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May 02, 2019


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Derek Muller

Thanks for your analysis as usual. I want to push back, however, on one point, and that's attrition. I think it's very important to remove transfer attrition from the overall attrition rate when considering the deficiencies of schools. I know your chart says it doesn't account for it, but I think it really needs to be emphasized. Transfers, I think, are the *most likely* cohort to pass the bar exam. That is, other schools look at these students, usually the very best of any given law school, and take them as their own. So Thomas Jefferson had 102 students (47%) attrition, but more than a quarter of those (28) were transfers. Whittier had 62 students (42.5%) attrition, but more than 40% of those (26) were transfers. Arizona Summit had 99 students (33.4%) attrition, but about a third of them (35) were transfers (and likely the vast majority of them to Arizona State). In short, higher-ranked schools actually help perpetuate the cycle of bar exam dysfunction at the most marginal law schools when they accept so many transfers from these schools. Now, that isn't to say the admissions practices are perfect (or even necessarily acceptable), or that the academic attrition isn't significant, as you note. But it's to say that, I think, transfer practices of higher-ranked law schools tend to distort (I admit, to a degree, and not in totality) the bar passage rates of some of the most marginal schools, particularly those with high *overall* attrition, in ways that really need to be materially evaluated.

William W Patton

Dear David,

You are incorrect when you state that "the primary factor [regarding bar exam passage rates] is the school's admissions policies...." Actually, the factor with the greatest impact is the state's bar exam cut score. Let me provide one comparison from the 2018 bar passage data to prove my point:

Mercer: LSAT (154/152/150) GPA (3.49/3.32/3.06) Passage Rate 73.7% Mean MBE 137.7
Southwestern (154/152/149) (3.39/3.17/2.91) 53.0% 140.9

The entering student statistics for these two schools are very similar, but there is a 20.7% difference in bar passage rates based on the difference in state cut scores (135 vs. 144 for California). But two other statistical comparisons are equally important. First, even though the student credentials for these two schools are similar, Southwestern students outperformed Mercer students on the MBE by 3.2 points. In addition, Southwestern scored higher on the mean MBE even though it had a much higher student diversity percentage (Mercer 18.4% versus Southwestern 30.3%).

This comparison demonstrates not only that Southwestern is providing its students with a "value added" education (mean MBE scores higher than their predictive index and higher than the national mean MBE score), but that the ABA Council's proposed 75% bar passage rate in 2-years of students' graduation is a terrible idea. That proposed standard will de-accredit schools like Southwestern that have both high diversity and above the national mean MBE scores just because of state politics (legal monopoly assured by unrealistically high cut score).

I look forward to your next installments and your discussion of the dilemma and possible solutions for the high cut score/accreditation problem.

David Frakt

Derek -

Good point. I usually try to use non-transfer attrition when analyzing specific schools. But while losing the best students to transfer attrition may depress a school's bar passage somewhat (assuming that those who transfer will pass at a very high rate), whatever group of students who remain at a law school should still be able to achieve a 60% or higher first-time pass rate. The problem is with law schools admitting large groups of students that they have every reason to believe are more likely to fail than pass. Perhaps one reason that good students at marginal schools leave is because they find that they are surrounded by so many weak students and they want to be at a school where they will not only have better job prospects, but will be surrounded by brighter, higher-achieving classmates.

David Frakt

William -

Thank you for your comments. You are right that the cut score has a large impact on passage rates, especially when comparing schools from jurisdictions with very different cut scores. But law schools know perfectly well what the cut score is in their jurisdiction and what kind of bar results they can expect based on the entrance credentials of whom they admit. (If they don't know, I would be happy to be hired as a consultant and I can explain it to them.) What I find troubling is that even though they know, many schools still admit droves of students who are destined to fail.

It seems to me that your real beef is with the California bar, which you and I both believe has set their cut score artificially high. But despite the unnecessarily high cut score, the latest numbers demonstrate that, even in California, law schools with reasonable admissions policies can still achieve a 75% or higher UBP within two years. You are incorrect to state that the proposed standard would "de-accredit schools like Southwestern." Southwestern had a 79.55% UPB for 2016, despite only having a 38.26% first-time pass rate in 2016. Similarly, UC Hastings, which had a disastrous 2016 first time pass rate for a UC school at 52.30%, had a UBP for 2016 of 82.3%. As I will make more clear in a forthcoming article, the only schools that have reason to fear the proposed rule are those who are admitting high numbers of unqualified students, not those which have high diversity. If the rule forces those schools to be more responsible in their admissions polices and stop taking very high and extremely high risk students, then I am all for it.

