The ATL article reports that Albany Law School's first-time bar passage rate in New York dropped from 82.7% in July 2016 to 71.3% in July 2017. Whenever I see a law school's bar exam results go down, the first thing I do is go back and look at the admissions statistics from three years earlier, then compare them with the prior year. More often than not, a significant drop in bar passage rate can be explained by a corresponding decline in admissions standards. Not surprisingly, when we look at the incoming credentials of students Albany admitted in 2014 compared to 2013, we see a sharp decline. In 2013, the 75/50/25 LSAT scores at Albany were 156/153/150, meaning that, at most, 24% were at 149 or below, the point at which law students start to be at high risk of failing the bar. (See LSAT risk bands chart below) In 2014, the numbers declined across the board to 154/151/148, suggesting that somewhere between 30-40% were at 149 or lower, and therefore in a high risk of failure category. Undergraduate GPAs also declined across the board from 3.59/3.38/3.13 in 2013 to 3.51/3.22/2.90 in 2014. This significant drop in the capability of the admitted students easily explains the drop in bar passage rates three years later.
New York Law School also experienced a fairly significant drop from 70.3% to 64.7%. This drop can also be explained by a change in admission standards. An analysis of NYLS admissions statistics reveals a dip in the admissions credentials from 2013 to 2014 at the bottom of the class. In 2013 NYLS numbers were 153/151/149 and 3.43/3.17/2.87. In 2014, they were 154/151/148 3.40/3.20/2.80, the key factor being the drop at the 25% from 149/2.87 to 148/2.80 Because about a quarter of NYLS students are enrolled part-time, it is also helpful to compare the credentials of 2013 part-time admits with 2012 admits. The part-time group declined from 153/150/149 in 2012 to 152/150/148 in 2013 with a slight drop in GPAs as well. Again, this increase in the admissions of high risk students three and four years earlier can explain the decline in the bar pass rate from 2016 to 2017.
The third New York school that experienced a decline in bar passage this summer was Brooklyn, from 82.7% to 78.6%. Brooklyn sharply lowered their admission standards between 2013 to 2014. For full-time students, the bottom 25% went from 158/3.16 in 2013 to 153/3.05. This is a statistically huge drop. (Brooklyn's part-time entering class credentials also declined slightly at the 25% percentile between 2012 and 2013, although part-time students make up only 12-15% of the class.) According to my LSAT risk bands, students with LSATs above 156 are at minimal risk of failing the bar, while those at 153-5 are still at low risk. But students at 150-152, a group I call "modest risk" are definitely at a heightened risk of failure. When Brooklyn went from having few, if any, at-risk students to up to 24% of the class at modest risk or worse, a decline in the bar pass rate was not only predictable, it was virtually inevitable.
In contrast, St. John's, which had the biggest increase in the first time pass rate (from 76.5% to 89.2%) actually raised their admission standards from 2013 to 2014 across the board from 159/156/153 and 3.66/3.41/3.17 to 160/157/154 and 3.65/3.48/3.22 for their full-time students, even though that meant shrinking the incoming class from 216 to 180, a 16% drop. This wise decision to admit a smaller but stronger class, perhaps along with increased emphasis on bar preparation at St. John's, paid dividends with the increased bar passage rate this year.
One school that deserves great credit for its increased bar passage rate is CUNY, which raised its rate from 75% to 86.8% (above the state average) despite lowering their entrance credentials at the bottom 25% from 2013 to 2014. In addition to improvements made in their bar preparation program, it appears that CUNY also did an improved job at holding down transfer attrition from the top of the class, which also likely contributed to their increased rate. I am concerned, however, about CUNY's ability to maintain its strong bar performance next year and beyond. CUNY substantially lowered its standards from 2014 to 2015, and again in 2016. The school also started a part-time program in 2015, and the students in the part-time program have even weaker credentials. Those students will start to take the bar next year.
Law schools can make changes to their curriculum, their academic support programs, and their bar preparation programs that will have a positive impact on bar passage rate, but the single most significant factor in bar passage rates remains the caliber of the admitted students. That is why NYU, Columbia and Cornell all had first-time pass rates above 95%, with Fordham close behind at 93.4%. These schools admit virtually no at-risk students. The caliber of admitted students also explains why Touro fared quite poorly on the bar (64.8%, just edging out NYLS by .1%). Touro had the weakest entering class of any New York law school in 2014 at 149/146/145. Hofstra, with a 2014 LSAT 25% at 147 (the 33rd percentile), also struggled (70.4%). Even in a state with a relatively low cut score like New York, a high percentage of graduates will still fail the bar if they are in the bottom 1/3 of LSAT takers. College graduates contemplating law school who are unable to score above 147 should strongly consider other career options.
David Frakt's LSAT Score Risk Bands (Risk refers to likelihood of failing out of law school or failing the bar)
156-180 Minimal Risk
153-155 Low Risk
150-152 Modest Risk
147-149 High Risk
145-146 Very High Risk
120-144 Extreme Risk