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August 21, 2014


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Mr. Frakt holds Western State out as a success story but I disagree. Bar passage is only a means to a job as a lawyer, something Western does not deliver for most of its students. Western State's own ABA disclosures show that less than half of its graduates got a full time job where a JD is even an advantage (54 out of 123). The outcome really is worse than that since five of the graduates were solo practitioners, which likely is the same as unemployed.

A better way to judge a school is whether the benefits it confers exceed its cost. Here Western looks terrible. It charges $40,000 per year in tuition. But, even if we look at the students who got full time jobs as attorneys, almost all (34 of 46) were either solos or in firms with 2 to 10 attorneys which makes it unlikely they'll be able to pay off loans they take out. In all Western sounds like its doing a terrible disservice to its students (who are trapped in debt they won't be able to repay) and the nation (whose taxpayers will end up covering the cost of those loans after Western's grads default or go on PAYE).


There are two ways we can look at this.

First, the approach that I favor is to identify at-risk students and decline to accept them. The ABA could do it simply by making a minimum LSAT score to be accepted, or schools could decline to accept students by using UGPA/LSAT, and then dumping those with low 1LGPA's.

For obvious reasons that Frakt identifies, this will not happen. From a cursory glance at the TLS-sponsered Class of 2016 LSAT 50% medians, there are roughly 37 law schools that are lower than 150.

Faculty and administration are not going to fall on their swords, and the regulatory capture of the AALS means that the law schools with the most to lose by instituting minimally rigorous admittance requirements have the most power.

Thus, we can look more squarely at Frakt's points, that if schools are accepting many marginal applicants they should emulate schools which boast impressive bar passage rates despite accepting many at-risk students, such as Frakt's school.

And the answer is simply: yes. If they aren't going to fall on their swords, as they should, they owe their students that. Maybe it means turning "opportunity" law schools into three-year bar prep courses. Many people will balk at that, and I do, but I would rather have the "opportunity" law schools have higher bar pass rates than low, even if the better solution would be to close down many of the opportunity law schools.

At my private, expensive, unranked law school, which shall remain nameless, which I graduated from recently (long story that I slightly detailed at OTLSS)the faculty and administration are attempting to do something similar. I don't know if they succeed, I hope they do. The current 2L's and new 1L's have such low LSAT scores that they would be described as "extreme risk" by Frakt. The majority of them aren't very well-informed and are notably less-intelligent than previous classes at my school, but most of them lack the malice that would make me detest them or wish them bad luck, I instead feel pity.


To second anon's comment

1. I've heard the argument that "we dramatically improved the bar pass rate for students with the same predictors." (As stated above: "outstanding results were achieved by students with virtually identical entrance credentials to those who had done so poorly just a few years before.") When I hear this argument, I always think of it as an admission that the faculty was doing a terrible job (28% pass rate?) until the accreditation was threatened. That admission is not becoming and that fact is nothing to brag about.

2. The answer to the "problem" of low bar pass rates is always more or less the same, so I'm not sure it is appropriate to blow Western's horn and implicitly assert that it did something unique. THe response to low bar pass rates is (again, there is precedent for this approach) usually: 1.) modify the curriculum to turn law school into an extended BarBri course with a few electives mixed in and 2.) academically disqualify those unlikely to pass the bar (sometimes, in an incredibly unethical manner, in the third year).

3. Anon above points out the result: bar pass rates may have sky rocketed, but employment prospects remain abysmal. Worse still, the post seems to abuse the very programs that might provide the networking and experience opportunities that could lead to employment: all in favor of the Bar Review curriculum.

Where is the ABA? What is it doing? Well, it made bar review posing as a course in law school legitimate!

4. Finally, for those who claimed a few threads back that the LSAT is an intelligence test, this dramatic jumps in bar pass rates appears to prove otherwise.


I also think we need to know the percentage of Western grads who actually took the bar. Its possible a major reason the bar passage rate went up is that Western discouraged students who were likely to fail, from taking the bar exam. Western must have this information, it needs it to calculate the bar passage rate.

Can Mr. Frakt tell us the percentage of Western grads who passed the bar (as opposed to those who took the bar)?

