The trustees of Whittier Law School have voted to close the school, taking the first step of declining to admit a new 1L class this fall. The school, which was fully accredited in 1985, is determining how to fulfill its teach-out responsibilities to the existing student body. In recent years, the admissions predictors for entering students plunged at Whittier - from a median LSAT of 152 in 2012 to a median of 146 in 2016. Earlier this year, Whittier College sold the property upon which the law school sits. Thanks to the Paul Caron, we know that tenured faculty are a suing to keep the school open. (The filing has lots of good background information.)
Update: I have taken down comments. It's clear that their productive value has been achieved and they have moved into the negative quadrant of utility.
Earlier this week, Florida released the February 2017 bar exam results for first-time takers from Florida ABA-Accredited Law Schools. Florida Coastal was the lowest by a considerable margin. Twelve of forty-eight first-time takers passed, for a 25% rate. Florida Coastal thus joins both its sister schools with the dubious distinction of having a 25% pass rate on its home state bar exam. Charlotte Law grads also had a 25% pass rate (18 of 72) on the February bar, just edging Arizona Summit’s historically bad performance on the July 2016 bar in Arizona, where 18 of 73 first-time takers passed for a 24.6% rate. (Arizona's February bar results will be released May 12.)
Florida Coastal remains the sole InfiLaw school which has not been placed on probation by the ABA, and according to an e-mail I received on March 27 from Dean Scott DeVito, “Florida Coastal has not received any information from the ABA that would indicate that the ABA is considering placing Florida Coastal on probation. Nor has the ABA provided Florida Coastal with any indication that it is thinking of beginning proceedings whose outcome could be probation.”
Of course, that e-mail was sent before these results came out, so perhaps Dean DeVito spoke too soon. But assuming Dean DeVito’s answer to still be accurate, my question is: why isn’t the ABA considering placing Florida Coastal on probation?
Last week, Charlotte School of Law had a pretty good week. Dean Jay Conison was fired and returned to the faculty, but since he wasn't assigned any classes this semester, he has no actual responsibilities. He reportedly was wandering the halls asking other faculty members if they had anything for him to do. Dean Conison was replaced by faculty member Scott Broyles. Dean Broyles announced that students who had received federal loans for the 2016-2017 school year would have their spring loans disbursed to them. And the ABA announced that it was not going to evaluate Charlotte's teach-out plan since the school had not determined that it was actually planning to close.
But this week brings more bad news. Charlotte was just informed by the North Carolina Board of Bar Examiners of the results on the February 2017 bar, and they were not pretty. Charlotte's first-time pass rate was an abysmal 25%. (18 of 72) For those counting on repeat takers to bring Charlotte's pathetic bar pass rates within striking distance of the ABA Standard, the February results don't look very promising. Charlotte's pass rate for repeat takers was a mere 18.1%. (17 of 94) The overall rates in NC for February, significantly lowered by Charlotte's performance, were 44.4% for first time takers and 31.7% for repeaters. Not including Charlotte, the state wide rate was 52.6% for first-timers (90/171) and 36.3% for repeaters (102/281). In other words, Charlotte dragged down the state wide passage rates 8.2% and 4.7% , respectively, but still managed to be more than 15% below the state average, as they have now been for the last four administrations of the exam (the two before that they were only 14% below the state average).
Last month it was reported that Charlotte was essentially paying its students to defer taking the July bar. In fact, in an audio recording leaked to the local public radio station, the Assistant Dean for Academic Success Odessa All could be heard explaining to other faculty members that if the school hadn't paid students to not take a previous bar exam, the school's bar pass rate on that exam would have been in the 20s. Apparently, she knew what she was talking about.
Although the July bar pass rate is typically much higher than the February bar pass rate, there is little reason to be optimistic about Charlotte's prospects for the July 2017 bar. The current class, enrolled in 2013 and 2014, is among the weakest classes in American law school history by entrance credentials, and has been further weakened by academic transfers from the top of the class. With the exodus of many of Charlotte's top students this semester after the double whammy of being placed on probation and losing federal funds in the fall, it is hard to envision how Charlotte's remaining students will pass at much more than a 30% rate, if that. And Charlotte has also lost, or will likely lose this summer, its strongest 1Ls and 2Ls, making it unlikely that it will every get near a 75% ultimate bar pass rate for the foreseeable future. Charlotte's only hope seems to be converting to non-profit status and affiliating with a University. Reportedly they are in talks with an an unnamed university in the Northeast. I'm not sure why any self-respecting university would want to affiliate with a law school with Charlotte's reputation, but perhaps Sterling Partners has made them an offer they can't refuse, as discussed in this recent ABA Journal article.
