Tuesday, May 7, 2024

More on "Determinants of Success."

I recently posted in the Academic and Bar Support Scholarship Spotlight a new article out of UC Law SF, entitled Determinants of Success on the Bar Exam: One Law School's Experience 2010-2023In that post, I introduced the article by saying:  "In this study, UC Law SF faculty and outside researchers collected and analyzed data to assess the impact of multiple factors on bar passage. "  Some preliminary thoughts:  

One factor the study found successful in increasing bar passage was shifting the focus of interventions from at-risk students to entire class cohorts.  Does this suggest that law schools should jettison programs aimed solely at at-risk students?  I am inclined to say "no" for several reasons.  First, it is important for schools to assess whether bar passage pervades all (or most) quintiles of their class or whether there is a sharp decrease at, say the penultimate quintile.  If the latter, targeted support might be a better choice.  Second, one should note that the purpose of the shift at UC Law SF was to increase bar passage.  Academic support aimed solely towards at-risk students has additional purposes, however, such as preventing academic dismissal and building the lawyerly skills of those most needing to improve.  In addition, many commentators remind us that academic support is a worthwhile measure to support the success of minority students.  As a result, wholly eliminating targeted academic support would undermine those goals.1  

Another factor positively correlated with bar passage was "requiring and encouraging students to take upper-division bar subject classes."  This is an eye-popping result.  Previous studies have been mixed, at best, in terms of supporting the notion of requiring these classes.  While most studies have found that such requirements do increase the passage of students at the bottom of the class, I am unaware of any that found a passage increase for all students.

The study also found that "offering for-credit bar skills classes in the 3L year focused on improving MBE performance ...  and on overall bar test-taking..." was positively associated with passage.  Several studies have found similar results, leaving us at a place where we can start to accept the proposition that these courses help students pass the bar.  So understood, decision-makers at schools struggling with bar passage who oppose such courses because they are "not the sort of thing we do here" should be prepared to offer less amorphous justifications for artificially deflating students' chances of becoming licensed attorneys. 

Other notable interventions positively correlated with passage included a post-graduation tracking program that encouraged certain students to complete a percentage of their bar preparation course.  Advising students to practice MBE questions (and not just reread outlines constantly) also improved bar passage.  Both these measures are considered best practices in academic and bar support, so these results help justify that status.

In sum, Determinants of Success is an important addition to the recent scholarship on effective bar preparation initiatives.  As with all empirical studies, the usual caveats of generalizability and other limitations apply. Nonetheless, I suspect that deans and faculty (particularly academic/ bar support faculty) will find the piece helpful. 

Louis Schulze (FIU Law)


  1. Note that UC Law SF did not do away with such programming.  The researchers merely analyzed the impact on bar passage.  To the contrary, the article made it clear that the "pervasive model" of intervention was "additive," i.e., on top of academic support focused on at-risk students.
  2.  On the bar pass rate topic, law schools have a notable tendency to look for singular causes and magic bullets.  This article offers a starting point for schools to think about ways to support student success.  But those schools must contextualize these findings and analyze whether the various factors might be relevant at their own schools.  


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