Isn't there anyone here who can pass the bar exam???

As thousands of students are currently embroiled in state bar exams across the country, law schools are beginning to wonder about the next crop of exam takers. They’re wondering if next year’s class will bring shame or glory upon their institutions.

One law school seems to be getting proactive about its bar passage rate. Instead of being content with a rate that is near the bottom in its state, they’re making 3Ls engage in some remedial studies.

The only problem is that they only just informed the students last week, and the mandatory course will only apply to students who received poor grades way back during their 1L year.

UPDATE (5:57 PM): Duquesne responded and defended their requirement; see their statement below…

It looks like Duquesne Law is going to have some very irate 3Ls on its hands. Last Monday — totally out of the blue, according to our sources — Duquesne Law informed certain 3Ls that they would be forced to register for a new course called “Core Competencies for Legal Practice.” The course is overtly designed to help people prepare for the bar exam, and it will be required for all Duquesne 3Ls who finished in the bottom third of the class during 1L year.

Naturally, the institution of this new requirement made me think, “How bad was Duquesne’s bar passage rate before they cooked up this program?”

The answer is “not great.” Looking at results for the July 2011 Pennsylvania bar (Duquesne is in PA), Duquesne students posted a 78.33% bar passage rate. That’s not terrible, we’re not talking about Thomas Jefferson Law over here. But the school’s pass rate left Duquesne 7th out of 10 “Pennsylvania area” schools the state bar tracked. Obviously, improvements can be made.

But is this the way to do it? From the Duquesne letter (which one reader took a picture of):

Our tipster described the letter and the requirement as “insulting.” He said that while he didn’t perform amazingly during his first year, his grades (and job prospects) have rebounded.

There is one way to get out of the class that you will be “automatically” enrolled in if you don’t register by July 31st. Duquesne is calling it a waiver, but really it’s a test:

Our tipster says:

Of course, there is no waiver involved here because you have to get a certain score on the test in order to “waive” the class. I forgot to mention that the waiver test is AFTER the school year begins, so even if I were play their game and pass this ridiculous test, I would lose the courses I had scheduled originally.

We reached out to Duquesne Law Dean Ken Gormley about the new policy, but the school has not yet responded to our request for comment. (UPDATE (5:57 PM): The school has since responded; see below.)

Inventing a mandatory class for 3Ls a few weeks before the semester starts seems extraordinary. But the thought here isn’t all bad. Maybe if Duquesne made this mandatory going forward for the class of 2015, instead of lassoing the class of 2013 with this requirement ex post facto, it’d be easier to see the utility of the program.

I’ve said, repeatedly, that the third year of law school is a shocking waste of time and money. 1L year is when you learn the stuff that is going to be most applicable on the bar exam. If students struggle with that instruction, it makes sense to offer, or even require, remedial training.

But that’s not an excuse for the school to be making up requirements as it goes along. Springing it on 3Ls weeks before classes start makes the Duquesne administration look like they’ve adopted a panicky overreaction rather than a considered new program. If they made the program optional, I’m sure a bunch of students would sign up. The use of force seems almost unnecessary.

Of course there is a larger issue here that won’t be solved at Duquesne or probably anywhere else: shouldn’t law schools be teaching core competencies for legal practice ALL THE TIME? The fact that Duquesne is tacitly admitting that you can get through three years of Duquesne Law and receive a diploma without being ready to pass the bar exam is damning.

Not just to Duquesne specifically, but to our general system of legal education. If 3L year isn’t already getting people to pass the bar and practice, then what the hell are they charging the students for?

UPDATE (5:57 PM): Here is Duquesne’s full response, which they provided after this story was initially published:

The faculty this year overwhelmingly approved the addition to the curriculum of this new 4-credit course, which is designed to enhance student proficiencies and enable students to succeed in their aspirations to excel in the practice of law. The overwhelming majority of students who will graduate in 2013 have already enrolled in this course as an elective, of their own volition. These students include members of the Duquesne Law Review, student leaders and others who are seeking to take advantage of this unique opportunity to focus on legal concepts that are tested on bar examinations and are immediately applicable in practice. Members of the Student Bar Association initially urged the faculty to adopt a course, for credit, that would reinforce and build upon student understanding of fundamental legal principles. As well, Duquesne’s Core Competencies Course is entirely consistent with ABA Standards that place increased emphasis on bar preparation and bar passage. Duquesne requires enrollment only for students who are most in need of the help that this course will provide. In the rare case that a student who is otherwise required to enroll does not wish to enroll in this course, he or she can waive out of the enrollment requirement in sufficient time to take advantage of the add/drop period by demonstrating a minimum level of proficiency on a standardized test. Finally, it is incorrect to suggest that this is a “remedial bar prep course.” To the contrary, it is a course that responds to the students’ expressed desires to put in place all available tools that will allow them to succeed and thrive in the practice of law and to be practice-ready when they graduate.

Check out the full letter on the next page. You’ll see the school is not trying to spare anybody’s feelings….


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