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December 14, 2016


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What about Golden Gate?

For some reason, David, you have steadfastly avoided, despite several prompts, to note that this may not be the first time Golden Gate has faced major bar passage issues.

Perhaps you do not know about this ancient history, i.e., 10 or so years ago. Perhaps the failure of prior efforts to remedy this issue at Golden Gate should be an even more telling signal that further, more strict action is required (i.e., a temporary improvement followed by falling back might suggest the unwillingness or inability to do what is necessary to improve, inviting scrutiny).


"Students below the median LSAT (between 151 and 152) must be made to work much harder..."


(This is a serious question. If there are methods known to be successful in encouraging at-risk students to put in greater bar exam preparation-related effort (beyond simply telling them "You need to work harder"), that would be useful information.)


Remember this oldie, but goodie you posted last year? "Back on December 4, Whittier Law Professor Sheldon Lyke wrote a post here on TFL which was sharply critical of Law School Transparency. In fact, he accused Law School Transparency of “instigating a dangerous national discourse” by suggesting that law schools were admitting students at very high risk of failing out of law school and/or failing the bar based on their poor LSAT scores and grades. In his post, Professor Lyke claimed that the “LSAT is at best a weak predictor of first-time bar passage” and “there is no evidence that law school graduates are not eventually passing the bar.” Both of these claims are nonsensical."

Seems you were right, again.

Also, this the the law school where a faculty member wore a BLM shirt to class. Maybe Whittier could use more teaching and less indoctrination.

David Frakt

Sorry, anon, didn't mean to overlook Golden Gate. Golden Gate should also be put on probation.

David Frakt

Wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to class doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when a law school claims to be helping underrepresented minorities by admitting students with little to no chance of success. My guess is that the minority pass rate at Whittier is well below 20%. That is shameful.

David Frakt

Another anon -

There are several ways to make students work harder. First, you have to give them more written assignments, more tests (I recommend mandatory midterms in first year courses), and more assessments with meaningful feedback. Second, make students take more rigorous bar-tested courses. Third, enforce tough rigorous grading standards with a mandatory curve or distribution. Fourth, to ensure that students keep working hard throughout their three years, consider instituting a program like Western State has, where students have to get a certain number of quality grades each year from a list of approved (mostly bar-tested) courses. See this post for a more detailed explanation. If students of modest ability wait until graduation to start studying hard for the bar it is too late. Another thing that schools can do is offer financial incentives to those who follow the full bar-review program, such as Bar-Bri. Promise to rebate a portion of their bar prep course if they complete a list of requirements. This can help ensure the graduates give themselves the best chance to pass the first time.



All good suggestions. However, what to do about the law school that is put on probation, institutes a bunch of measures to improve its pass rate, and then, after doing so, simply f...s off again, and is again, within ten years or so, right at the very bottom?

Wouldn't this suggests a faculty that is simply not able to perform to the level that you suggest? Add to that an arrogant unwillingness to budge an inch in terms of introspection and acknowledging the problem. Compound all of this with declining entrance credentials, as you note, to prop up a poorly performing faculty with demonstrably bad judgment and terrible outcomes (with, of course, some notable exceptions, as all law schools have a few good apples).

In the case of a prior probation, how should the ABA handle a repeat violator of the bar pass standard? It seems to this writer that the fact of prior remedial efforts resulting in a brief period of compliance, followed by slippage, within about ten years, right back to the very bottom of the barrel, is a strong indicator of a systemic problem with the faculty.

Add to that abysmal employment prospects for grads (again, right at the very bottomest bottom of the barrel), and what have you? A candidate for an ABA award for excellence in legal education?

In such a case, shouldn't some more telling sanction be applied, i.e., withdrawing accreditation with the right to reapply in five years?

Again, I ask you to specifically make yourself aware of the recent history in California regarding ABA compliance efforts and specific law schools that have been the subject of its "efforts."

Scott Fruehwald


You are correct. There are a lot of things that can be done to improve a law school's pass rate and help students become better lawyers. See E. Scott Fruehwald, How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School, 1 Texas A & M Law Review 83 (2013). It will take a lot of work by both faculty and students, but it can be done. As you noted, it must begin in the first year. A third-year bar course is not enough.

Take a look at the success FIU has had with improving its bar pass rates.

Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King

With all of these billboards in and around Chicago advertising $49.00 traffic ticket defense, what is the point anymore?

David Frakt

Anon -

I have taken a look at Golden Gate and what they have been doing is appalling. Their bar pass rate in 2012 was 67.6%, within 4 points of the state average. In 2013 it was 55.7%, 15.4 below the state average. In 2014, it was 45.1% 20.9% below the state average. In 2015, according to their 2016 ABA 509 report which is posted on Golden Gate's website here:, they had a 38.9% pass rate, 24.8% below the state average. Now, in 2016 they are at 31% (or worse, as the Feb 2016 bar results were significantly worse than the summer results) and are likely more than 30% below the state average. From this data it is clear that Golden Gate has failed to meet the current ABA bar pass standard 301, since they have not been above 75 for any of the last five years, and they have been more than 15 points below the average first-time bar passage rates for graduates of ABA-approved law schools taking the bar examination in these same jurisdictions four years in a row. I am not sure why the ABA has not yet taken action, but it is probably because of the incredibly long time that a school is given to report its bar exam results to the ABA.