William W Patton

David, I think that your predictions for 2018 ultimate bar passage rates based on the 2016 ultimate passage rates overestimates the number of California ABA schools in 2018 that will meet the 75% in 2-year proposed standard. Let's use Law School Transparency's own predictive model that states that a school with a first-time passage rate below 60% and repeater passage rates of less than 30%/15%/7.5% for three successive repeater bar exams is a school at risk of failing the proposed standard. Consider three California schools under the LST model:

In 2018 USF had a first-time passage rate of 33% [well below the 60% predictor] and its Feb/July 2018 repeater rate was only 24% [below the 30% predictor]. Under the LST predictive model USF is an at-risk school. It is also a school with high diversity (the 2018 entering class was 30% Hispanic and Black).

In 2018 McGeorge had a first-time passage rate of 50% [below the 60% predictor] and a Feb/July 2018 repeater rate of 23% [below the 30% predictor] and is under the LST test an at-risk school. McGeorge had a 2018 entering class with a 23% Hispanic and Black students.

In 2018 Southwestern had a first-time passage rate of 53% [below the predictive 60%] and a Feb/July 2018 repeater rate of 28% [below the predictive 30%]. It had a 2018 entering class with 31% Hispanic and Black students.

The reason that California schools that met the 75% in 2-year standard in 2016 are now at risk for 2018 graduates is that the repeater passage rates in California have been rapidly falling. For example, from 2014 to 2018 Southwestern's repeater rate has fallen 13%; McGeorge's repeater rate has fallen 21%; and USF's repeater rate has fallen 16%.

Making matters worse, the NCBE has recently predicted that repeater bar passage rates will fall for the next several years. Therefore, according to LST's predictive model, many more California law schools may fail the 2018 ultimate bar passage 75% in 2-year standard than failed that standard in 2016.

On another point, it appears that you and I disagree on the definition of what constitutes "high diversity". I include within that term the many California law schools that have diversity rates above 20%. But the effect of the 75% in 2-year standard on diversity cannot be adequately viewed by simply looking at the effect on individual schools. In California, if we use the LST predictive model, there are 8 or 9 schools at risk of failing that model for 2018 ultimate passage rates. If we look at the number of 2018 Hispanic and Black first-year students in those California ABA schools that translates to the loss of 59% of Hispanic first-year students (497/842) and 51% of Black first-year students (105/205).

Again, I look forward to your next few installments.

David Frakt

William -

So it turns out that LST's predictive model is not very accurate for California, although it works pretty well around the rest of the country. As I will elaborate in a forthcoming post, even though California's first-time bar pass rate is nearly 15% below the national average, the UBP for California essentially matched the national average for the class of 2015 at 88%, and was just 3 percentage points below the national average for the class of 2016, at over 85%. And this was probably largely attributable to the decline in admission standards from the entering class of 2012 to 2013. So, even though California's high cut score results in fewer graduates passing the bar on the first go-around, it has very little impact on the UBP. At California schools with low first-time pass rates, a significant percentage end up passing on repeated attempts. At some schools, more students have passed on subsequent attempts that on the first attempt. It turns out that students whose predictors suggest they should be able to pass a bar, do end up passing the bar in California, it just takes them a little longer. As I hope to demonstrate with my upcoming post, what is true for the rest of the country is also true in California - only law schools with irresponsible admissions policies that admit large numbers of very high risk students have anything to fear from the proposed 75% UBP standard. Your dire predictions for diversity grossly exaggerate the risk.

There is a basic math problem with your calculations. The repeater rate that you cite is the repeater rate for all students from a particular school, it is not the rate for those retaking the test for the first time, or the second time, or the third time, but rather an average of all students retaking the test no matter what number attempt it is. So, a 28% overall repeater rate likely means a much higher rate of passage for first time repeaters. The reason that the numbers for these schools in on the decline is that many California law schools dramatically lowered their admissions standards gradually starting in 2011 and continuing through 2015. Things leveled off for the most part in 2016, although a few school continued to decline. So the weakest graduating classes were 2017, 2018 and the upcoming 2019 graduating class. These classes are likely to have low first time bar pass rates and low repeater rates compared to their predecessors. But the ABA should not set a standard based on the worst entering class in history. The whole point of having a meaningful standard is to push schools to have both reasonable admissions standards and to make sure that they are adequately preparing students for the bar exam. That means the standards should be based on what is reasonably achievable by schools with responsible admissions policies.