Also, Mr. Frakt suggests the FLP program was designed to help students. But could it have really been designed to flunk out students unlikely to be able to pass the bar, so they would not bring down Western's bar passage rate?

Can Mr. Frakt tell us the percentage of students who started at Western that ended up passing the bar?

David Frakt

I did not and do not advocate turning law school into a three year bar prep course or an "extended BarBri" course. The purpose of the Foundation Law Points program was simply to force students outside the top third of the class to work harder in core required classes and to continue to be diligent in their studies all the way through to graduation. The FLP did not require a change in curriculum or teaching methodology. I do believe, however, that professors who teach bar-tested courses at opportunity schools need to be familiar with the scope of coverage of their subject area on the bar exam, and that there should be significant overlap in their course coverage so that when students do take a bar review course, they are actually reviewing mostly familiar material, rather than learning it for the first time. While I have not been at Western State since 2010 and no longer have access to Western State's internal data, my recollection is that very few students were academically dismissed due to lack of FLPs. Rather, the vast majority of the students rose to the challenge, worked up to their full potential, got the FLPs, and passed the bar on their first try. My recollection also is that almost every graduate took the bar. We never discouraged our students from taking the bar. Generally, students came to Western State because they wanted to practice law, not simply acquire a J.D..


David, do you know how many Western State matriculants ended up graduating?

confused by your post

Professor Fract, your advocacy of the Foundation Law Points (FLP) is misguided at best. It is simply a tool designed and used, along with other institutional mechanisms, by Western State to weed out law students who are statistically unlikely to pass the bar exam.

Some data points on Western State's recent student attrition rates.

From's stats on attrition rates:
1st year: 27.5%
2nd year: 13.7%
3rd year: 3.1%

From the school's 2013 509 Report (J.D. Attrition):
1st year: 28.1%
2nd year: 7.2%
3rd year: 2.5%

From's stats (Attrition 1st year): 32.6%

Note that some students at Western State who actually manage to do well in the classes not related to the FLP transfer out rather than face the consequences of poor performance in the FLP.

Some may wonder why the school admits so many students when it has created the FLP and other educational policies which it knows will result in a large percentage of admitted students never graduating.

The answer lies in who runs and controls Western State. Educational Management Corporation owns Western State as well as many other "educational institutions." I assume you know this. To hold out the FLP as a beacon to be emulated is misguided at best sir.

confused by your post

My apologies for not correctly spelling your name in the post above Professor Frakt. I did want to follow up on another educational policy put in place by Western State which contributes to the school's student attrition rate. It goes hand in hand with the FLP. That policy is to yank the scholarships of poorly performing academic students.

From the school's website:
# Entering with # Whose Sholarships
Students Matricu. in Conditional Scholarships Since Reduced/Eliminated
2012-2013 138 67
2011-2012 163 94

Students who lose their scholarships can't afford to pay full sticker tuition at a school like this. They have to quit school. The upside for the school is that they don't sit for the bar exam.

David Frakt

It is the nature of opportunity schools to admit a substantial number of at-risk students. It is not inappropriate or unethical for such a school to have a relatively high attrition rate in the first year. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to. Law schools can't predict in advance which of the students with similar entrance credentials will rise to the occasion and apply themselves, or demonstrate an aptitude for the study of law that was not apparent from their prior academic performance. So, law schools in this cohort must have tough, realistic grading standards. When I was at Western State, to ensure that we were treating students fairly and not taking their money beyond the point when it was clear that they had little chance for success, we changed the rules so that a student below a cumulative 1.7 GPA after the first semester was academically dismissed. This seemed fairer than placing the student on probation and allowing them to continue for another semester when there was minimal prospect of success, based on historical data. Students between a 1.7 and 2.0 were placed on probation, counseled on their prospects for success and given the option to withdraw. Those who remained were given robust academic support in their second semester. Some got back into good standing, others didn't. But I must emphasize that there was little or no difference in the entrance credentials of those who were academically dismissed and those who succeeded. The school gave an opportunity to pursue their dream to students who appeared to have a reasonable chance of success and many went on to complete the J.D. and pass the bar. I can't speak to what has happened at Western State since I left, but I don't find the statistics you cited (high attrition and high bar pass rate) to be very alarming. I would be much more concerned if there was a low attrition rate coupled with a low bar pass rate. That would indicate that the school was allowing students with poor prospects for success to continue just so the school could continue to collect tuition.