Looking at Golden Gate's prospects for the future, I think there is a good chance they will go out of business if they are put on probation. Certainly, there is no prospect of significant improvement in their bar pass results anytime soon. The class they admitted in 2014 is weaker that the 2013 class that just bombed the July exam, with an LSAT range of 153/149/146 compared to the 2013 group which had 153/150/147. The class that matriculated in 2015 is significantly worse, weaker even than the Whittier class that just achieved 22% on the July bar with an LSAT spread of 151/148/145. This fall's entering class rebounded slightly to 152/149/146 from last year, but is still weaker across the board than the class that just achieved 31%. What Golden Gate has done over the last five years is a textbook example of why the new bar passage standard must be approved by the house of delegates and why the ABA must closely scrutinize admissions practices and not focus solely on bar passage, which has a 4-5 year lag time after a class is admitted.

I don't know if the faculty at Golden Gate is bad or good. What I can tell you is that even the best faculty in the world would not be able to get a class with more than 50% high risk students to pass the California bar at a rate of 60% or higher. Their performance is very much in line with their competitor schools with similar student bodies.


LSAT and California Bar Exam bar passage are completely different, testing different skills altogether. How do you account for Hastings? Hastings is now paying for students to access popular supplements, such as, to improve pass rates.



Thanks for your detailed examination of Golden Gate.

One small point of clarification. Ordinarily, one might be inclined to give the "benefit of the doubt" to a law school that has failed miserably to prepare students to pass the bar and which evinces such abysmal placement stats. In other words, in ordinary circumstance, we might conclude that the law school might be an example of a failing institution, but there would be no particular reason to blame the faculty, hypothetically speaking.

However, as noted above and in a recent article in the ABA Journal, "What do falling bar-passage rates mean for legal education--and the future of the profession?" Posted Sep 01, 2016 04:40 am CDT, By Mark Hansen (in which you are quoted):

"In fact, only two schools, both in California, have been placed on probation for violating the bar pass standard in the past decade or so: Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. "

In other words, when you say that "I am not sure why the ABA has not yet taken action, but it is probably because of the incredibly long time that a school is given to report its bar exam results to the ABA." we must take into account recent history.

So, again, one asks: what fair inference can be drawn from a situation involving a case of a relatively recent prior probation, followed by a brief period of improvement, but then very soon followed by slippage, within about ten years, right back down to the very bottom of the barrel? It seems that one fair inference might be that the faculty tried when push came to shove, and got itself out of the woods, only to revert right back to the very bottom of law school performance (measured by bar pass rates, which is a fair measure).

Accordingly, we should be asking: how should the ABA handle a repeat violator of the bar pass standard? It seems to this writer that the fact of prior "discipline" that has had so little effect should be taken into consideration.

Moreover, as recently posted by Dan Filler on this site, and as one recalls, Golden Gate came in near the very bottom of all law schools (197 out of 203) in job placement rates.

Appalling doesn't begin to describe the absurdity of ABA accreditation of a law school that has failed so miserably, even after given ample time and a prior probationary period, to improve its bar passage rate and a law school that provides students, who pay a hefty sum for the privilege of attendance, such a dismal job placement.

If the ABA intends to maintain any semblance of credibility as an accrediting authority, it must begin to address glaring examples of its regulatory negligence. If it does not, growing calls to strip the ABA of its authority and move that authority elsewhere should gain traction.

David Frakt

It seems to me that Golden Gate did what a lot of bottom tier schools did during the downturn in law school enrollment over the past years - they lowered their admissions standards in order to stay in business, and hoped for the best. If they had been in a state other than California, they probably would have gotten away with it, at least for a while. Schools in states with easier bars, like Florida and North Carolina, dropped their standards even lower, and it took an extra two years before bar pass rates starting dropping below 50%. I don't know if the faculty at Golden Gate remained constant since the last time they were put on probation, but they certainly should have learned from their past experience. But fear of losing their jobs has a very powerful effect on admissions committees and law school administrators. Time and time again, we have seen law schools refuse to make tough decisions on admissions because to do so would imperil their own employment. Law schools may have also been lulled into a belief that they could get away with such outrageous behavior because, until the past several months, the ABA has been asleep at the switch. While the sanctioning of Ave Maria and Valparaiso and the placing of Charlotte on probation are positive steps that may serve as a wake up call to their peer schools, there are many other schools who have engaged in identical admissions practices with similarly and predictably awful bar passage results. Arizona Summit, Florida Coastal, Golden Gate, Whittier, Thomas Cooley and Thomas Jefferson all come to mind, but there are others.