Full Disclosure - Regular readers will recall that I was representing a faculty member in a wrongful termination dispute with Charlotte School of Law. I am pleased to report that that dispute was settled amicably. However, I have been contacted by another faculty member about representation of a similar nature and will likely be taking on that individual as a client.
UPDATED: See the second paragraph for additional stats on the Feb NC Bar exam
This action could very well result in the closure of Arizona Summit. Arizona Summit had, as of December, 381 students, including 143 1Ls (down from 4501Ls in 2011 and 447 in 2012). It is very likely that most students in good academic standing will try to transfer out this summer. No student wants to be at a school that might lose its accreditation. While those with just one year left are likely to have few options other than to remain, the bulk of the 1Ls and part time students who are less than halfway through their programs will try to leave. Those with good grades and a reasonable prospect of passing the bar will be accepted at other law schools and will transfer. The students that will be left behind will be the “worst of the worst” who are extremely likely to fail the bar, making it unlikely that Arizona Summit will be able to achieve the necessary improvements in their bar passage rate (Arizona Summit's most recent pass rates have been in the 20s and 30s). If the top third or more of the class transfer, there will be virtually no students left who are likely to pass the bar on the their first attempt. Meanwhile, it will be very difficult to recruit incoming students for the fall semester and virtually impossible to attract students with significantly better entrance credentials, which is what would be required to get back into compliance with ABA Standards and avoid losing accreditation. Arizona Summit's 2016 entering class had an abysmal 148/143/140 and 3.31/2.96/2.55, meaning that the vast majority of the class is at very high or extremely high risk of failure. Indeed, it is likely that many of the students already admitted who may have expressed an intent to matriculate or put down a deposit will change their mind. Prospective students accepted to any other law school that is not on probation are likely to go there instead, and those only admitted to Arizona Summit may have second thoughts about attending at all. The combined effect of huge numbers of transfers and a dramatic decrease in new matriculants will be a substantial reduction in revenues for Arizona Summit, which is already badly hurting after multiple years of rapidly dwindling revenues. Based on recent history at other InfiLaw schools, I would expect the school's Dean to declare a Reduction in Force very soon, followed by firing half or more of the faculty at the conclusion of the spring semester. Arizona Summit faculty members would be well-advised to start updating their CVs.
One interesting question raised by this action is whether this might cause Bethune-Cookman to reconsider its recently signed affiliation agreement with Arizona Summit. It is hard to imagine that Bethune-Cookman would have entered into the agreement if they were aware that the school might be placed on probation in the near future, but it is also hard to imagine that Arizona Summit's President Don Lively wasn't aware that probation was a distinct possibility based on ongoing communications with the ABA. This raises the specter that Arizona Summit failed to disclose this likely prospect to Bethune-Cookman, which would probably be a valid basis for voiding the agreement. Whatever Bethune-Cookman's leadership was thinking when it signed this agreement, the ABA's determination that the school is not meeting the most basic requirements of the ABA Standards should give them pause about whether they should be encouraging their graduates to attend such an institution.
While Arizona Summit has been among the law schools with the most exploitative admission practices in the country for the last few years, they are far from the only law school to take advantage of students with little or no chance for success. I expect the ABA to take action against other predatory schools in the near future. Thomas Cooley and Thomas Jefferson would be my candidates for the next schools most likely to be sanctioned. (See comments for my reasoning.)
UPDATE: One other issue raised by this latest announcement is this: When was Arizona Summit first informed that it was out of compliance with ABA Standards? Readers will recall that Charlotte was disqualified from federal loans by the DOE in part because of failure to disclose to current and prospective students that it was out of compliance with ABA Standards in a timely manner, an omission which the DOE considered to be a violation of the school's fiduciary duty. If Arizona Summit's road to probation followed a similar trajectory as Charlotte's then they were likely informed by the ABA several months ago that they were out of compliance (or at least that the ABA was considering finding them out of compliance), but it does not appear that the school did anything to alert prospective or current students to this possibility.
