A Study of the Relationship between Law School Coursework and Bar Exam Outcomes
68 Journal of Legal Education 624 (2019)
Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper
Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 2020-72
27 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2019 Last revised: 29 Jul 2020
Date Written: September 2, 2019
The recent decline in bar exam passage rates has triggered speculation that the decline is being driven by law students taking more experiential courses and fewer bar-subject courses. These concerns arose in the absence of any empirical study linking certain coursework to bar exam failure.
This article addresses speculation about the relationship between law school coursework and bar exam outcomes. It reports the results of a large-scale study of the courses of over 3800 graduates from two law schools and the relationship between their experiential and bar-subject coursework and bar exam outcomes over a ten-year period. At both schools, the number of experiential courses or credits taken by a student did not correlate with bar passage, positively or negatively. Enrollment in bar courses correlated positively with passage, but the correlation was modest and significant only for students whose class rank placed them at heightened risk of bar failure. Even for those students, the marginal benefit of additional bar-related courses was not statistically significant once the student had taken approximately the average number of bar courses at that school. The study results indicate that efforts to improve bar passage rates by capping experiential credits are not supported by empirical evidence and that requiring bar-subject courses for students at comparable law schools would appear justified, if at all, only when targeted at students whose class rank places them at enhanced risk of bar exam failure.
Keywords: legal education, law school, bar exam, clinical legal education, experiential education, law clinic, externship
JEL Classification: K00, I23
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation