April 1, 2008
Isn't bar passage a terrible law school ranking metric?
Responding to Mark's post on US News rankings, co-blogger Anupam comments that a useful ranking metric "might be Bar Passage, adjusted to reflect the jurisdiction's overall bar passage rate." I could not disagree more, in part because I think bar passage is a very harmful aspect of the US News ranking system. Let me explain:
Bar passage rates tell us what percentage of a law school class has passed the — silly? culturally biased? poorly graded? — timed high-pressured test that many jurisdictions use as one barrier to being a licensed lawyer. I have long been troubled by bar exams for lots of reasons (too numerous to detail here), and I am especially troubled that US News gives these exams extra legitimacy through its ranking criteria. Let me (too) quickly explain my anti-bar bias:
1. I do not think the sole or chief goal of law schools is to help a student pass the timed high-pressured bar exam. Notably, major law schools clearly don't think this should be their sole or chief goal: if they did, law school classes would look and sound and operate much more like Bar-Bri classes.
2. Because law school is obviously about a lot more than bar passage, every rational law student (with sufficient resources) takes a bar prep course. Consequently, it seems fair to assume that bar passage rates reflect the quality of a bar prep course more than the quality of law school instruction.
3. Bar passage rates also, obviously, reflect the quality of the student body that a law school admits. But US News and other rankings already use a variety of other metrics to directly assess/reward the quality of the student body that a school admits.
4. In my view, students and faculty at most schools — at least those outside the top 10 — already obsess way too much about bar passage rates (in part because US News has used this as a metric). I do not want there to be even more energy focused on a timed high-pressured test that seems, in my view, to be pernicious in many ways.
Of course, I may be wailing on Anupam's comment principally because I have long wanted to wail on the craziness I see in bar exam realities. So, because I realize I may be blinded by my anti-bar biases, I would like to hear Anupam and others explain why bar passage might be a useful and valuable law school ranking metric.