Anon Prof

David, do you have any knowledge of the current status of the new ABA bar pass rate proposal (75% in two years)? Any thoughts on the likelihood of passing that standard?

Second, a topic not widely discussed is subject matter choices. Prior to the decline in LSATs, many of the schools you note taught a mix of black letter law and theory, with maybe a 75-25 split. (I'm generalizing of course, but I think this is a fair claim). My understanding is that that ratio is mostly still the same at many of these schools. Perhaps this is due to path dependence, but who knows?

IMHO, if a school admits a class with numbers like 150/148/146, faculty should reconsider whether to teach the more esoteric materials. No one likes to become a "trade school," and I'm not denouncing these topics per se (I teach theory myself). But at some point it becomes ethically questionable to continue the pedagogical status quo.


Keep up the great work, Professor Frakt!

Kyle McEntee

Anon Prof, I can answer that question. The ABA Section of Legal Education passed the revised bar passage standard (316) and non-exploitation standard (501) overwhelmingly a few months ago. The ABA House of Delegates will now be asked to acquiesce to the revisions. I expect there's a fight brewing there, but even if the House declines to acquiesce, the Section of Legal Education can still pass the standards with another vote. Given the overwhelming nature of the victory in the Council, I don't see why they'd reverse course. Stranger things have happened in 2016, however.

David Frakt

Thank you, LaVonna.

David Frakt

Nate - I realize that the LSAT is not the same as the California bar, but there is very strong correlation between the ability to do well on the LSAT and the ability to pass the California bar. As for Hastings, I have a theory about what went wrong there, but this is only speculation, as I have no personal knowledge about has gone on there. With that caveat, here goes: for many years, elite law schools have largely ignored the bar exam. Their assumption was that their students were smart enough to pass the bar with a few weeks of concentrated effort and a bar review course. When I went to Harvard Law School (class of ‘94), for example, I don’t remember a single professor in the course of three years ever mentioning the bar exam. And this assumption proved to be true for many years. Students at elite schools could take whatever classes they were interested in, study as much or as little as they felt like, and then take Bar-Bri and cram for 6 weeks and pass the bar. Elite schools routinely had bar pass rates in the 90s without ever putting any focused effort into specifically helping students to prepare for the bar. Professors focused on their scholarship, which is what elite law schools cared about, and, to a lesser extent, teaching. Students had few required courses beyond the first year, and many chose courses based on what sounded interesting, or easy, or what fit their desired schedule, rather than what was going to be tested on the bar.

UC Hastings, like all the other UC schools, has been a top 50 school for many years, and probably followed this approach, placing little, if any, emphasis on bar preparation. Their bar pass rate was good -- 80% in 2010 and 79% in 2011 -- but then it started to slip - 76% in 2012, 74% in 2013, 68% in 2014, 69% in 2015. This should have concerned UC Hastings, but they were still 2-4% above the state average, so they probably thought they were fine. But they weren't because their admissions standards were slipping. In 2011, their LSATs were 165/162/157 with GPAs of 3.73/3.6/3.38. Even their 75th percentile students were very bright. A 157 was between the 70th and 71st percentile on the LSAT in 2011 and a 3.38 likely put the student in the top third of their college class. But in 2013, they had dropped to 163/159/155 and 3.69/3.52/3.28. A 155 in 2013 was at the 63rd percentile. Still smart, but not quite very smart. And the hidden bottom 24% was probably well below that because of vastly increased competition among law schools to get students in the 148-154 range. Consider this fact: In 2011, Hastings received 5167 applications and they admitted 1491 (29%). In 2013 they received 3944 applications and admitted 1597 (40%). So while UC Hastings probably still considered itself an elite school, its students were no longer nearly as elite. This meant that the school could no longer take for granted that students would pass the bar. But I doubt that the professors or Deans realized this, because nobody there had probably ever thought much about the bar before, and they probably didn’t consider a drop of two on the LSAT and a tenth of a point UGPA at the bottom of the class to be significant. But it is. And they have now learned that the hard way.

Scott Fruehwald

The 2016 509 reports are out, and the LSAT for Whittier have gone down significantly: 144 146 149



Back to the responsibility of the faculty at Golden Gate and other schools, I would agree that egregious admission policies are a daunting challenge.

However, as Scott Fruehwald would tell you, there are ways to teach that enhance performance. And, at least for Golden Gate, we have the proof that the faculty dug itself out, when push came to shove. They tried. But, as soon as the heat was off, look what has happened.

These facts are telling. It is long past the time to acknowledge that not all law faculties are high quality, exceptional individuals. A law school like Golden Gate might be inclined to tell you the same thing, boasting about factors other than teaching and scholarship that it believes are most important in putting together a faculty.

In any event, the stats show what an abysmal regulatory failure Golden Gate represents. The ABA cannot be permitted to remain in control if it consistently ignores egregious conditions that demonstrably hurt individuals.

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