Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bar Exam Scores Decline

It has been a long time since my last post.  I have not been investigating the scam as frequently, so I have not had much new information to contribute.  Fortunately, one of our best posters came back recently from The Phantom Zone.

I just thought that I'd repost something that is making the rounds.  Apparently -- gasp -- it is true that law schools have been admitting students with even less aptitude.  For example, Dybbuk has hammered home the truth about open admissions at some of the worst T4 schools.

Overall, the classes that started in 2010 - 2011 have MBE bar exam pass rates far lower than previous classes.  Of course, Scam Dean Nick Allard of Brooklyn Law School has tried to fight back against the truth revealed by these numbers (apparently, he thinks that bad scoring is to blame).

http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/2014_1110_moesermemo.pdf

http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2014/11/10/decline-in-bar-exam-scores-sparks-war-of-words/?mg=blogs-wsj&url=http%253A%252F%252Fblogs.wsj.com%252Flaw%252F2014%252F11%252F10%252Fdecline-in-bar-exam-scores-sparks-war-of-words

53 comments:

  1. Not a problem. They'll just lower the standards required for passing the bar exam in order to to adjust for the increasing levels of stupidity.

    THAT is, after all, what the Dean of Brooklyn Law School is requesting that they do: accommodate his dumb students by lowering standards.

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    1. The MBE sets the scores; the state bar examiners determine what passing levels are. Some states will probably lower standards (i.e. the mountain west states with one T3 law school) but bigger states like CA and FL probably won't. I would bet money that the California Bar Examiners aren't going to lower standards to keep schools like Whittier and TJSL from embarrassing themselves. We can already see this in Michigan, which made its bar exam more difficult and Cooley's grads have about a 50% pass rate.

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    2. I think the path of least resistance is not having the states make the bar exams easier. I think what will happen instead is that the ABA Section on Legal Education will just lower the accreditation requirements, so that a school can be accredited even if the vast majority of its students fail the bar.

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    3. I agree. The ABA is loyal to making things easier for the schools and law partners, not the students, practitioners, graduates, or the remaining 95% of the bar. As evidence has shown, they don't care about hordes of unemployed law graduates, whether they are unemployed because of lack of jobs or because they didn't pass the bar.

      They'll make it so the schools can still maintain their accreditation but won't give a damn about changing anything so the students can pass their bars and actually practice in the field that they spent about $135,000 to enter.

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  2. Hell, before you know it ABA-accredited schools will admit you as long as the following two criteria apply to you as a candidate: (a) you graduate from an accredited 4 year college or university; and (b) you have no violent felony convictions on your record. But it's a "profession," right?!?!

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    1. The schools consider your second criteria flexible: http://sites.law.lsu.edu/civilian/2011/10/11/tulane-university-law-school-admits-1l-with-murder-conviction/

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    2. The first criterion is also flexible in some states—such as Michigan, and of course Cooley takes full advantage.

      The only real criterion will be the ability to pay—usually with student loans, but those able to put cash on the barrelhead are always welcome.

      Old Guy

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    3. "...(b) you have no *recent* *unjustified* violent felony convictions on your record'

      FIFY

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  3. As one who took and passed the July bar (and have found subsequent employment, which I will post about eventually in a "Am I part of the Scam" post) and was closely following everything to do with it, I do think there was something "off" about the July bar.

    The NCBE memo only cites a decline in the size of the graduating class of 2013 to the graduating class of 2014 (my cohort), not by more common measurements of student "quality," at least in the admissions process and projecting likelihood of bar passage IE: LSAT/UGPA.

    From my understanding, I think, controlling for difficulty and scaling of the bar exam, that there should not have been such a drop in the bar pass rates until next year. There might be a tendency to write off my concerns about the bar exam and pass rates as not being far enough removed from the circumstances, but we did not really hear about class size drops until the graduating class of 2015 started law school.

    Whether you agree with me or not, this much I think we can agree on: there is going to be a big push from law schools with historically lower bar pass rates to make the bar exam easier for the future graduating classes, who are without a doubt lower-credentialed than previous ones.