In my last post, I incorrectly reported that up to two-thirds of Charlotte Law Faculty had been terminated, based on early reports from other media sources. I have now had the opportunity to gather more reliable information, and can report that just under half of the instructional faculty were terminated, in what the school has described as a “reduction in force.”
In all, it appears that 18 of 39 teaching faculty members were terminated. In addition, the Associate Dean of Library & Information Services and the Director of Academic Success were axed. Disturbingly, for a school comprised almost entirely of high risk students and with an extremely poor and declining bar passage rate, two of four academic success lecturers were terminated, and two of three bar passage lecturers were also fired. The firings were across all ranks, including two of four full professors, four of ten associate professors, and seven of sixteen assistant professors. The school also fired three full-time clinical faculty members, denying their requests for a reasonable opportunity to wind down their many active cases, placing them in a difficult ethical position.
The faculty is not only much smaller now, but is substantially less diverse, as the firings fell disproportionately on women and minority members of the faculty. Of the 18 members of the faculty fired, fully half were minorities and 11 were women. Overall 9 of the 18 faculty members of color were fired (50%) and 11 of the 18 women faculty members were fired (61%), while just 3 of 14 white men were fired (21%). Dean Jay Conison, another white male, did not fire himself, either.
As disturbing as these numbers are, the way in which the firings was carried out is perhaps even more disturbing. The fired faculty members, including some with up to four and half years remaining on their employment contracts, were given less than two weeks notice until the termination of their pay and benefits, and were reportedly offered only one month’s pay, with no benefits, in severance, even for professors with many years of service to the school. The receipt of this severance was conditioned on the signing of a general release of all claims against the school and agreeing to a non-disparagement clause and other terms designed to prevent the faculty members from airing the school’s dirty laundry (and there is plenty of it, trust me).
Charlotte School of Law has characterized the firings as a reduction in force, but multiple faculty members have reported to me that the administration did not comply with the contractual requirements for declaring a reduction in force, making the legality of the terminations questionable, to say the least.
Many of the faculty members are consulting with counsel and weighing their legal options. Expect multiple lawsuits by the faculty in addition to the multiple lawsuits already filed by students.
In an e-mail from the Charlotte administration to its students sent on January 3, the Dean and President of Charlotte informed students:
We are actively pursuing an arrangement with Florida Coastal School of Law to ensure that regardless of our dispute with ED our students can complete their program of study and receive an ABA-accredited degree. We have been actively working with our regulators respecting this arrangement.
We hope to have in place by the end of the week a specific process for transferring to Coastal, including for students with fewer or more than 30 credits.
This e-mail, along with an earlier e-mail, suggested that Coastal students would be guaranteed a place at Florida Coastal.
Not so fast, says Florida Coastal Dean Scott Devito. In an e-mail sent to all Florida Coastal students on January 5th, he stated:
At present, there exists a misconception that Coastal Law is going to effectively allow any Charlotte Law student to transfer to Coastal.
Let me be clear. That is not true.
. . .we will only allow students to transfer to Coastal if the student’s academic credentials (including LSAT, undergraduate GPA, and law school GPA) demonstrate that the student has a high probability of passing the bar.
. . . A concern that has been raised by faculty, students, and staff is that too many Charlotte students will apply to transfer here. I do not believe this will be the case.
. . .we will only accept students who meet our criteria for admission to the law school—a central feature of such criteria is that the student’s academic credentials demonstrate that they are highly likely to succeed in law school and pass the bar. This will limit the students who will be able to transfer to Coastal Law.
Let's Start with the "Hall of Shame" headed up, not surprisingly, by InfiLaw's three law schools:
1. Charlatan Law, I mean Charlotte Law, just placed on probation by the ABA, still doesn’t get it. Their 2016 entering class profile is 148/144/141 3.07/2.80/2.48. This is after their bar pass rate has come down from 62% in 2013 to 58% in 2014, to 46% in 2015 to somewhere in the low 40s for 2016 (in North Carolina, they had a 34.7% rate in February and a 45.2% rate in July). Yet the school still admitted 1416 students and matriculated 343 students, an even larger class than last year’s entering class of 309, when what they should have done is cut the class size in half and tried to get to 151/149/147 3.2/3.0/2.8 to get back to some semblance of respectability. Clearly, Dean Conartiston decided to milk maximum profits out of the school for one more year.
