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Law students look for just about any edge to pass the bar. Now law schools are meeting them halfway. With bar pass rates declining nationally, law schools are developing a variety of programs to bolster students’ chances of passing what amounts to the biggest test of their lives. The programs range from purely academic, such as for-credit bar preparatory classes, to the creative, including “tailgate” gatherings on exam days, where students can gather for meals and confidence-boosting tips on how to survive the exam. They need all the help they can get. Bar passage rates have been declining for the last decade, from an average of 70% in 1995 to 64% in 2005. [NLJ, March 13.] The American Bar Association updated its guidelines to allow schools to offer for-credit bar study courses in early 2005. From Advil to earplugs The faculty at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, took those statistics to heart. Not only was the school one of the first to offer a bar preparatory course for credit in early 2005, the school also works to build up students’ morale in the weeks before and on the day of the bar, said Yvonne Twiss, the school’s director of bar services. Each student sitting for the bar will receive a “good luck” phone call from a faculty member, and on the day of the bar, the alumni relations office sets up a tailgate in the parking lot so students can have breakfast and lunch provided, Twiss said. “We are there with everything from Advil, pens, ear plugs, erasers,” she said. The school was falling behind in its bar passage rate for years, Twiss said. In July 2003, the average bar passage rate for its students on the Ohio bar exam was 61%. The school began new efforts after that exam, and in the past three years, the pass rate jumped to 87% for first-time takers of the July 2006 bar exam. Jason Kester, a 2006 Capital Law graduate, is a success story from Twiss’ program. After his first year of law school, Kester was placed in a special course for students who had lower than a 2.5 grade-point average. Though the bar passage rate for students in that class is typically low, Kester passed the Ohio bar on the first try. He credits the intense bar preparatory course the school offered him for a semester, but the emotional support from the school on the day of the bar exam helped keep him confident. “It was like we had a pregame speech from our coach, and it seemed to be a big help,” Kester said. The holistic approach But not every school can be present on the bar exam day to show support. At Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, students take the California bar in four different cities in multiple locations, said Rodney Fong, assistant dean for bar services. So instead of trying to maintain confidence on the day of the bar exam, the school tries to build confidence before test day. Beginning more than a year ago, the school started nontraditional bar preparatory workshops, taking a more holistic approach to passing the bar, Fong said. Students can participate in nine workshops that Fong conducts, focusing on bar exam techniques. Fong identifies more than a dozen points at which a student’s confidence will be challenged during the period of studying for, and taking, a bar exam, such as when he or she takes a practice test or feels overwhelmed by the information. “A lot of schools are more cerebral and academic, and they don’t look at the emotional side of taking the bar,” Fong said. The school does offer courses to help prepare students academically for the test, and has for years, he said, but that alone did not work. The school was placed on probation by the American Bar Association for its low bar-passage rate in December 2005. Fong’s approach was implemented last fall, and of the February 2006 takers, 75% of the students who passed had sought help from Fong’s program. And though it may not have improved bar-passage statistics yet-the overall pass rate still remains in the 40% range-Fong said that students told him they felt more in control and no longer went into the exam with a defeatist attitude.

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