One problem is that Western is doing that at a cost of $60,000 per year, without taking into account fees and interest. And the low risk students are the ones that are likely to be subsidizing their higher score classmates or to be from disadvantaged backgrounds. That is a LOT of money for an "opportunity" school.

Perhaps it would be much simpler for those students to retake the LSAT until they can get a score that would allow them to get into a higher ranked school, instead of taking a one year chance at Western.

The second problem is that you know how many of those students are going to flunk out because of the curve. All of them might be capable of passing the bar with enough prep, but 1/3 have to wind up in the bottom 1/3 of the class.

I second the point above that I'm not sure what purpose opportunity schools serve. If it's just a matter of LSAT score, then I haven't seen anything that says people in the mid to high 140s couldn't improve their scores sufficient to get a 150 or higher.

confused by your post

Professor Frakt, I have no doubt that most in the legal profession and in society as a whole find practices like those you describe so matter-of-factly above, VERY alarming. The fact that nothing is being done about it does not make it acceptable or ethical.

Ben Barros has posted about how he has learned to "frame" legal education issues from exchanges he has had on this site. I see that you frame what Western State is and does by referring to it as an "opportunity school." I would submit to you that most other legal professionals would use more colorful words to describe it.

From the tone of your reply above, you seem to think your explanation of what Western State does and your support for its practices will make you come across as a good guy. It does not. It makes you come across as tone deaf and uncaring about the 35-40% (a rough estimate) of Western State students who never graduate and are saddled with debt they can't repay.

The lives of these students that never finish law school are damaged. You should acknowledge that. Saying that many of the students with law entrance credentials end up graduating and passing the bar and that we can't predict exactly which of these students will fail is no justification. Western State created a system where a large percentage of its students don't graduate. If they did then they would fail the bar and put Western State's accreditation in jeopardy again.

Those attrition numbers are not an unfortunate unforeseen occurrence. They are the intended result of a calculated policy. Western State's owner, Education Management Corporation is concerned about profits and nothing else. You should not hold Western State's practices out as something to be emulated as a "best practice" by other law schools.

Michael Risch

Just so we're clear on the framing: what the anonymous comments are saying is that there are LSAT scores below which we just shouldn't let people be lawyers. They frame it as "protection of the unwary." I frame it as elitism. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

Let's look at the facts:
1. Not many schools are going to admit students with these low scores
2. If they do, even fewer are going to do so for free
3. People with low scores can pass the bar and become lawyers, often good ones
4. But for the same reasons many law schools won't admit, employment numbers are low.

The son of a family friend who went to Western State, graduated, and got a job. Does everyone? No.

Did our friend deserve to be told he couldn't have a shot at going to law school because someone else thought it was too expensive for him? I guess the jury is split on that one.

Now, can we quibble with the tuition amount? Sure. Are there complaints about for profit schools? Sure. But let's be clear about what we're talking about here when we dismiss schools like Western State. Either we let folks with low numbers find a law school to attend or we don't.

Until I hear the names of all those other schools lining up to give these students a law education with great job opportunities and low costs, I'll take these comments with a grain of salt. So long as job market, bar passage, and attrition information isn't hidden, lied about, or otherwise obfuscated, I'm willing to hold my elitism at bay and let grownups make their own decisions about which law school to attend.


It seems to me that this post indicts Western. Admissions from a former insider, combined with the published stats, appear to establish that Western is in violation of ABA standards.

Standard 501. ADMISSIONS ...
(b) A law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program and being admitted to the bar. ...
Interpretation 501-3
Among the factors to consider in assessing compliance with Standard 501(b) are the academic and admission test credentials of the law school’s entering students, the academic attrition rate of the law school’s students,
the bar passage rate of its graduates, and the effectiveness of the law school’s academic support program.
Interpretation 501-4
A law school may not permit financial considerations detrimentally to affect its admission and retention policies and their administration. A law school may face a conflict of interest whenever the exercise of sound judgment in the application of admission policies or academic standards and retention policies might reduce enrollment below the level necessary to support the program.

