Law Schools

Which law schools overperformed on the bar exam? Some are unranked by US News

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What helps law schools garner better-than-expected bar passage rates? A high ranking by U.S. News & World Report isn't necessarily part of the formula, according to a new study.

Among the surprising overperformers were some law schools outside the U.S. News top 50, according to the study, available here. They are Baylor University (ranked No. 58), Belmont University (ranked No. 134), Campbell University (unranked), Georgia State University (ranked No. 78) Liberty University (unranked) and Louisiana State University (ranked No. 109).

Florida International University (ranked No. 88) is another overperformer, but the result is less surprising because it has “invested heavily” in its students’ success, the study said.

Overall, top-performing schools are “not spending extravagantly more resources, and in many instances are spending less, than other schools to achieve bar success,” the study said.

The study, The Secret Sauce: Examining Law Schools that Overperform on the Bar Exam, was posted on SSRN Feb. 1 and noted by Reuters.

The study authors are Christopher J. Ryan Jr., a professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, and Derek Muller, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.

They predicted an expected first-time pass rate based on incoming students’ credentials—their grade-point averages and scores on the Law School Admission Test. Then Ryan and Muller looked at aggregated first-time bar exam results from 2014 through 2019 in an analysis that controlled for the relative difficulty between state bar exams.

The authors then surveyed law schools to learn what approaches are working.

Low-cost reforms at top-performing law schools include increased first-year academic support and bar exam prep courses in the 3L year, the study said.

Overperforming schools also focused on students passing the bar exam on the first try, rather than an ultimate bar passage rate within two years of graduation. They identified at-risk students based on grade-point averages in students’ first year of law school, rather than LSAT scores or undergraduate grades.

Asked to rate challenges to their students’ bar exam success, the overperforming law schools were less likely to cite academic indicators and more likely to cite student distractions because of work and other things competing for their attention.

The top overperforming law schools were:

  1. Florida International University

  2. Stanford University

  3. The University of Southern California

  4. The University of California at Berkeley

  5. The University of North Carolina

  6. Belmont University

  7. The University of Michigan

  8. Florida State University

  9. The University of California at Los Angeles

  10. The University of Virginia

  11. Campbell University

  12. Yale University

  13. Louisiana State University

  14. The University of Georgia

  15. Duke University

  16. Harvard University

  17. Wake Forest University

  18. Georgia State University

  19. The University of Chicago

  20. The University of Pennsylvania

  21. The University of Illinois

  22. Baylor University

  23. Washington & Lee University

  24. Liberty University

  25. Vanderbilt University

Most of the underperforming schools are unranked by U.S. News.

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