Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Legal Education Success Story at Florida International University

The Florida Bar recently released results for the July 2016 bar exam.  One figure stuck out: Florida International University placed first with a 88.8% pass rate for first-time takers.  This compares to an overall pass rate of 68.2%.  Florida's marque bar schools, Florida and Florida State, scored 78.6 and 78.8 respectively.  How did a law school ranked 103 in U.S. News beat out  higher ranked law schools?  Through its Academic Excellence Program.

Here is a program summary:

"FIU Law’s Academic Excellence Program provides students with resources to help them succeed in law school, pass the bar examination, and develop strong practice skills. Starting in each student’s first semester, the AEP acts as an extended orientation detailing academic expectations and introducing students to the methods used on law school examinations.  The principles at the heart of the program include contextualization (i.e. that all skills are learned in the context of students’ doctrinal classes), self-regulated learning (i.e. that students must monitor their own learning to ensure success), and formative assessment (i.e. that quality feedback enhances learning)."

As I have noted many times on this blog, general education research has demonstrated that these approaches are key to better student learning.

Louis N. Schulze, Jr., Assistant Dean and Professor of Academic Support, has written about the program:

"[O]ur AEP intentionally employs certain specific methods. But these methods are well outside the orthodoxy in terms of measures usually adopted to improve students’ law school success and impact bar results. We don’t focus on how to change our teaching, how to reteach doctrine, or how to give students more of some supposed cure-all. We have not transformed into a 'bar prep school.' Instead, we began teaching students how to teach themselves." (here)

He noted, "our program uses educational psychology and cognitive science to give students the tools to thrive academically."

He added, "But empirical studies demonstrate that the orthodox methods defy everything we know from science about how the brain acquires knowledge and develops analytical skills. Rereading is one of the worst ways to encode memory, yet tradition dictates that students study for exams and the bar by reading outlines endlessly. Following another person’s dictates on learning outsources the regulation of that learning and kills the crucial skill of metacognition, yet students blindly follow syllabi and bar prep courses’ one-size-fits-all programs. Relying solely on lectures prevents students from building their own cognitive schema, yet students spend weeks having their minds wired externally. Failing to leverage spaced repetition and forced recall practice makes learning far less effective and efficient, yet many students don’t start testing themselves, if at all, until just days before finals or the bar exam."

In sum, "Our program teaches our students, from day one of law school, how to make more effective learning methods the centerpiece of their studies."

In other words, FIU has succeeded by using the methods this blog and others (e.g, Michael Hunter Schwartz, Best Practices, the Carnegie Report) have advocated for several years: adopt learning methods that have been proven effective by general education researchers.

 Congratulation to Professor Schulze and FIU.

(Scott Fruehwald)

Here are the AEP classes at FIU:

Fall of 1L Year:  Students take the Introduction to the Study of Law class, which meets weekly and is coordinated with each section’s doctrinal professors.  The class has three units:  (1) fundamental law school skills (i.e. briefing cases, outlining, reading case law, etc.); (2) Legal Analysis (learning how to write law school exams, using hypotheticals similar to those on actual exams); and (3) Exam Prep (including a multiple choice question workshop and a “mock exam” simulating the real exam environment).  As students have put it, this class “teaches you how to do law school.”

Spring of 1L Year:  Academic Excellence Classes.  Now that students know the fundamentals of studying law, we can focus on exam performance.  The Academic Excellence Classes meet intermittently to present students with opportunities to experience mini-law school exams.  These mini-mock exams are set in the context of students’ doctrinal classes, often include guest appearances by doctrinal faculty, and allow students to maximize their exam skill performance.

 2L Year:  Students may take the Legal Analysis course for two credits.  Coupled with the popular and bar-tested Evidence course, the Legal Analysis course sets out to expand students’  analytical skills in ways that assist them in doctrinal classes and on the bar examination.  Students receive extensive, personalized feedback on essays and multiple choice questions focused on the law of Evidence (a recommended co-requisite).

3L Year:  Students may take the U.S. Law and Procedure class, formerly known as FLAP, for four credits.  Taught by a team of experienced bar examination preparation experts and available in students’ final semester of law school, this class teaches students how to succeed on the bar examination.  One day of the class each week focuses on the Multistate Bar Examination (multiple choice questions), and the other day focuses on the state day (essays, performance tests, and multiple choice questions).

They also offer students post-graduate resources.

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Thank you for the additional information. The entering student indices are definitely a contributing factor.

Posted by: Ronda Harrison | Sep 22, 2018 9:26:43 AM

Great article. I'd also note, based on FIU's latest 509 report, that they have a median LSAT of 156 and median GPA of 3.63. I suspect that the students' entering credentials are a significant contributing factor to the success of their program and, ultimately, high bar pass rate.

Posted by: Adam | Oct 5, 2016 7:33:35 PM

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