What Works to Increase a Law Schools’ Prestige and Their Graduates’ Passing the Bar: Better Students or Better Faculty?

Joel Kupfersmid


April 10, 2013

This study asks two questions about the relative influence of student capability and faculty expertise. Student capability is measured by the estimated median LSAT score of law school students. Faculty expertise is measured by Washington & Lee Library’s ranking of citations from a law school’s flagship journal, typically their law review journals, for the years 2003 – 2010. The first question is which of these two measures is most highly associated to a law school’s prestige, as measured by ranking in U.S. News? The second question is which of the two measures is more highly associated with first time passage rates on the bar examination for their graduates? A partial correlation is used to answer these two questions.

Several shortcomings in the previous literature are addressed: (1) researchers have either investigated the relationship of student understanding of the law to prestige or examined faculty expertise to this outcome, but none explore the effects of one of these predictors with the effects of the other removed (partial correlation), (2) researchers have correlated various student measures to bar passing rates for law schools across the country but this presents interpretative difficulties because the types of tests given for each bar, and the scores needed to pass, have considerable variation across jurisdictions, and (3) several studies assess the influence of faculty scholarship to prestige, but no study assesses the influence of scholarship to bar passage rates.

The results of this study indicate that prestige is likely an association of the reciprocal relationship between student capability and faculty expertise. Both measures, with the effects of the other removed, are able to predict U.S. News rankings equally well. The results also indicate that faculty expertise is more highly associated with bar passing percentages than is student capability, at least in California and New York.

These findings are correlational, thus no causation can be established. The results indicate that increasing the number of faculty with recognized expertise in an area of law and/or having students with higher LSAT scores are equally associated with higher school prestige, but faculty with greater expertise have a higher association with increasing the percentage of graduates passing the bar . These results do not apply to law schools where bar passage rates are very high or where a high percentage of professors eminent in law are already in the department.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: law schools, prestige, citations, passing bar, LSAT

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Date posted: March 21, 2013 ; Last revised: May 8, 2013

Suggested Citation

Kupfersmid, Joel, What Works to Increase a Law Schools’ Prestige and Their Graduates’ Passing the Bar: Better Students or Better Faculty? (April 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2235847 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2235847

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Joel Kupfersmid (Contact Author)
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