In a reversal from last year, eight of New York state’s 15 law schools have reported lower pass rates for first-time candidates who took the July bar exam. In 2011, eight schools reported improved pass rates over the prior year.
This year’s turn-around resulted in the state’s first-time candidate average pass rate dropping one percentage point, to 85 percent.
With its 70 percent pass rate for the July exam, New York Law School experienced the most precipitous plunge this year, down 10 percentage points from 2011.
The result dropped New York Law to last place among the state’s law schools, a full 4 percentage points behind 14th place Touro Law Center.
Anthony Crowell, who was named dean of New York Law in May after teaching there as an adjunct for nine years, said he was “very disappointed” with the exam results.
“No new dean wants to come into office with this kind of news,” he said. “This is not what I would have expected of the school and I know that the school is better than this, the students are better than this.”
To improve pass rates going forward, Crowell said he has formed an 11-member task force called “Foundations for Success.” The committee, he said, will conduct “a top-to-bottom review” of the class that took the July exam as well as previous classes, and will evaluate the school’s programs to ensure that students are offered as much “counseling and support as possible.”
For example, he said, each student preparing for the July 2013 exam “will have an individualized coaching and counseling plan. That to me is critical.”
New York Law’s 70 percent pass rate represents a huge drop from the 94 percent pass rate it posted for the July 2008 exam. And despite having the largest number of first-time candidates among the 15 law schools—464, compared to 414 last year—Crowell maintains that New York Law has adhered to the same standards for granting admission.
“The credentials of the class that just took the July exam are consistent with the class that had the 94 percent pass rate,” he said.
Nonetheless, the dean said, improving the pass rate is his highest priority.
“Bar passes and jobs are inextricably tied,” Crowell said. “This is fundamental to the mission of our law school. I am more than confident we will bounce back in very short order.”
With its 83.5 percent pass rate this year, the City University of New York School of Law shot to the #7 slot—a nearly 17-percentage point increase over last year’s 67 percent pass rate, which placed the school at the bottom of the pack.
Dean Michelle Anderson said she was “pleased” with CUNY Law’s improved pass rate, “especially since this was the largest class of first-time takers” from the school.
She pointed out that the number of CUNY Law graduates taking the exam each year is small.
This year, 121 first-time candidates from CUNY Law took the July exam. Only Syracuse University School of Law had a lower number, at 114. The lower the number of exam takers, the more susceptible the pass rate is to fluctuation.
“We won’t be satisfied until we produce consistently strong numbers five years in a row,” Anderson said. “This year we developed a bar mentoring program for recent graduates that we think made a difference, and we plan to continue to enhance our bar support program for future classes.”
Improved pass rates—like those for CUNY Law, Fordham University School of Law, the Maurice A. Dean School of Law at Hofstra University, Albany Law School and Pace Law School—were the exception this year, as the majority of schools posted lower rates.
Touro Law, for example, reported the second biggest percentage decline this year, to 74 percent from 83 percent last year. The result dropped the school to the #14 slot from #9.
Patricia Salkin, who became dean of Touro Law earlier this year, called the rate “disappointing.”
“Three times in the past five years our pass rate has surpassed 80 percent,” she said. “We are disappointed with this drop from last year’s 83 percent pass rate, and the faculty and I have already begun meetings to assess differences in the data from last year to this year and to identify strategies to implement immediately to ensure that the 2012 experience remains an anomaly.”
Touro Law, she added, plans to “redouble our efforts” to ensure more students take advantage of “bar preparation supports.”
With its 83 percent pass rate, St. John’s University School of Law dipped below the state average for the first time in several years. Last year, the school posted an 88 percent pass rate.
Noting that “bar passage has always been a strength of St. John’s,” Dean Michael Simons said that to keep the pass rate up, the school earlier this semester began a new initiative focused on preparing the most at-risk students for the exam.
“I am optimistic that effort will bear fruit in the years to come,” he said.
Improved Pass Rates
Albany Law’s 81.5 percent pass rate represents an increase for the third consecutive year.
Penelope “Penny” Andrews, who became dean of Albany Law in June, called the improvement “significant and indicates that we are moving in the right direction.”
“Our passage rate rose while the state average fell,” she noted. “While we need to improve even further next year, our focus for the class of 2012 bar passers now shifts to helping them all secure employment, and helping those who did not pass the bar have success on the February 2013 exam.”
Hofstra Law also posted an improved pass rate for the third year in a row.
While interim dean Eric Lane called the result “encouraging,” he said Hofstra Law “plans to do better” by continuing to strengthen its programs and meeting with students one-on-one to prepare them for the exam.
“We have developed new first-year skills workshops to help students master the fundamental techniques and habits essential for law school achievement,” Lane said. “Our offerings for upper-level students develop and refine analytical and writing skills that are vital for continuing success in law school, on the bar exam and in professional practice.”
Top Three Unchanged
Keeping with tradition, little changed at the top of the pack, as Columbia Law School, New York University School of Law and Cornell Law School retained the top three spots, respectively.
And, just like last year, the next three slots went to Fordham University School of Law, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Brooklyn Law School, with the new #4, Fordham Law, nudging Cardozo to the #5 slot this year.
Statewide, a record 11,734 candidates took the two-day July bar exam. The previous high was set in 2010, when 11,557 candidates sat for the July exam.
@|Michael J. Paquette can be contacted at email@example.com.