2. Florida Costly, that is, Florida Coastal: The September 19, 2016 letter by Florida Coastal Dean DeVito’s, which I wrote about previously, turns out to have been very misleading. The letter stated, “We have raised our incoming LSAT requirements by five points and plan to raise it two more in the subsequent admission cycle.” This suggested to me that Florida Coastal had already raised standards for the class that just started in the fall of 2016. But in fact, they did no such thing. In fact, they admitted a class almost identical to their sister school, Charlotte Law, with LSATs of 149/144/141 and UGPA of 3.27/2.87/2.57. This class is also virtually identical to the class they admitted last year, at 148/144/141 3.29/2.88/2.54. Meanwhile, having completely destroyed their reputation, the number of applications and the class size at FCSL continue to plummet. Consider that in 2011, Florida Coastal had 5277 applications and matriculated 679 students. This year, they had 1813 applications and enrollment is down to 235, almost 2/3 less on both counts.
3. Arizona Plummet, er Summit somehow managed to convince 143 students to matriculate this fall, despite their incredibly dismal record of performance on the bar and in job placement. The class they admitted is virtually identical to last year’s class in terms of credentials. Both the 2015 and 2016 entering classes are at 148/143/140 with virtually identical grades as well – 3.34/2.88/2.54 last year and 3.31/2.96/2.54 this year. Arizona Summit’s bar pass rate has gone from a respectable 72% in 2012, to 69% in 2013 to 52% (more than 21 points below the state average) in 2014, to 42% in 2015 (more than 24 points below the state average) to somewhere around 30% in 2016 (38.1 on the Arizona bar in February and 24.6% in July). Arizona Summit is likely to be more than 30% below the state average for 2016. So Arizona Summit is clearly out of compliance with ABA Standard 316 having been more than 15% below the state average 3 years in a row. And they are clearly in violation of ABA Standard 501, for admitting students who do not appear capable of completing a J.D. and passing the bar. In fact, the classes of 2015 and 2016 are even weaker than the class of 2013 that just bombed the bar in historic fashion. The ABA must act immediately to stop this egregious exploitation.
The July 2016 California Bar Examination results by law school were recently released. See the story here and more granular data here.
The overall performance of the the 21 (!) ABA law schools in California was dismal. The average first time pass rate for graduates of ABA accredited schools was just 62%.
Reviewing the results, I have a few observations:
1. Law school Deans in California are up in arms, with many complaining bitterly about how unreasonably difficult the California bar exam has become. I think they have a valid point. It appears to me that the California Bar is unjustifiably difficult to pass. Large numbers of students with very good LSAT scores and very good grades from very good law schools are failing the exam, and that is not necessary to protect consumers from incompetent attorneys. I believe the cut line should be set so at least 8-10% more takers pass the exam. This would still make California one of the more difficult bar exams in the country. By comparison, 83% of ABA law school grads passed the New York bar on their first attempt this July, a 21% higher rate. New York has a very similar range of law schools as California so the groups taking the bar exam had virtually identical aptitude. But tougher grading by the bar does not account for the significant drop in the California pass rate in recent years. Rather, the majority of the decrease in performance comes from the dramatically lowered admissions standards at California law schools which started in 2011, accelerated in 2012, and reached record lows in 2013, when most of the students who took the bar this summer entered law school (unfortunately, this trend continued in 2014 and 2015; no word yet on the entering class of 2016, but it is unlikely to be much better). The drop in performance on the bar was entirely predictable, and, in fact, I predicted a significant state-wide drop in California’s pass rate in a presentation I gave to the National Conference of Bar Examiners last spring because so many schools there had dramatically lowered their admissions standards in 2013.
2. LSAT scores matter – if you look at the pass rates, with a couple of notable exceptions, they track the selectivity of the school in terms of LSAT scores and UGPA of the entering class of 2013. In the chart below, I compare the LSAT profiles of the entering class of 2013 with the pass rate on the July 16 bar.
Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz has announced he will step down as the Dean of the University of Arkansas - Little Rock law school at the end of the school year. He joined UALR as dean in July 2013.