William W Patton

You indicate that California’s 2016 UBP passage rate “was just 3 percentage points below the national average for the class of 2016, at over 85%. And this was probably largely attributable to the decline in admission standards from the entering class of 2012 to 2013.” What data are you relying on for this conclusion? The data regarding the lowest performing California law schools demonstrates a modest reduction in admission statistics from 2011 to 2013. For instance the median LSAT/GPA’s for those schools for 2011, 2012 and 2013 were: (1) Golden Gate (3.05/3.12/3.11); (152/151/150); (2) California Western (3.21/3.18/3.13) (153/151/151); (3) McGeorge (3.40/3.33/3.24) (158/156/154); (6) Southwestern (3.21/3.26/3.17) (153/153/152); (5) USF (3.40/3.26/3.28) (157/156/153); (6) Whittier (2.95/2.92/2.95) (152/151/149); (7) La Verne (3.05/2.78/2.83) (153/151/147); (8) Thomas Jefferson (3.01/2.93/2.86) (151/148/146); (9) Western State (2.95/3.12/3.09) (151/151/150).
As this data demonstrates, there was no dramatic overall decline in these CA schools’ LSAT/GPA’s during 2011 to 2013. Only one law school, TJ in 2013, had scores in your “very high risk 145-146” range, and only three law schools, Whittier, La Verne, and Thomas Jefferson, had scores in your “high risk 147-149” range in 2013.
The CA schools’ LSAT/GPA declines from 2011 to 2013 are consistent with the national declines among almost all ABA schools. In addition, these schools’ declines in their matriculants 25th percentile were much lower than the national reductions for those years. For instance, according to Professor Jerry Organ, from 2010-2013 the percentage of matriculants in the LSAT range of 145-149 increased by 8% and scores below 145 increased by 56.8%. Therefore, these CA law schools’ increases of matriculants in the lowest LSAT bands actually increased at a much lower rate than the national matriculation patterns.
Further, the school with the largest drop in mean matriculants’ LSAT scores was La Verne which fell from a mean of 153 in 2011 to a mean of 147 in 2013. However, that decline had almost no effect on the CA schools’ 2016 ultimate bar passage rate because in 2013 La Verne only admitted 49 students.
As far as I have been able to determine at this point, the slight decline in the quality of these CA ABA schools’ 2012 and 2013 matriculants’ LSAT/GPA’s does not explain why CA law schools’ 2016 ultimate bar percentage rate fell 3% below the national average.


As usual, these folks are arguing past each other, and ignoring common sense.

Perhaps the overall decline in LSAT scores is attributable to better ranked students choosing other options.

And, the elephant in the room is that these folks praise law schools when they do better than the stats would suggest, but never, ever, not ever ever will blame faculties for underperformance.

In other words, the heroic faculties can do no wrong. If the students do better than expected, that result is attributable to faculty excellence. If the students do worse then expected, then other factors are to blame (preposterously, solely LSAT scores).

The truth is that some faculties do better than others. To deny this is just evidence of a mind-set that rejects common sense.

When a school fails to produce graduates that perform at the incredibly low level expected, and then temporarily corrects that failing, then some are willing to attribute that improvement to faculty effort. When that same school then slips back down into the sloth-ridden, lazy, arrogant ways that led to the first failure, and within a decade or so, those same folks refuse to use their common sense, and search in vain for an answer that does not implicate faculty incompetence.

David's work is ok, so far as it goes. But, he can't admit that faculties play any role in all this. Perhaps that is because he is so invested in blaming it all on LSAT scores. Or, perhaps his own interests are involved. One can't say.

What one can say is that faculty performance plays a role: if faculties take (or are given) credit when their students do better than expected then they should take responsibility when they do worse.


to wit:

"However, there were a few notable bright spots, schools which substantially outperformed the predictors. ... Kudos to these schools."

Why "kudos" ("praise and honor received for an achievement")?

Are you saying faculty competence had something to do with "outperforming the predictors" at those schools?

Scott Fruehwald

To anon: FIU had the highest bar pass rate on the last few Florida bars. They did this through a program that concentrated on student learning.

So, yes, a dedicated faculty can make a huge difference.


And, so, can a slack faculty make a big difference?



Those who feed off law schools won't say that faculty incompetence is a factor.

Faculty KUDOS ... of course.

Again, common sense. If a law student did poorly, improved when disciple was applied (e.g., probation) and then slacked right off after discipline was removed (e.g., probation lifted), then law school administrators wouldn't hesitate even a moment to draw a conclusion.

Frakt posts and posts and posts about LSAT scores. But he won't consider the obvious fact that law faculties can and do make a big difference, and that big conclusions can and should be drawn about faculties that are repeat slackers.

If a law school was found by the ABA within the last ten years or so to merit probation, and effected a brief period of improvement, but now -- already! -- has fallen right back into a dismal and unacceptable level of preying on young lives, then that law school should be singled out.

Law school observers like Frakt should be advocating, in addition to admission standards based on LSAT scores, for an examination of the contribution of a faculty culture of stubborn arrogance and incompetence to blatant violations of ABA standards (which of course, mainly go unaddressed, other than by weak and ineffectual "admonitions" that don't even appear on the law school target's website).

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