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The statewide pass rate for first-time takers of the July 2003 New York bar examination rose two percentage points from last year’s tally, with the customary trio of top-scoring law schools all shuffling places, and the usual pair of low-scoring campuses improving by five points apiece. See the chart. According to the New York State Board of Law Examiners, of the 7,761 first-time applicants to the bar, 6,024 succeeded, establishing this year’s pass rate average at 78 percent over last year’s 76. Two years ago, the average rate was 79 percent. With a pass rate of 97 percent, New York University School of Law displaced Cornell Law School as this year’s top-scoring institution. Cornell’s pass rate of 94 percent was down from last year’s 97 percent figure, dropping the institution to third place behind Columbia Law School, which boosted its pass rate this year over last by two points, to 96 percent. Over the past five years, Cornell and NYU Law had traded first and second-place honors by a few percentage points. Until this year, Columbia had placed third during the period 1998-2002. “We tend to not get concerned about minor variations,” said Anne Lukingbeal, dean of Cornell Law. “This year, a slightly larger group sat for the bar, and a few more graduates failed the test. Eight rather than four, to be specific.” More dramatic numerical differences, for better and for worse, were seen at two of the state’s 15 law schools. A pass rate of 84 percent for Syracuse University College of Law was up from only 70 percent in 2002, and Hofstra University School of Law took a hit at 66 percent, down 13 points from last year. “But I’m confident we’ll bounce back,” said Hofstra Law Dean David N. Yellen. “Often, these changes are not explainable.” Indeed, Hofstra Law showed pass rate progress over the previous two years, with 79 percent in 2002 and 77 percent in 2001. But the Queens campus has also registered past volatility, with an 80 percent pass rate in 1998 tumbling to 74 percent in ’99, then to 63 percent in 2000. Hannah R. Arterian, dean at Syracuse Law, downplayed her school’s enviable 14-point rise in passage rate. “This is nice news, but it’s not our premiere focus,” said Arterian. “The consequences of not passing are significant, and we hope all our students would be successful on their first attempts at taking the bar, but we want to move forward with our educational mission.” Deans at Touro Law Center on Long Island and City University of New York School of Law in Queens were philosophical about their respective schools’ pass rate scores ranking once again at the bottom: Touro at 63 percent over last year’s 58 percent, and CUNY Law at 55 percent over last year’s 50 percent. “We’ve been higher at times, so we’re certainly not complacent,” said Touro Dean Howard A. Glickstein. In the past six years, Touro once scored higher than this year’s 63 mark: 69 percent in 2000. “It’s like a roller-coaster. But moving up again, that’s better than being on the way down.” At CUNY Law, Dean Kristin Booth Glen expressed disappointment at being in the 50th percentile for the second straight year. The school had generally scored in the 60th percentile in recent years, with a high mark of 74 percent passage for the July 2000 bar exam. “But we do not believe that first-time bar passage is an appropriate measure of our graduates’ competence to be excelling practicing lawyers,” Dean Glen said in a written statement. “We have instituted a variety of new co-curricular bar prep initiatives, and are confident that our current third-year class will make an excellent showing [on the July 2004 bar exam].” This year’s pass rate at Albany Law School, which has generally scored in the mid-70 percentile, remains unknown. School officials said that Dean Thomas F. Guernsey was “traveling and unavailable,” and that no one else on campus could provide the numbers. A parsing of passage numbers against student classroom performance revealed some significant findings, particularly at Brooklyn Law School, which jumped from a pass rate of 80 percent last July to 84 percent this time. Joan G. Wexler, dean of Brooklyn Law, attributed the rise to those students with grade point averages in the top half of their class. The top half of Brooklyn Law’s first-time test-takers, those with the best grade point averages, passed the bar at a rate of 98 percent, she said. MAKING SCHOOL HISTORY David Rudenstine, dean of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, was especially gratified by this year’s pass rate of 88 percent, the highest in the school’s history. “The evidence I’ve reviewed suggests a strong correlation between LSAT scores, grade point averages and bar passage rates,” said Rudenstine. Over the past few years, he noted, “The academic credentials of [our] students have improved substantially.” Officials at several schools in the middle range of passage rates said they had managed to increase their percentages by a few points thanks to extra administrative and faculty efforts specifically concentrated on bar exam preparation. Joseph W. Bellacosa, formerly Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals before becoming dean at St. John’s University School of Law in 2000, said steady progress in his school’s bar pass rates — 78 percent back in 1999 to 85 percent this year — is due to professors giving third-year students “a little attention, a little boost” after classroom hours and on Saturdays. “The faculty council decided to help with a kind of real-world check. You have to get your law license, after all, if you want to be a lawyer,” said Judge Bellacosa, himself a graduate of St. John’s Law. “There’s no regularized course or anything, it’s just professors making themselves available.” At Pace University School of Law, the approach is more formalized. Kelly Levi, adjunct professor and director of academic support at the White Plains campus, said mandatory counseling was put in place for some students in their first and second years. The result has been a steady rise in third-years’ success with bar exams: 74 percent this year, up from 71 percent in 2002 and 69 percent in 2001. “We advise on course selection and bar preparation,” said Levi. “By doing this in a timely manner, we’re providing our students with the opportunity to think about the bar exam well before they complete school, as opposed to focusing on the exam for just a few months in the summer.” COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAM While many schools have some manner of formal or informal help for weaker students, New York Law School offers something unique: the “Comprehensive Curriculum” program, by which under-performing students may voluntarily add an extra semester to their academic careers — at no additional tuition. “Right now, we’re losing a lot of revenue,” Dean Richard A. Matasar acknowledged. “But in about three years, we should reap real benefits.” The special effort, said Matasar, identifies first-years in the bottom quarter of their class and offers them what he termed “a more rigorous study path.” More help is given during the second and third years, with an additional “full-scholarship semester” added at the end as a comprehensive review of courses taken. Those schools surpassing the state average bar passage rate of 78 percent were NYU Law, Columbia Law, Cornell Law, Cardozo Law, Fordham University School of Law, St. John’s Law, Brooklyn Law and Syracuse Law. Those schools below the state average were Pace Law, the University at Buffalo Law School, New York Law, Hofstra Law, Touro Law and CUNY Law. No figures were given for Albany Law School. Chart: Bar Pass Rates at Law Schools in New York State

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