According to one source, he is being forced out for political reasons, because of an email he sent to students after the election offering counseling to those upset by the results. A colleague of Schwartz's, Robert Steinbuch, who previously tussled with Schwartz over diversity in admissions, explained to Heatstreet:
If you tell people every time they lose they’re entitled to counseling, you elevate the perceived level of wrong beyond what it is. Most assuredly, Democrats are disappointed a Republican won. I recall when the Democratic Party won the Presidency twice each of the previous two elections. I knew plenty of people who were disappointed at that time, but I didn’t know anybody that needed grief counseling. I think when we tell people that they need some form of grief counseling we are normalizing hysteria and suggesting there’s something immoral or wrong about our democratic process.
The ABA announcement is here. The school will close June 30, 2017. It would have been difficult to imagine a tougher time for Indiana Tech to have started a new law school. Now the school will be required to implement a "teach-out" plan. A news story is here. The school's Q&A is here.
In response to several straight poor results on bar examinations, which (although Dean DeVito doesn’t directly admit this) were the direct result of dropping admission standards starting in 2011, Dean DeVito announced that the school will be raising its admission standards back to 2010 levels, aiming for a median LSAT of 150 or higher, and a 25% percentile of 147. The letter indicates that Florida Coastal has already raised their incoming LSAT requirements by 5 points (for 2015, they were at 148/144/141) and states that the school plans to raise LSAT quartiles by two more points in the next admissions cycle. He suggests that this change should result in a return to bar passage rates in the mid 70s, noting that Florida Coastal’s first-time pass rate was consistently in the mid 70s prior to 2010 when their median LSAT was 150.
Dean DeVito should be heartily commended for finally putting a stop to the exploitation of hundreds of students with poor aptitude for the study of law. But it is clear that he has done so very grudgingly, and that he is not happy about it. In fact, he says he is “incredibly frustrated” at having to raise standards because the more pressing crisis, in his view, is diversity in the profession, not declining bar passage rates. He does not acknowledge in any way that Florida Coastal erred by lowering its standards in the first place, but rather bemoans the fact that raising admissions standards to the levels required to produce an acceptable bar pass rate will (in his opinion) result in decreased diversity because of an insufficient pool of minority students with LSAT scores close to the median. (Incidentally, the actual median is between 151 and 152, not 150.) While I do not doubt Dean DeVito’s sincere commitment to increasing diversity in the profession, he is not fooling anyone if he is suggesting that Florida Coastal’s decision to dramatically lower its admission standards was driven by a desire to increase diversity. Florida Coastal’s irresponsible and unethical admission policies, like those of its sister schools Charlotte and Arizona Summit, were driven by InfiLaw’s corporate policy of profit-maximization (aka greed). While these schools have touted their high rates of diversity, what they have failed to mention is that a disproportionate share of the enormous revenues they have generated in recent years came from minority students who were (quite predictably) unable to complete their degrees or pass the bar.
In my last post, I discussed the need to consider both sides of the ratio when examining bar passage rates. Looking only at a particular law school’s passage without examining the overall bar passage numbers can lead to incorrect conclusions. In this post, I am going to challenge the belief that law schools can easily predict which students will do well in law school and the bar. This is based partially on my years of experience being on the Admissions Committee for my school (not a current assignment, fortunately, as it is a really hard job) and on the statistics that have been developed about applicants.
When an individual applies to be admitted to a law school, a collection of objective and subjective information is provided to the admissions committee from which a decision can be made. The key objective information is the undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) and the LSAT score. The subjective information includes letters of recommendation, essays, c.v., and even the student’s transcript. The admissions committee and staff stir this information around and offer some students a seat. It seems that much of the discussion about admissions standards revolves around the objective indicators, so the focus of this post will be with those.
Without a doubt, the objective information drives the process at most schools. The subjective information is used, too, but UGPA/LSAT control most of the decision-making. Typically, an applicant must be defined objective standards first before any subjective information is considered. Indeed, much of the current debate about appropriate admissions standards rests on this assumption and focuses fairly exclusively on law school’s alleged failure to accord these objective measurements their driving force. The essence of the argument is that some students with low objective indicators should never (or at least hardly ever) be admitted to law school. See David Frakt’s LSAT Score Risk Bands. The major problem with this argument is that it ignores what the statistics tells us about the LSAT and UGPA.