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    1. http://barprofessors.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/the-july-2014-bar-exam-results-why-your-mbe-scores-went-down/

      While certainly people who are paid to tutor bar takers have an interest in having more people retain their services, some of what the post has rings true to me: that the drop cannot be accounted for by what the NCBE says it is.

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    2. I also took and passed the July bar. The last essay question on the MEE, which if I remember correctly was a corporate law question, might as well have been written in Chinese for all the sense it made. It was just very poorly written.

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    3. A few things:

      1) I took the July 2012 bar. We had a corporate law MEE essay question that was brutal, out of the blue, and raised issues not discussed in any of the standard bar prep materials. Everyone thinks that their iteration of the bar examination was abnormally hard. It's not.

      2) The MBE is a normalized, standardized test. It STARTS with the (false) assumption that classes year-over-year should be equal as a basic premise of test set-up and verification. The MBE, in particular, is expressly designed to be reliable year-over-year in not being abnormally difficult or abnormally easy in one administration compared to the next. These are professional test-makers. The critics here are law deans or recent law students with biases up the wazoo.

      3) What happened is rather simple: the classes are not even. The 2007-2010 bumper crop had far more high achievers and curve-setters, and was overall more intelligent than the 2011-present applicant class. I'm not trying to be disparaging of anyone. It's right there, plain as day, in the LSAT/GPA numbers, applicant numbers, and institutions attended. If fewer Princeton grads are choosing law school and getting 165+ LSATs, then less-intelligent people are taking their seats, and the bottom end of the curve simply cannot keep up.

      So what you have right now going forward is a group of less-bright students being compared to a group of students at the historical high point of applying to law school.

      They're pouring even more resources into getting the bottom-tier students over the hump than ever before, and they still can't do it. That's because at below a 150 LSAT, the odds of passing the bar drop dramatically. Don't worry, Antrio. When the Class of 2016 hits the MBE, they're going to make your class look like geniuses.

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    4. Do you have info in the LSAT/GPA numbers? It was my understanding, and I could be wrong, that the Class of 2014 was very close to the Class of 2013 in terms of raw numbers.

      I think that even if there is a slight decline, it doesn't explain the very large dips that we saw this year. They were big. Failure rates increased by as much as 30% or more in some states.

      Based on the raw numbers I wouldn't have expected this to occur for another year or two unless the NCBE has been tinkering with their exam, and it looks like they have been. For instance, they are no longer releasing raw scores, and to make year-to-year comparisons even harder, they are adding a CivPro section for the MBE starting February.

      I don't have any "need" to prove that my class isn't able or not able when it comes to passing the bar exam, I just don't think that the NCBE is being completely honest when they blame everything on pure numbers of graduates.

      http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/enrollment_degrees_awarded.authcheckdam.pdf

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    5. @ 6:02, the criticism is that the historic decline in passage rate is disproportionate to the modest drop in student quality between the classes matriculating in 2010 and 2011.

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    6. @6:35: The problem is that even a modest decline can cause a sizable shift later on, mostly because law schools go by 25/50/75 percentiles on two separate numbers and try to game both as high as possible. If a law school has a significant drop-off from 0-24%, there is no way the public would know that absent true transparency and auditing. That exact same group (as law deans well know) is often the one who determines whether there will be an 90% pass rate or a 75% pass rate.

      Unless we have the 0 - 24% numbers for law schools from 2011 admissions, there's no way we can conclude anything is "disproportionate."

      It makes far more sense to simply conclude that it's the students, not the tests. Occam's Razor.

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    7. " I just don't think that the NCBE is being completely honest when they blame everything on pure numbers of graduates."

      In a credibility battle, who's more impeachable, the NCBE, or lower-tiered law schools?

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    8. Your hypothesis, then, 7:19, is that schools try to game the percentiles by attracting more full freight paying idiots who are likely to fail the bar exam, but also more very high scoring students (likely with the aid of substantial scholarships) to keep the median LSATs numbers healthy.

      Since most bar failures come from the bottom 10% of each law school class (outside fifth tier dumpster fires like Cooley and TJSL), even a modest increase in this very bottom group can lead to significant declines in bar passage.

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    9. In my casual browsing of LST, I've seen lots of 25th percentile slippage (small drops at 75/50, bit drop at 25). A lot of bottom-feeder schools have extended their lower tails to fill seats.

