Friday, October 12, 2018

Is there a relationship between law student participation in experiential externships and bar passage scores?

I didn't realize until reading the abstract for Professor Scott Johns' (Denver) new article (below) that the National Conference of Bar Examiners has apparently been promoting the idea that pursuing experiential learning opportunities in law school harms bar exam performance. I don't know whether the NCBE has an empirical basis for that claim or instead whether it's based on speculation.  However, it does seem a tad ironic for the NCBE to suggest practical legal education harms law students' ability to practice law insofar as it hurts their chances of passing the bar exam when pretty much everyone agrees that the bar exam itself is a very poor measure of one's qualifications or ability to actually practice law.  

Anyhow, Professor Johns' article discusses the results of a three year study that found students who participated in experiential externships by some measure outperformed on the bar exam those students who didn't pursue those opportunities while a more in-depth statistical analysis ultimately concluded that participating in externships had no effect, either positive or negative, on bar performance. (Though I think we can all agree that participating in experiential externships helps prepare students to practice law much more so than learning how to game a multiple choice exam). As an aside, I'm very proud to say that Professor Johns is a former student of mine as well as USAF pilot. Go Falcons!

Below is the abstract of his article, called A Statistical Exploration: Analyzing the Relationship (if any) Between Externship Participation and Bar Exam Scores. 42 Okla. City U. L. Rev. 281 (2017-2018), and available on SSRN here

Relatively recently, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) claims that experiential legal education might negatively harm bar passage performance. Nevertheless, experiential learning opportunities, and, in particular, externships, are some of the most meaningful educational opportunities available to law school students. That raises an important empirical question, given the increasing emphasis of legal educators in providing more experiential learning opportunities for law students and the widespread participation of students, especially in externship programs, as one type of experiential learning opportunity. Do externship experiences have demonstrable value in positively influencing bar exam outcomes, or, as the NCBE seems to suggest, do externships negatively impact bar exam outcomes? This article walks step-by-step through the process of evaluating whether externship participation at our law school has any statistical relationship to bar exam scores, particularly for academically-struggling law school students. Initially, using longitudinal bar passage data over a three-year period, this study observes that students participating in externships positively outperform non-participants in bar passage rates, particularly for those students that struggled academically in law school. However, based on further statistical evaluation using regression analysis, this article finds that externship participation (to include number of externships taken) has no observable statistical relationship to bar exam scores, either positive or negative, leading to the conclusion that the NCBE’s claim, at least based on our bar takers with respect to externship participation, seems to be without merit.


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