The University of Denver's Sturm College of Law recently concluded a study of the unacceptably high bar exam failure rate of many of its graduates. (Summary here.) The study found that students whose LSATs were in the bottom 20% of admitted students, and whose first-year grades were in the bottom 20%, were very unlikely to pass the bar. The administration has implemented a program to address the problem, but the professors who conducted the bar exam passage study are skeptical. Professor Sam Kamin writes:
The data that Professor Joyce Sterling and I have collected on more than 2,000 DU graduates indicate that curricular and extra-curricular choices that individual students make -- whether to take bar classes, whether to do externships, whether to participate in the student law office, etc. -- have little if any significant impact on their bar exam success. Thus, I am concerned that some of the proposed solutions -- principally requiring more bar classes and in-class exams -- will have no impact on bar passage and might mislead students into believing that this complex problem has a simple solution.
Professor Sterling and I found that the best predictors of poor bar exam performance are very low LSAT scores and low law school grades. Thus, the data indicate that instead of making broad curricular or pedagogical changes, the most likely path to improving our bar pass rate is to cease admitting students without a substantial likelihood of bar exam success, to identify at-risk students among those admitted, to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in law school, and to fail out those that we cannot find a way to help.
UPDATE: A commenter asks for DU's ranking. According to the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking, DU is in a tie for 95th place. Although it's not top tier, it is ahead of dozens of other law schools, many of which, I suspect, also have abysmal bar passage rates for the bottom 20% of their students.