Managing the dip: A qualitative and quantitative study of law school treatment of falling pass rates on the bar examination
Legal education has precious few, highly significant, outputs. Three stand out—faculty research, course content, and, most critical, graduates capable of passing a professional licensure exam and thereafter serving the highest court of the state as licensed attorneys.
As professional schools, law schools generate a population expectant to join the legal profession. While this anticipation does not imply a contractual obligation between individual and institution, the admission of a student by a school carries with it a moral obligation to intellectually prepare her for a legal career. Success or failure on the bar exam attests to the institutional ability to meet that obligation. To attend to its commitment, a school may implement a series of interventions. Few empirical studies indicate whether, and how, a school-based intervention targeted to raise pass rates effectively does so.
This study examines the impact of various interventions on the future bar exam performance of law school graduates. Drawing largely on case study research, this study will help school administration to better evaluate and manage institutional performance, and more efficiently identify and direct resources where they are most needed. The conceptual framework draws on organizational theory, evaluation, and accreditation.
Four law schools, selected using purposeful sampling, serve as case studies. To better understand the impact that interventions have on pass rates, admissions data was collected and in-depth interviews were conducted. Findings are derived from interrupted time series analyses of interventions at each school.
This study explores the following: (1) Was the problem of falling pass rates on the bar exam treated by the school? If so, how so? If not, why not? (2) What role did evidence play in the decision to, and how to, treat the problem of falling pass rates? (3) How do institutional decisions affect bar passage? How do you know? (4) What impact did the chosen intervention have on pass rates?
The findings of this study apply to law school deans, accreditation leaders, and scholars. Recommendations are issued regarding the design and implementation of interventions to help improve student performance on the bar examination.