According to the LSAC (the publishers of the LSAT), each of the objective data points are correlated with first-year law school performance. See LSAT Scores as Predictors of Law School Performance. For the LSAT, calculated on a school-by-school basis, the relationship correlates at between .19 and .56; for UGPA it is between .06 and .43.
Looking first at UGPA, at the bottom end, a correlation of .06 is statistically meaningless unless there are at least 1,000 students in the data set. See Table of critical values for Pearson correlation. According to the ABA, the largest admitted class last year (2016 data has not yet been released) was 576 at Georgetown. See ABA 2015 1L Data. The only other school above 500 was Harvard. See id. For these two schools, the correlation needs to be greater than .07 to have any validity; for the rest of us, a much higher correlation is needed. For my school, U.Mass., with an entering class in 2015 of 71, the correlation must be above about .19 to be valid. Even the highest correlation found, .43, is considered to be a statistically weak relationship. See How to Interpret a Correlation Coefficient r.
The correlation between LSAT and the first year’s performance is stronger than the one for UGPA; indeed, the highest correlation found, .56, is considered a moderately strong correlation. Further, with the lowest correlation at .19, schools with more than about 70 matriculates (all but seven ABA schools) would have a statistically valid result, although that correlation is considered weak.
There is a problem with these relationships, however. If a law school is supposed to recognize which students will ultimately pass the bar examination based on pre-admission data (and thus not be a “bottom feeder”), it must have data that predicts bar passage. Neither of these objective values do this.
To begin with, the relationship tested by LSAC is between UGPA/LSAT and first-year law school performance, not between the indicators and bar passage. The LSAC is not measuring the relationship with graduating law school or with passing the bar examination. Measuring either of these is challenging. If, for example, an individual drops out of law school or transfers to a different school, does that mean that he/she flunked the bar?
More importantly, the power of prediction of the objective measures is, even at their best, weak. Statistically, to obtain an estimate of the proportion of influence the correlated value has, you calculate the coefficient of determination. See Coefficient of Determination. This allows you to approximate the percentage effect that the correlate has. It is a simple calculation as all you have to do is square the correlation obtained. Thus, for UGPA, the coefficient runs from 0.4% to 18.5%, with a median of 6.8%. Likewise for LSAT, the coefficient ranges from 3.6% to 31.4% with a median of 14.4%. In other words, for the median school, the LSAT captures about 15% and UGPA captures about 7% of the student’s ultimate probability of succeeding in their first year of law school, leaving about 80% to other factors. My favorite example here is a student from years ago who had an UGPA of 2.00 but graduated near the top of our class. When I asked him about it, he indicated that he had specialized in a different kind of bar in college and was now on the wagon.
The conclusion that has to be reached is that there is no simple way to identify a potential student as one who should absolutely not be admitted to law school. LSAT and UGPA can not be ignored in the process, but their use is of limited value. A school with a low LSAT or UGPA spread in its entering class might be admitting anyone with a pulse or they might be successfully using the other 80% to find a valid class. To find a “bottom feeder” — particularly one who is in violation of ABA Standard 501(b) — a full analysis is needed that examines how the admission decision is being made and by whom, what factors are being considered in the decision-making, and how well the school is educating its class including its students’ attrition rate and success with the bar. To do less that the full analysis is unsupported by the statistics.
In light of the sad news about Daniel Bernstine's recent passing, Sarah Krinsky - chair of the LSAC Board of Trustees - has appointed Thorny Steele as the LSAC Interim President. He served as Chair of the LSAC Board of Trustees from 2013 to 2015, and previously served as Dean of both Nova Southeastern Law and Capital University Law.
For most states, you must graduate from an ABA accredited law school to be eligible to take the bar exam at all. As Florida has been the main topic of conversation in the current discussion, I will use it as an example. Unless an applicant has been in practice for ten years in another jurisdiction, all applicants for the Florida bar must attend an ABA school. See Florida Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar 4-13.1(a) & 4-13.2. The out-of-state practitioner rule seems to be new as passage rates in this category only exist since 2015.
Florida had a 68.2% success rate on the bar last July. SeeFlorida Results. (The success rate for practitioners is just slightly better at 68.9%). All of the non-practitioners—and probably most of the practitioners, too—are graduates from ABA schools.