The ABA does not establish a precise threshold proportion of attrition to trigger violation. The rule states "shall not admit ... applicants who do not appear capable ..."

Western admits students who do not appear capable. That was the point of this post. To brag on that fact.

There is no "opportunity to make a profit from the naïve" exception. In fact, the comments to the rule make clear that the viability of the law school is completely irrelevant.

Let's assume, however, that the ABA does not consider the admission of a small number of "high risk" students determinative.

Based on teh comments above, it appears that Western admits a class that it is statistically certain will fail at a rate that approaches 40% or even more.

What good is it then to say that a high proportion of the survivors survived? (If 1 person survived and then passed the bar, the bar pass rate would be 100%. So what would that prove? That Western did a great job of "educating" that person(or, according to the post despite subsequent denial, taking three years to teach that person to pass a test that is based on MINIMAL competence in the subject areas tested?).)

Is this level of attrition consistent with ABA standards?

How is this tolerated?

WHere are the feds, who determine eligibility for federal student loans (without which, schools like this would quickly shutter)?

Oh yes, they rely on the ABA.


It is elitist to argue caveat emptor when dealing with the dreams of the young and arguable attempts to prey and profit on their aspirations.

The post above stated: "I believe it is possible for a law school to admit a substantial number of at-risk students without running afoul of ABA standards or ethical business practices."

Let's not pretend here that there are no standards, both ABA and ethical, in play here. Let's not pretend that if the "So long as job market, bar passage, and attrition information isn't hidden, lied about, or otherwise obfuscated" all is well. Let's not pretend that Western is "giv[ing] these students a law education with great job opportunities and low costs."

Frankly, that whole approach sounds a bit ... elitist.


And, btw, should we admit 100 persons to medical school who lack the demonstrated aptitude to become doctors (at 60K per student), on the chance that 50 might prove to be minimally qualified to practice medicine based on a single written test for which they spent three years preparing?

Should we allow these "opportunity" medical schools to forego or discourage most forms of practical training, in favor of intense focus for three years on passing that single written exam (leaving aside internship and residency, for the sake of discussion)?

Would you have confidence in such a doctor, even knowing that among the few that actually survived, a few might be very well qualified? How would YOU determine this?

ANd the stories about the neighbor's child are really quite irrelevant. My cousin didn't get into vet school. People don't get into medical school. People don't get into graduate schools. If all this is just elitist, then we should have special schools for all these people: schools that take their cash, and then fail them at a rate approaching 40%, turning the rest loose with the notion that 80% of the remaining 60% might prove to be barely qualified.

And, let's wipe out the ABA standards, because stating the rules without enforcing them is too painfully incompetent to be tolerated.

Please ... use some common sense here. If an underqualified student is determined, that student will find a place in a law school somewhere without tolerating institutions that demonstrably violate adopted standards.

confused by your post

Professor Risch,

I wanted to respond just to your first statement of fact in your post above.

"1. Not many schools are going to admit students with these low scores."

I point you to Professor Jerry Organ's March 2, 2014 post on The Legal Whiteboard.

He comments on the decline in students' scores:

"In 2013, the number of law schools with a median LSAT of less than 150 has more than tripled to 32, while the number of law schools with a median LSAT of 145 or less now numbers 9 (with the low now being a 143)."

He is talking about ABA accredited schools. 32 law schools! I would be willing to wager everything I own that this number will increase in 2014. I hope this changes your thoughts on how many schools are accepting low scoring students and how many students would be harmed if Western State's educational practices are emulated and become even more widespread. The scale of the harm, or potential harm, is much larger than perhaps you imagined.

For-profit law schools will take almost anyone who can take out student loans. They don't care about fighting elitism or providing the underserved with access to legal education. They care about profit. That profit is generated by tapping into student loans backstopped by the US taxpayer.

Michael Risch

"And, btw, should we admit 100 persons to medical school who lack the demonstrated aptitude to become doctors (at 60K per student), on the chance that 50 might prove to be minimally qualified to practice medicine based on a single written test for which they spent three years preparing?"

