Loyal readers of this website will recall my debate in late 2014/early 2015, with Charlotte Law’s Dean Jay Conison, about Charlotte’s/InfiLaw’s admission policies. (For a refresher, see here and here.) I suggested, as I did in my infamous Dean candidate talk at Florida Coastal, that admitting so many extremely high risk students would inevitably result in a steep drop in bar passage rates, which would potentially jeopardize the school’s accreditation. Dean Conison disputed this notion, suggesting that horrible LSAT scores and UGPAs did not have the same meaning at Charlotte Law as elsewhere and admonishing me that law school is not a “black box.”
Dean Conison took the helm at Charlotte Law in April 2013, in time to impact admissions for the entering class of 2013. Let us not forget that Dean Conison came straight from being the Dean at Valparaiso Law School where the classes that he recruited in his final years have driven the school’s reputation, and bar passage rate, right into the toilet. Since the fall entering class of 2013 recently graduated, I thought it would be a propitious time to check in on how Charlotte’s students have fared under Conison’s leadership.
As a baseline, let’s look at the bar passage rate when Conison arrived. Charlotte reported a 66.67% first time pass rate for 2012, with a substantial majority of graduates taking the North Carolina bar, where the first time pass rate was 65.43%. Since Conison’s arrival, the bar pass rate has been in freefall. In 2013, it was 61.72%. In 2014, it was 57.93%. In 2015, it dropped again. We don’t have the official school wide numbers, but the NC first-time pass rate was 40.5% in Feb 15 and 47.1% in July, down considerably from the prior year. The trend has continued in 2016, according to information provided by Dean Conison.
Above the Law recently published a letter that Dean Conison sent out to Charlotte’s graduates announcing the July NC results. In the letter, he mentioned that Charlotte’s pass rate for first-time takers was 45.24%. This was Charlotte’s worst NC pass rate since gaining accreditation in 2008, down from their previous record low of 47.1% in summer 2015. Amazingly, Dean Conison claimed that this rate “signals that our improvements are having an impact.” The asserted basis for this statement was an 11% improvement from the February bar pass rate from Charlotte’s February first-time pass rate of 34.7%. It is shockingly disingenuous to claim that an increase in 11% from the February bar to the July bar indicates “improvement.” February bar pass rates are consistently lower than July bar pass rates at virtually every law school. In NC, the Feb bar pass rate has been lower than the July rate every year since 2010 (and probably longer) by a substantial margin. Charlotte’s 34.7% Feb 16 pass rate was 16.4% below the state average. The 45.24% July 16 rate was 20.66% below the NC state average. So, relative to other law schools, Charlotte grads actually did worse in the summer of 16 than in the winter. If we compare apples to apples, the July 16 numbers were down from July 15.
Dean Conison attempted to reassure Charlotte grads by citing Charlotte’s ultimate bar pass rate. “Our ultimate bar pass rate over the past five years has been approximately 78%.” But this number is also deeply misleading. This ultimate bar pass rate is derived from classes that had much stronger academic credentials and much higher first time bar pass rates. The ultimate bar pass rate for Charlotte’s class of 2016 is almost certain to be significantly lower.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the entering classes of 2014 and 2015 at Charlotte were substantially weaker than the class of 2013 which just bombed the NC exam. In fact, these entering classes were as weak or weaker than the classes admitted by UNT and Ave Maria, two schools which the ABA recently determined to be non-compliant with ABA Standard 501 for admitting students who did not appear capable of completing a J.D. and passing the bar. It remains a mystery why the ABA has not taken similar action against the InfiLaw schools, as similar bar passage rate freefalls have occurred at Florida Coastal and Arizona Summit as a direct result of plummeting admissions standards over the last five years.
It is beyond high time for the ABA to step up and hold InfiLaw accountable for their reprehensible admission practices and their pathetic (but entirely predictable) bar passage results.