that high risk students will pass the bar. Debates about whether such students should be admitted, or the virtues and vices of particular schools, aren't germane.