And there we go again. This is the question. I ask you: who are you to judge who is qualified, minimal or otherwise? The school has an 80% passage rate in California, where passage rates hover around 50%. Do some not make it? Yes. Have they wasted $60K? What business is it of yours, assuming they knew this was a real risk going in with their 140ish LSAT?

My sister's podiatry school classmates had a saying: you know what they call the person who graduates last in the class? Doctor. What you are saying is that some people just shouldn't be lawyers. Just own it.

confused by your post:
1. Show me the numbers on loan defaults please. Last I read they were pretty small for law students
2. Your numbers show nine (9!) schools with a median LSAT of 145. That's not a lot. You may cloak it in disdain for the profitmaking model (a model I do not like, mind you), but what you're really saying is that these folks should simply not be offered the chance, risky though it may be, to be lawyers. Just own it.

anon, confused: let's say I'm wrong. Please tell me how folks with a 140-147ish LSAT get a legal education, should they be willing to take that chance. I'm willing to learn. What's the model that works?

Michael Risch

Since the last comment was a bit snarky, let me add:
1. I'm not an apologist for this or any law school. Information should be disclosed, schools should deliver on promises, students should pass the bar, and a school with 80% or even 50% attrition would be unacceptable.

2. I own my own elitism, and I work hard to not let it color my views.

3. Instead of arguing for fewer of these schools, why not argue for more? Real tuition has dropped nationwide due to undersupply of students and oversupply of lawschools wanting higher LSATs. If there is real demand for law school with 140-147 LSAT students, but we are worried about tuition, then the answer is MORE competition, not less. Western State would be happy to see competitors go out of business. Then they could charge more. Indeed, we don't even know what the tuition discount is there, given the non-ABA school competition in CA that can offer lower cost education to students.

4. Assuming success rate in this range is 50%, if there were a better, cheaper way to figure out which one of two students with identical LSAT scores would succeed. I would gladly support it. Ideas welcome.


Ahhhh ....

So, now we are getting somewhere. Let's cut thru all the utter nonsense about MORE schools that violate ABA and ethical standards (a subject, with all the elitism that you "own") you seem to studiously ignore.

You can't deny that standards exist, so, you've invented your own (in your concededly elitist manner).

Most of us aren't willing to ignore the standards adopted by the ABA (that provides accreditation) and the sense of business ethics shared by almost all who don't think in terms that call into memory the era of Dickens.

But, let's stipulate that your standard is the very, very best one. Better than anyone's. Your standard is this:

"A 50% attrition [rate] would be unacceptable."

Interesting choice, because the school under discussion comes in just under that rule. Yet now, at least and at last, you have laid out a standard.

Now, next step. Are you willing to say the ABA should enforce your standard?

Oh, and btw, for first time ABA approved Cal bar takers, your estimate of pass rates is generally wrong.

David Frakt

I am not sure why anon and confused are singling out Western State for criticism. A review of Western State's 509 report shows that their LSATs were at 152/150/148 for the fall 2013 entering class. This is a very significant difference from the 9 law schools reportedly with medians at 145 or below, such as Florida Coastal at 148/144/141. It should be noted that Western State had an 83% bar pass rate on the Feb 2014 bar, placing them 5th in California, and continuing their solid record of performance in recent years.

The criticism of Western State's conditional scholarship program is similarly misplaced. According to this article,

two-thirds of American law schools offer conditional scholarships. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with conditioning what is ostensibly a merit scholarship on continued solid academic performance, so long as the terms of retention are clearly disclosed and not unreasonably stringent. Approximately 30% of law students nationwide lose or have their conditional scholarship's reduced each year so this phenomenon is hardly unique to Western State. Furthermore, I am not sure what the basis for the claim is that students who lose their scholarships can't afford to continue in law school and have to drop out. Financial aid is readily available for law students. While I agree that tuition and fees at Western State are high, they are not high relative to other private law schools in their market. And, as Professor Risch aptly notes, no one is forcing anyone to go to Western State or any other law school. I am certainly no apologist for for-profit law schools. If I were, I wouldn't have been kicked out of my interview with Florida Coastal. But I think we have to give credit where credit is due. Whatever issues EDMC may have with some of the other schools in its portfolio, it appears to me that Western State is offering a very solid legal education and achieving commendable results with students with modest entrance credentials.

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