It is not possible for all ABA schools to achieve an 85% (or even 75%) pass rate in Florida. Despite what is said on A Prairie Home Companion, all of our children cannot be above average. The reality is that if one ABA school gets a passage rate that is above the state average, another one will be below it.
Further, the passage rate trend on the Florida bar raises an important question. As the table and chart of July pass rates below indicates, the pass rate on the Florida bar has been declining fairly dramatically over the last eight years:
This declining passage rate can have two sources. One contributing factor, as much of the discussion about bar passage rates have assumed to be the sole factor, is that the quality of the people taking the bar exam has declined. The other possible factor that the discussion has ignored is that the bar exam itself has become more difficult.
There is some support for this second factor being important in the percentage of practitioners who pass. There is not a significant difference between that rate and the overall rate. All of the practitioners presumably graduated from law school at least a decade ago and before the current shrinkage of the law student applicant pool occurred. If the current admission practices of law schools is causing the bar passage decline, how do we explain that practitioners are doing no better?
In my last post, I talked about how Barry and St. Thomas Law Schools “bombed” the Florida Bar in 2016. But in a sense, their graduates didn’t bomb the test at all. In reality, they performed exactly as expected on the bar given their aptitude.
In this column, I want to compare the performance of these schools with what many would consider to be a peer or competitor school in Florida, Nova Southeastern University. Nova Southeastern grads, compared to these two schools, did very well on the 2016 Florida Bar exams, passing at a 64.7% rate. It is important to understand why.
Back in April 2014, when I gave my infamous Dean candidate presentation to Florida Coastal School of Law, (see also here) I predicted that the class that had just been admitted for the fall of 2014 would surely have less than a 50% bar pass rate in 2017. The numbers for the entering class of 2014: LSAT 147/143/140 and UGPA 3.20/2.93/2.63, were down across the board from 2013 when they were already appallingly low. I also predicted, correctly, that Florida Coastal's bar pass rate would drop below 60% that summer. Well, the 2016 Florida bar exam results are out, and Florida Coastal has underperformed even my low expectations by dropping below 50% a year early, at least in Florida, where most Florida Coastal grads take the bar. Here's the numbers: 16 of 49 Florida Coastal first-time takers passed the February 2016 Florida bar; 83 out of 160 passed the July 2016 Florida bar. The combined total for 2016 is 99 of 209, or 47.4%.
Now, in fairness to Florida Coastal, they were not the worst performing school in Florida this year. Both Barry (where I used to teach, but not since Fall semester 2011, so don’t blame me) and St. Thomas had a 45% combined first-time bar pass rate in Florida this year, with 98 of 217 Barry first-time takers passing (45.2%), compared to 81 of 180 for St. Thomas (45.0%).
In March, the ABA Section of Legal Education's Council approved for notice and comment revisions to the ABA Standards 316 and 501 related to stricter bar passage rate requirements, admissions and attrition. Here are the key provisions:
Standard 316. BAR PASSAGE At least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar examination administered within two years of their date of graduation.
Standard 501. ADMISSION (a) A law school shall adopt, publish, and adhere to sound admission policies and practices consistent with the Standards, its mission, and the objectives of its program of legal education. (b) A law school shall admit only applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.
Interpretation 501-3. ATTRITION A law school having a non-transfer attrition rate above 20% percent bears the burden of demonstrating that it is in compliance with the Standard.
(For those wanting more detail, a marked up copy of the Standards (showing a comparison of the old rule and the proposed new rule) and the comments submitted regarding the proposal are available here.) Several thoughtful comments have been submitted related to these proposed standards, but this post is devoted to a comment submitted by Don LeDuc, the President and Dean of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Mr. LeDuc has written to express his vociferous opposition to the proposed changes to ABA Standard 501 and 316.
It should not be at all surprising that Mr. LeDuc opposes any tightening of the rules regarding admissions given that he presides over the law school that admitted the statistically weakest law school entering class in history in 2015. What is surprising are his outlandish claims that it is an “unproven assertion” that bar results are tied to admission factors, and it is a “flawed premise” “that factors involved in law school admission decisions can be used to predict bar examination success.”
The presser is here. Dean Leonard Baynes of the University of Houston Law worries about brand confusion here. The ABA Journal tacitly accepts US News as the official law school ranking organization in its headline here.