American Bar Association / ABA, Bar Exams, Law Schools, Money

Which Law School Is Allegedly Paying Students Not to Take the Bar Exam This Summer?

Most law school graduates pass the bar exam with flying colors on the first try. Law schools, of course, are ecstatic when their graduates pass, because it’s something that they can brag about in their brochures. Other law school graduates aren’t so lucky — they fail, and they fail hard. But law schools don’t want you to know about the people who fail the bar exam. They’d like to shove those dirty statistics far, far away from public view.

So what happens when a law school’s graduates fail the bar exam in such great numbers that it becomes national news? Does that law school hang its head in shame and admit defeat? Or does it figure out a way to game the numbers so that next time, it won’t be so embarrassed?

As with most things having to do with numbers, this law school has allegedly made an ill-advised decision to appear more appealing to the public (and the American Bar Association). This law school is allegedly offering its students money in the hopes that they won’t take this summer’s bar exam. But which law school?

The law school in question is CUNY School of Law, one of National Jurist’s “Best Value” law schools for 2011. Recall that our readers voted CUNY Law as the second-worst law school in the New York metropolitan area. The New York Post has the exclusive story:

Anxious CUNY Law School administrators are urging struggling students not to take this summer’s bar exam in an apparent bid to boost the school’s sagging pass rates, irate students charged.

The administrators even offered a handful of students a grant in the fall that’s normally reserved for those taking the July exam if they would agree to postpone sitting for the test until February 2013.

Students say an associate dean has pulled at least six classmates in for a one-on-one sales pitch advocating for the delay — even though the February exam is reputedly more difficult.

And in case you’re wondering, take it from a learned bar exam scholar: the February exam is more difficult.

These allegations come in the wake of CUNY’s piss-poor performance on the July 2011 New York bar exam. Only 67 percent of first-time takers from the Flushing law school passed the test, while the statewide average for first-time takers hovered at 86 percent.

Back in November, CUNY Law’s dean, Michelle J. Anderson, stated in an interview with Thomson Reuters News & Insight that the school was “taking several steps to improve [the results] while maintaining our commitment to enhance access to the legal profession for underserved communities.” Is paying students to sit this one out one of the steps that the school is taking, Dean Anderson?

CUNY officials downplayed the flare-up, saying it stemmed from a misunderstanding over a new initiative that was launched in response to last year’s poor results.

After The Post asked about the practice, Dean Michelle Anderson sent out an e-mail clarifying that struggling students were simply being offered an optional seventh semester of coursework at no cost.

We reached out to the school for comment on these allegations, asking if any of the allegations in the Post’s article were true, and in particular, if the law school had offered payments or grants to students with low GPAs in exchange for their declining to take the July 2012 bar exam. A spokesperson noted the following:

CUNY Law has offered no payments. Our bar grant program is not new. We have traditionally offered modest bar grants to low-income graduates who are unable to obtain loans for two months of living expenses and the cost of a bar prep course so that they may focus on studying instead of having to take jobs to pay their bills. For those graduates who qualify for these grants, it does not matter which bar they choose to take. Over the years, graduates have received grants to support them as they studied for either the July or February bar.

When we asked whether CUNY Law would be offering a seventh semester of law school at no charge, and what classes would be taught at that time, we were told that “[f]or those students who opt for a seventh semester, [CUNY Law’s] Bar support staff are developing a tailored program of doctrinal classes for and with each student, depending on individual needs.”

Dean Anderson, by way of letter addressed to the law school community (available in its entirety on the following page), offered us the following:

[W]e reached out to those 3L students who were most at risk to offer them the option of extending their study and deepening their preparation for the Bar. We understand that, for some students, this dialogue was very difficult; however, we felt it was vital that we do everything we can to help them pass the Bar.

Of course it’s difficult to engage in a “dialogue” with your law school about your potential to fail the bar exam. No one wants to hear that their law school has no faith in their ability to pass a test.

Perhaps if this conversation had come sooner in time — before the last semester of 3L year — the discussion would’ve been much simpler. It’s likely that many of these students would have been happy to quit while they were ahead, financially speaking. It’s too bad that law schools like their tuition money so much, because this situation could’ve been avoided.

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