      I've also noticed a recurring feature where the GPA holds, but the LSAT scores drop. I'll bet that a lot of the bottom-tier schools are getting more applicants from worse colleges.

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    10. Some have made very interesting points in regards to the numbers below the 25% median LSAT/GPA. As they aren't reported, they could be very, very low and account for the increase of bar failures.

      And yet the increases in failure rates still seems to me to be much higher than what would have occurred if the NCBE hadn't tinkered with the exam. Anecdotally, some people that I have interacted with who have taken the February and the July bars have said that the July MBE was significantly different.

      Whatever the case may be: we are in uncharted territory regarding bar exam pass rates and legal education admission standard:

      1) The NCBE is adding Civil Procedure starting February.

      2) Overall, the entering credentials of the successive classes are significantly lower than in years past.

      Finally, add the charted territory of top quartile students transferring up out of lower ranked law schools.

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    11. One thing that's been mentioned before is that many of the bottom-feeder schools have students with LSAT scores so low that there aren't hard numbers on likely bar passage rate, because there weren't many. It was known that they were in the region where the probability drops sharply, and I think that we're getting the numbers to find out just how sharply.

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  4. I know that at least some state bars are holding the line. When I took the Tennessee bar exam just over a decade ago, the pass rate typically fluctuated between 75 and 80%. I think the most recent exam the pass rate was down to 66%.

    It's also interesting that the prof from Brooklyn assumes the test must be scored incorrectly since the LSAT medians had not changed. Medians are just that, medians, and schools have been gaming that number for years. A 163 median simply requires that the middle of the class be 163 or above. It doesn't mean that the bottom half of the class can't be filled with very low scores.

    In fact, the reason that law schools choose to use the median, as opposed to the mean, is to obscure the scores of the lower half of the class....their "cash-paying customers," which are often in a completely different score set than the upper half of the class, sometimes wildly so.

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    1. If you look at Brooklyn's stats, the 25% LSAT dropped. That's where the bar exam decline ultimately comes from, the sub-median, sub-25% crowd. Same with GPAs. And I would bet money the undergrad institutions and majors got less prestigious as well.

      Does Dean Allard really want to start auditing bar exam results? Because methinks that would mean auditing exactly whom Brooklyn let in the door 3 years ago.

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    2. That's a good point. Comparing medians does not tell you much unless you also know the standard deviations.

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    3. Doesn't Tennessee have that new unaccredited law school? That would explain it.

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    4. BamBam: My "A" in statistics is a bit rusty, having been earned 39 years ago. Can you please "flesh out" your comment, particularly the relationship between differences in median values compared to standard deviation values? I think you are saying that differences in median values can mean nothing, or little, unless you know how much the LSAT scores are dispersed (increase/decrease in range) from the mathematical average, or perhaps the median.

      In English, a huge difference in median values means little if the standard deviation values are such that the range of values of scores from both years generally overlap. (By definition, there will always be LSAT scores of at least one population of LSAT scores outside the range of the other, and could be both.) If the median of the later LSAT test is higher, then it will generally have a higher set of test scores, but not necessarily very many, depending on the relative standard deviation values.
      If I have not got this right, send an onion, otherwise a "gold star" will be fine.
      (I suspect that not too many folks following this are on top of their statistics game. I did well in math, but statistics makes my head hurt.)
      Thanks.
      -Cincinnatus

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    5. Cincinnatus--it's been a while since I took statistics too. My point is that averages (mean or median) do not give any idea how wide the range is within a population, e.g. how many outliers in either direction there are. Standard deviation is a measure of how widely values vary in a given population.

      Applying this to the subject of this post, let's say there are two classes of law school graduates--A and B. Their median LSAT is the same but school A has admitted more bottom-of-the-barrel types in its desperation to keep the money coming in. So even though the median LSAT is the same, school A will likely have a lower bar passage rate due to having a large cluster of students further below the median than does school B.

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    6. Here is how to understand the point:

      Group 1: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 - the median is 50.
      Group 2: 5, 10, 50, 60, 70 - the median is 50.

