When I saw the abysmal bar passage rate posted by the Thomas Jefferson School of Law on the July 2011 administration of the California bar exam, I opined that TJSL should lose its American Bar Association accreditation. Of course, that won’t happen. The ABA standards on accreditation are so lax that law schools can lie to the ABA and still not get kicked out.
Much to the ABA’s embarrassment, TJSL released some papers to reassure students that even with a 33% first time bar passage rate (and an incomprehensible 13% pass rate for returning test takers), Thomas Jefferson Law was still well within ABA parameters. TJSL sent out an email that reiterated ABA Standard 301, which sets forth bar passage requirements for accredited schools:
Standard 301 (A): A law school’s bar passage rate shall be sufficient, for purposes of Standard 301(a), if the school demonstrates that it meets any one of the following tests:
(1) That for students who graduated from the law school within the five most recently completed calendar years:
(a) 75 percent or more of these graduates who sat for the bar passed a bar examination, or
(b) in at least three of these calendar years, 75 percent of the students graduating in those years and sitting for the bar have passed a bar examination.
2) That in three or more of the five most recently completed calendar years, the school’s annual first-time bar passage rate in the jurisdictions reported by the school is no more than 15 points below the average first-time bar passage rates for graduates of ABA-approved law schools taking the bar examination in these same jurisdictions.
TJSL representatives say that they are in compliance with the two out of the three possible methods of compliance. They even produce a graph that shows how the class of 2011 was an outlier result — not that this graph is really something TJSL administrators should be proud of.
The solution? Blame Bar/Bri, and the students themselves….
First, here’s the graph that Thomas Jefferson sent to its students about the school’s bar passage rate over time:
While the 2011 results represent a shocking failure to educate, you can see the general downward trend.
Still TJSL sent out a three-page report to its students trying to explain the 2011 results. Here’s one important conclusion:
Changes Noted in 2011
In 2011, there was a general drop-off in utilization of the TJSL Full Program. Whereas the majority of non-honors graduates had come to the Full Program in prior years, in 2011 over 60% went to other programs (primarily BarBri). At the same time, every instructor in the Legal Synthesis program and in the Full Program noted a significant drop not only in skill level but in ability to focus attention and utilize information presented in Legal Synthesis. The non-honors graduates in 2011 entered bar preparation (the Full Program as well as BarBri and others) markedly behind the level we’ve been accustomed to for 13 years. They did not have time to make up for the time they had lost during their final semester.
However, the historical trend has been that students who participate in the TJSL Full Program far exceed others in terms of eventual bar pass at all but the highest LGPA levels (where the pass rate is 100%), as illustrated below. Eventual bar pass underlies 2 of the 3 ABA Rule 301 criteria for bar pass.
The “Full Program” refers to TJSL’s special, intensive bar prep course. Evidently, TJSL students are not ready to pass the bar exam just by going to Thomas Jefferson Law School and taking Bar/Bri. Instead of regular old Bar/Bri, TJSL students apparently need to take this super bar prep course, or whatever.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t take an average, Californian law student to decode the statement about the attention-focusing skills of the 2011 graduates. How would you like to be a class of 2011 graduate of Thomas Jefferson Law? Not only did you most likely fail the bar, but the school itself wants to get the word out that you’re probably historically dumb.
Even taking TJSL at its word (sorry class of 2011), you have to ask why Thomas Jefferson was admitting this quality of student in the first place? Why were they admitting kids that needed remedial bar prep and had problems paying attention? And what is Thomas Jefferson going to do about it?
That’s the thing that should really outrage the general public, and students at Thomas Jefferson specifically. The school can blame the students all it wants, but what is the school doing about it? Is it going to reassess its admissions standards, or refocus its teaching methods, or do anything? Or is it just going to keep taking these kids’ money, and keep letting themselves break their lives in debt and bar failure?
Just because TJSL is legally allowed to do this doesn’t mean they should. These people are supposed to be educators. EDUCATE THE STUDENTS. Or tell them they are beyond help and they should keep their money. But don’t run around and say, “Oh, well, they were dumb, NEXT!”
You can click on the links that follow to see the full Thomas Jefferson explanation of how after three years of so-called law school, two out of three graduates can fail the bar. I especially like the language about “persister rates.” Apparently if you spend all that time in the TJSL Full Program, you are much more likely to keep banging your head against the rock instead of giving up on the bar and finding something else to do with your life.