Setting the Bar High: Law Schools Working to Boost Bar Exam Passage Rates

Article excerpt

Oklahoma's three law schools say they have made changes to help more students pass the state bar exam, but the University of Oklahoma College of Law has led the pack in 16 out of the 23 bar exams since February 1995.

University of Tulsa College of Law students came out on top six times. More students from the Oklahoma City University School of Law passed the bar than those from the other two schools in February 2000.

In the most recent midterm bar exam, February of this year, more TU students passed, at 83 percent, followed by OU at 80 percent and OCU at 56 percent.

In July 2005, OU's passage rate was 95 percent, TU's 82 percent and OCU's 75 percent.

This overall passage data includes repeat test-takers.

In February 2004, 2005 and this year, 100 percent of OU's first- timers passed the bar exam.

On the same exams, TU saw students achieve 80 percent, 87 percent and, most recently, 97 percent.

At the same midterm exams, OCU law students came in at 72 percent, 64 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

OU College of Law Dean Andrew Coats said that when he took over as dean 10 years ago, the school's bar-passage rate hovered around 75 percent, which he and other officials thought was not to be tolerated.

Coats said OU law students are encouraged to take as many bar- exam subjects as possible but are urged not to start working until after they take the bar.

I think it's a matter of focus, he said.

Coats said he thinks the quality of students has increased over the years.

In 1996, he said, each entering class totaled about 200 students, which has since been cut to about 175.

He said OU may receive 1,300 or 1,400 applications for 170 or so places.

It's getting pretty competitive, he said. We're getting some pretty good students.

Coats said that OU also limits critical first-year courses to about 40 students per class.

I think that gives them a lot more attention, he said.

Coats said OU law students also do well on the New York, California and Texas bar exams.

A number of top OU students do not take the Oklahoma bar, he added.

Coats said that during his second year as dean, OU rearranged its curriculum, changing some hours and making constitutional law a first-year course.

We felt like constitutional law kind of helps you frame all the other branches of law, he said.

Coats said OU may do more fine-tuning over the next year.

The dean said OU also brings in a University of Arkansas law professor to tutor students on how to study for the bar exam, which has been helpful.

Dean Robert Butkin has led TU's law school since June 2005.

Butkin expressed pride in TU students for achieving the overall top bar exam passage rate of 83 percent in February and for reaching a similar percentage in the previous two exams.

He said the results not only show that TU students take preparing for the bar very seriously, but they also reflect curricular and admission-strategy changes within the law school.

Butkin said that last year TU instituted a program that provides mandatory sessions with an academic resource specialist during the first year of law school, to train students in study kills, problem solving and the like.

Also last year, TU began offering what Butkin termed early bird bar exam preparation courses in the spring semester of students' final year of law school.

He said these courses emphasize both the subjects tested on the multiple-choice multi-state portion of the bar exam, as well as those tested through questions requiring essay answers. …