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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dobranski Letter on AMSL Bar Exam Performance

From: Dobranski, Bernard
Sent: Tue 11/6/2007 10:13 AM
To: All Law System Distribution; All Alumni
Subject: Michigan Bar Results

11-06-2007 Michigan Bar Exams.pdf
As some of you may have heard by now, our graduates' performance on the Michigan Bar Exam this year was not as strong as we would have hoped for and have been accustomed to in the past. Although over two dozen of our graduates passed the Michigan bar, and reports received so far indicate that our test takers have performed better in other states, we had a higher percentage of failures in Michigan than in past years. This July, 26 out of 36, or 72 percent, of first-time test takers in Michigan passed. This ranks Ave Maria sixth among the six Michigan law schools. Obviously, this is disappointing to all of us. Strong bar passage rates have, since our beginning, been a hallmark of Ave Maria School of Law, and we are rightfully proud of our graduates' past succes and want to continue this tradition of achievement.

I, the Board of Governors, the Faculty, and the Administration at the Law School all take bar exam passage rates seriously. Unlike rankings and other more subjective evaluations, the bar exam is an important objective measure of the quality of our program of legal education and our students.

I believe it is useful to share with you some of what we at the Law School do to help prepare our graduates for success on the bar exam. First, and most importantly, we continue to provide a first-rate legal education. As you know, we are heavily focused on required classes, most of which address key subject areas tested on bar exams. In fact, Ave Maria requires its students to take more core classes than most other law schools. This curriculum has served our students well and I am committed to continuing it.

In addition, through the Academic Support program, the Career Services Office, and the Office of Student Affairs, among others, we offer extensive programming designed to help prepare students for the bar exam. For example, we bring several bar review companies to the campus to inform students about their products and what they can expect as the bar exam approaches. We present a panel discussion with alumni, faculty, and staff who share their advice on how to succeed on the bar exam. And, we bring character and fitness representatives from the State Bar of Michigan to discuss preparing the application to sit for the test. The unfortunate reality is that these lunchtime presentations are often sparsely attended.

Each year I, and members of the administration and faculty, emphasize to recent graduates the importance of taking the bar exam seriously and passing it the first time. I also strongly suggest that graduates enroll in a structured, formal bar review class and avoid working if at all possible. During Dean Castro's exit interview with each graduating student, she emphasizes the importance of taking some bar review course and encourages students to study hard for the bar exam. Dean Keesler and Dean Zyskowski repeatedly warn students of the importance and difficulty of the bar exam, and Ermin Gornik in alumni affairs has several initiatives each summer to help students even up to the day of the test itself. Finally, we have often helped students who are appealing their results in states that allow appeals.

Even with all of this support, however, it is obvious that we can and need to do more. Here are some more recent initiatives. First, I have for a second time recommended to the faculty Curriculum Committee that we offer a for-credit, elective class addressing bar exam preparation, which students could take in their third year of law school. Professor Jane Adolphe, the Chair of our Curriculum Committee, is already hard at work at this within the Committee. Second, in early September I established a new ad hoc committee dedicated to making our procedures more formal for helping students with bar exam appeals. This Committee just completed assisting a former student who took and failed the bar exam in another jurisdiction, and it stands ready to assist our Michigan test takers. In this regard, every Ave Maria student who failed the Michigan Bar Exam has already been contacted by a member of this Committee and offered assistance. We already know that at least three test takers were within two or three points of passing, and I am hopeful that the Committee can assist them in successfully appealing. Third, I have instructed Dean Keesler and others to increase their efforts to emphasize to recent graduates the importance of taking the bar exam seriously. Fourth, I will again emphasize to our faculty, especially those who teach first-year courses, that they must familiarize themselves with the bar exam questions in their subject areas and ensure proper coverage during their classes. Finally, we continue to contemplate what other forms of assistance we can provide to our students and graduates.

In summary, the Law School is committed to doing whatever it can to help students pass the bar exam. This is our institutional responsibility. The ultimate responsibility for properly preparing for the bar exam, however, resides with the test takers themselves. If test takers do not take advantage of the many opportunities we provide or respond to our many admonishments to prepare well, there is little else we can do to assist them.

Over the past few years, I have been made aware of anecdotal evidence that suggests that some of our graduates have not taken the bar exam seriously, as they should have. Accordingly, I have directed that we collect data about our test takers in Michigan and other states, focusing on the type and quality of bar preparation undertaken and other circumstances that may have contributed to bar exam failures. We should all remember that a strong performance on the bar exam is not a birthright or a gift that our graduates receive simply by attending Ave Maria. Our graduates have traditionally prepared intensively for the bar exam, and this hard work was reflected in prior passage rates. We continue to believe that we are offering an outstanding educational program and are preparing our students well for the bar exam. But strong performance on the bar exam is closely related to the quality of the test taker's preparation for the test, and without that hard work the results will likely suffer.

In conclusion, I challenge everyone in the law school community to work together and redouble our efforts, so that we can continue our tradition of strong results on bar exams.