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Touro Law Center, which traditionally ranks near the bottom performance level for the July bar exam, climbed above New York Law School this year and equalled Hofstra University School of Law. Touro saw a big leap forward with a pass rate of 69 percent over last year’s 63 percent and 58 percent in 2002. “We sort of rededicated ourselves a few years ago, and it looks like it’s paid off,” said Lawrence Raful, dean of Touro since June. Raful attributed a large measure of his school’s improvement to two staff additions: Professor Suzanne Darrow Kleinhaus, director of academic support, and legal writing director Deborah Hecht. Although the City University of New York School of Law was again in the cellar position among the 15 schools, as it has been for several years running, the sharp increase in its pass rate — to 67 percent, a 12-point rise over last year — was cause for “unbounded joy,” said Dean Kristin Booth Glen. Jethro K. Lieberman, associate dean for academic affairs at New York Law, which dropped to 14th place this year, said in a statement that he was “disappointed” in his school’s pass rate of 68 percent. “But,” he said, “we do have in place an initiative that we believe will help our graduating classes to pass the New York State bar in higher numbers in the years to come.” The traditional top-scoring campuses — New York University School of Law, Columbia Law School and Cornell Law School — again ranked first, second and third, respectively. Also as usual, there was a reordering of the ranks among the other nine law schools. Some scoring changes were dramatic, ranging from double-digit improvement at Albany Law School to eight-point nosedives for Syracuse University College of Law and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which just last year enjoyed an all-time high pass rate of 88 percent. Among all first-time exam takers in July, the pass rate was 77 percent, down a point from last year, according to the State Board of Law Examiners. Rates for the state’s 15 law schools were reported to the Law Journal this week by campus officials. Two years ago, the CUNY Law pass rate was a mere 50 percent, causing the City University chancellor to demand a strong, if not radical, change of course at a law campus with what has by far the state’s most diverse socio-economic student mix. Referring to 2003 and 2002, Glen said, “Those two years were just so weird. To this day, I don’t know what happened. Obviously, it’s a huge weight off our shoulders to get out of that miserable place.” Glen spent those years of misery in negotiations with CUNY officials. The result, she said, was “modest adjustments” in admissions policy that have yielded higher predictors for exam success, namely incoming students with higher LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages. CUNY Law also now puts students who fall below a C-plus average on probation after one semester, with expulsion to follow if there is no improvement. “What I’m very proud of,” said Glen, “is that even with new requirements, this year we admitted the most diverse class we’ve ever had.” Next year, a new factor is likely to shake up the pass rates and, perhaps, the rankings. In July 2005, the minimum pass score is set to rise from 660 of a possible 1,000 points to 665. Another five-point increase is scheduled for 2006, and another in 2007, to a new minimum of 675. Although relatively new to the New York legal scene, Touro’s Raful, formerly dean of Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska, was quick to join his counterparts’ unanimous opposition to the higher pass score. “With all due respect, I think they’re wrong,” he said of the five-member law board, a group appointed by the Court of Appeals to oversee the exam. “Passing the bar doesn’t mean you’re a competent lawyer. The bar exam only indicates your ability to pass a test.” In a January 2003 letter to the New York State Bar Association, the law board said the change was necessary due to “significant anecdotal evidence of incompetence in the profession.” That is vigorously disputed by the law deans, the state bar and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The law schools and the bar groups all have stated what Raful predicts. “The bar prep people are just licking their chops with [students] coming back for a second and third time,” he said of commercial enterprises that charge students thousands of dollars to help study for licensure. “It’s only going to make it harder, and more costly,” Cardozo Dean David Rudenstine said. “I’m not sure it’s serving any meaningful public good.” Rudenstine expressed disappointment over Cardozo’s 80 percent rate after last year’s 88 percent made it fourth. This year Cardozo dropped to seventh. “Last year, the main factor was an improvement in student quality, as reflected on LSATs and GPAs,” he said. “Unfortunately, in terms of those factors, the class that took the [July 2004] bar was even stronger than the class of ’03.” Albany Law School, like CUNY Law, saw its pass rate rise 12 points over last year — to 78 percent. Dean Thomas F. Guernsey said the improvement was due to “pretty dramatic” changes, among which was the decision to reduce admissions to provide a lower student-faculty ratio. Albany’s enrollment is down from a high of about 800 to 640, at a tuition revenue loss Guernsey estimates at $4 million. “It’s easier to flunk out now than it was,” he added. “We’ve curtailed extracurricular activities for students at the bottom of the class, and we’re more rigorous in enforcing our restrictions on outside employment.” UP AND DOWN At Syracuse Law, the pass rate has seesawed from 70 percent in 2002 to 84 percent last year and down to 76 percent this year. “The bad rate in ’02 really put the fear of God into the group for ’03,” said Keith Sealing, Syracuse Law’s associate dean for student services. “They said, ‘Oh my goodness, we really have to buckle down.’ They followed our advice and studied hard.” But now comes the “obvious disappointment” of this year’s eight-point slide, he said, adding that the faculty is still analyzing the situation. Faculty members at Buffalo Law saw their campus break out of the 70s, where it had been for several years, jumping seven points over last year’s score to 80 percent. But Melinda Saran, vice dean for student affairs, said she and others at Buffalo are “scared, like every other law school” about the future under an increased pass score. “We’re just going to continue telling our students to take the bar exam very, very seriously and study hard,” she said. “At the same time, we’ve put some additional resources into helping students with writing problems.”

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