Since 2010, law schools have faced declining enrollment and entering classes with lower predictors of success despite recent signs of improvement. At least partly as a result, rates at which law school graduates pass the bar exam have declined and remain at historic lows. Yet, during this time, many schools have improved their graduates’ chances of success on the bar exam, and some schools have dramatically outperformed their predicted bar exam passage rates. This Article examines which schools do so and why.
Research for this Article began by accounting for law schools’ incoming class credentials to predict an expected bar exam passage rate for each ABA-accredited law school. This Article then examines each law school’s aggregated performance on bar exams for which its graduates sat based on relative and absolute performance, weighing the difficulty of each state’s bar exam. Through this analysis, this Article identifies law schools with consistently higher and lower first-time bar exam passage rates over a period of six years between 2014 and 2019. In addition to identifying law schools that overperform on the bar exam, this Article is a novel contribution not only to the legal education literature but also to the quantitative methodological literature, given its unique tailoring of the classic value-added modeling design to the realities of the bar exam.
In the second phase of research for this Article, the authors surveyed administrators at these overperforming and underperforming law schools, as well as law schools in the middle of the distribution, to qualitatively assess how these law schools approach the bar success of their students. Collectively, this Article provides significant insight into how law schools are responding to recent negative trends in bar passage rates, validates successful approaches to mitigate these negative trends, and recommends options available to law schools seeking to improve their students’ bar passage rates.