Bar passage rates among U law students improve

Three years after initiating an ambitious plan to reach a goal of 100 percent bar passage and 100 percent professional employment placement among its law school graduates, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law has enjoyed a marked improvement in bar passage rates among its law school graduates.

New statistics released by the Utah State Bar this week show an increase in the number of U law school graduates who passed the bar on their first attempt. In 2015, 81 percent of 116 test-takers passed the Utah bar on their first attempt. In 2016, that number grew to 82 percent of the 104 students who took the test for the first time, and new results released this week from those who passed the bar show that 87 percent of 100 U students who took the Utah Bar exam in 2017 passed it on their first try. (Law graduates must pass the bar exam in order to become licensed to practice law in a particular state).

The news of better bar passage rates among students is encouraging to administrators who have implemented changes in curriculum and training to improve the bar passage outcomes for law graduates, said Robert Adler, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“Improving our bar passage rates is critical in two related respects,” said Adler. “Improved performance on the bar exam shows how well prepared our students are at graduation, but it is also the last hurdle our students must overcome to use their law degrees for most of the jobs they seek.”

Adler announced the 100/100 initiative in 2015 at the grand opening ceremony for the law school’s state-of-the-art building, which is designed to enhance innovation in legal education, bolster community service and provide students with new opportunities for skills training.   

The U’s improved scores come at a time when law schools across the country have seen bar passage rates dip, casting a cloud over legal educators generally. While the root cause of the decline has been hotly debated, the U, which traditionally enjoys a higher-than-average bar passage rate, has achieved further improvement through a combination of innovation and hard work, Adler said. Strategies have focused on efforts to identify those students who have struggled early in their law school career, and to give them more focused help throughout law school rather than waiting for last-minute cramming just before the bar exam. The college also increased its staff devoted to that task.

Adler wanted to find a way to inspire law students to keep pushing for excellence on the bar while bringing a message of positivity to the bleak narrative plaguing bar passage among law students nationally in recent years. To drum up support for the 100/100 initiative, he even trained and completed a 100-mile trail run in 2016.

The 100/100 initiative also includes concrete strategies to help  students secure rewarding jobs following graduation. For example, the law school started to connect every law student with a practicing lawyer mentor through its Mentor U program. Since 2015, students have also had access to new incubator programs and rural lawyer placement to help graduates connect with employment opportunities in underserved communities. The school has also used its new building to focus more on intensive student-faculty learning opportunities through one-on-one and small group work, Adler said.