Monday, February 20, 2017
We noted awhile back Syracuse's impressive results on the July 2016 New York bar exam--a pass rate of 89%, fourth highest in the state, behind only Columbia, Cornell, and NYU, and ahead of Fordham, Cardozo, Brooklyn, Buffalo and others. I recently visited Syracuse, and talked with Professor Christian Day about the changes they made to achieve these results. He kindly gave me a written version to share; I'm sure this will be of interest to many schools. Professor Day writes:
In the later 1990s and early 2000s Syracuse had a terrible bar pass rate. One year it was dead last among the 15 New York law schools. A faculty ad hoc committee was created and it developed a program over several years.
Under Dean Hannah Arterian’s leadership the faculty adopted 1L and upper-class curves. The curves are centered on a low B (2.9-3.0) and approximately 8% of the 1L class is dismissed. Before the implementation of the curve, most of the students who were dismissed were re-admitted and placed on probation. But only 10% of that group passed the bar for the first time. With the new curve, a much smaller group of students is re-admitted and placed on probation. The Structured Curriculum, described below, and a comprehensive bar success program, which includes a staff member dedicated to the bar success effort have provided a foundation for achievement. We also inaugurated a comprehensive third year bar prep program. That program was mandatory for those on probation and voluntary for the balance of the student body.
A consultant worked with the College and confirmed that bar exam success was correlated to 1L class rank AND the number of so-called “bar courses” students had taken. Syracuse had a 90% pass rate for students in the upper 75-80% of the 1L class who had taken most of the bar courses for grade. Students who failed the exam took around four of those courses, often on a pass/fail basis. The faculty adopted the Structured Curriculum that requires all students on probation and those below a 2.50 average at the conclusion of the first year to take the following courses for grade: Commercial Transactions, New York Civil Procedure, Business Associations, Constitutional Criminal Procedure—Investigation and Adjudication, Wills and Trusts, Family Law, Evidence, and Foundational Skills for Professional Licensing (a bar prep course taught by faculty or staff that emphasizes exam prep and writing).
The efforts have borne fruit. In 2014 Syracuse and St. John’s tied for fourth place among the New York law schools. In 2016, with the adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam, Syracuse was again in fourth place behind NYU, Columbia and Cornell.