BEST PROGRAMS DON’T NECESSARILY YIELD THE BEST RESULTS
If you’re seeking a program that best prepares you to pass the bar, Duke, Chicago, and Yale follow Vanderbilt as the schools with the highest bar passage rates. These schools reported an average bar passage rate between 97.9% and 98.7% in 2013, with each school’s rate climbing 3%-4%. While these schools are pricey – Chicago is the least expensive with a $55,503 annual tuition – students entering the private sector land average starting salaries of $160,000 (with 93.5% of Chicago 3Ls holding jobs by graduation). To earn more, you need to pay more (or so the conventional wisdom goes). And these schools reflect that there is some truth to this.
Looking for some bargains? Take the state schools at the University of Alabama and the University of Iowa. Both ranked 22nd overall by U.S. News, their bar passage rates are 97.8% and 97.5% respectively. Here’s the beauty of these schools: Their out-of-state tuitions are $36,304 and $41,296 (again respectively). Their nine month placement rates (86.7% and 82.6%) are above average. And their starting private sector salaries ($105,000 at Alabama and $83,500 at Iowa) go a lot further if you practice in these respective states (where the cost of living is quite reasonable).
However, the dictum that ‘the better the school, the better the passage rate’ doesn’t necessarily jive with the facts. Stanford, which feeds many of students into the one of the brutal state bars, ranks 41st among the top 100 programs in bar passage at 90.3% (but still ahead of in-state rivals like UCLA, USC, and California-Berkeley at 88.2%, 85.8%, and 85.7% respectively). North Carolina’s bar is less onerous than California. However, Tar Hell grads average an 81.3% passage rate. Despite ranking 34th overall, the program actually places 82nd in bar passage, three percentage points below 94th-ranked South Carolina. Conversely, St. Louis University and the University of Mississippi rank 87th and 94th respectively. However, they are top 40 programs in bar passage, with over 90% of graduates at each school passing the bar on their first try.
In fact, among the top 10 programs for bar passage, only four rank among the top 10 programs overall. And 12 programs ranked outside the top 50 overall – including Georgia State, Brooklyn Law, Kentucky, and Missouri – are top 50 programs when it comes to bar passage. If you’re not looking to re-locate – or command a six figure salary to start – these schools may be a better fit.
OVER HALF OF TOP 100 SCHOOLS REPORT HIGHER BAR PASSAGE RATES
Robert Anderson, an associate professor at Pepperdine University, concocted a formula two years ago to rank the difficulty of various bar exams. While a 19 year-old Frank Abagnale, the central character in Catch Me if You Can, may have passed the Louisiana bar with a few months of study, the state exam is no joke. In fact, Anderson ranks it as the fourth most difficult bar exam in the country (just below California, Arkansas and Washington – and just above Nevada, Virginia, and Oregon). And the bar results for Tulane and Louisiana State grads validate Anderson’s formula.
In 2013, Tulane produced the lowest bar passage rate among the top 100 schools at 66.3%. And Louisiana State wasn’t all that far behind at 73.4%. As you’d expect, three California programs – Santa Clara, U.C.-Hastings, and the University of San Diego – also placed near the bottom at 71.9% and 74.2%, and 75.0% respectively.
Among the top 100-ranked programs (101 technically), the bar passage rate had increased at 50 schools (and remained the same at five schools). The biggest gains were made at Michigan State University (+11.2%), where over 80% of test-takers passed the bar in 2013. There were also substantive jumps at the University of Tennessee (+9.2%), University of Hawai’i (+8.2%), Indiana University (+8.1%), Washington & Lee University (+7.9%), Brooklyn Law (+7.8%), Loyola Marymount (+7.5%), and the University of Utah (+7.0%).
However, this may represent high water mark, as initial reports on the 2014 cohort reveal a dip in bar passage. In 2013, you’ll find the biggest drop in bar passage coming at Wake Forest University, which plummeted from 77.8% to 66.3% (despite the North Carolina bar being ranked in the middle-of-the-pack by Anderson). Tulane (-11.5%), Lewis & Clark (-10.3%), University of New Hampshire (-8.1%), the University of North Carolina (-8.1%), and American University (-6.2%) also experienced steep declines in bar passage. However, only Wake Forest and Tulane witnessed a subsequent decline in nine month placement rates over the previous year. However, the correlation between bar passage rates and placement were mixed. For example, Oregon’s bar passage rate slipped 4.7%, yet its placement rate rose 13.8%.
To see the bar passage and placement rates for the top 100 law schools, go to the next pages.
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