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    7. JeffM--thanks, thats the point I was trying to make but your comment is a lot more clear than mine lol.

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    8. 6:20: That unaccredited school in Tennessee is doing very well:

      http://lmu1.lmunet.edu/cgi-bin/MySQLdb?VIEW=/news/view_one.txt&newsid=1723

      http://law.lmunet.edu/2014/04/11/lmu-duncan-school-of-law-graduates-show-strong-performance-on-tennessee-bar-exam/

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  5. When Brooklyn goes under Dean Allard should relocate to Iraq. I hear they still haven't hired a replacement for Baghdad Bob.

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  6. It'll be easier for those that failed to get a job than it was for me, a lawyer with a couple years of lawyer experience. 'I failed the bar exam' is more credible to an HR hack at an insurance company than 'There are no lawyer jobs.'

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  7. Illinois Attorney here.

    The Illinois Bar Journal, November 2014, Vol 102, No. 11, must read articles:
    .
    1. Is Discharging Student Loan Debt In Bankruptcy Getting Easier?, by Paul B. Porvaznik.

    2. Are We Ready For 'Practice Ready'? [sic] by Hon. Ron Spears.

    3. 2014 Compensation & Benefits Survey 5 Key Findings by Timothy A. Slating. (Key finding, in Illinois, based on respondents' info, annual income from 0$ to $149,000 comprises 6% of the attorneys in Illinois.)

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    1. Sadly, those articles are gated.

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    2. Sadly, those articles are gated.

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    3. IL Atty:

      You should be able to get to Article #3:

      http://www.isba.org/ibj/2014/11/2014compensationbenefitssurvey5keyf

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    4. Imagining The Open ToadNovember 12, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      Thank you. Regarding #3, could you please explain what "annual income from 0$ to $149,000 comprises 6% of the attorneys in Illinois" means?

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  8. I despise what those deans are doing, but occasionally I feel sorry for them. It must have been shocking to them that the legal admissions market fell part as quickly as it did. Especially at private second and third tier schools, the deans and professors have gone from respected gatekeepers of a supposedly prestigious profession, whose decisions between highly qualified applicants could supposedly make or break their careers...to shameless carnival barkers who feel relieved that anyone shows up at all.

    Brooklyn, for example, as recently as 2010 had an entering class of nearly 500 students. The 25th percentile LSAT was 162, with a 75th percentile of 166. For 2013, the 75th percentile score of 161 was lower than the previous 25th percentile. In other words, more than half the students at Brooklyn in 2013 would have had no chance of admission three years earlier. I'm sure this is apparent in their interactions with students and the quality of class discussion, and the private thoughts of those deans and professors must be sad and discouraging. No doubt they try to find someone else to blame for the increasing bleakness of their fantasy lives. Five years ago they were going to change the world, and now it's hard to get up in the morning.

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    1. To be fair to these Deans, the job market was stronger once upon a time. Pre-2008, most law school graduates could get a law job, albeit a good number of them would be doing contract work OR work at a small firm making peanuts. Still, that was a job "practicing law," and there was the possibility to move upwards, laterally or into other specialties.

      Also, back when job hiring was robust more generally, lawyers WERE being hired in non-law jobs all the time. It was much easier to leave the law for something else, and the JD wasn't so much an obstacle (as it seems to have become today).

      However, where I do fault Deans is in the way they've acted post-2008. The entire culture of legal practice has changed, and now mobility between jobs is gone (and it's unlikely to come back, unless the lawyer supply shrinks). The JD is now seen as an obstacle, given the changes in other industries too. Law schools should have adjusted accordingly, but they did not.

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    2. Look at gambling in the Northeast. Atlantic City casinos are dropping like flies. Connecticut's two Indian casinos are hurting badly, particularly the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwoods. Other states have grown weary of watching their citizens drop billions out of state and are allowing gambling. If they're going to gamble anyway, why not keep the money at home?

      Any idiot could see this was coming, and any idiot could see that ludicrous tuition hikes and opening dozens of new TTTs were unsustainable, even without knowing that the profession was going to start contracting.

      The scamdeans and lawprofs chose to believe that which justified their unjustifiable lifestyles. I see them as being worthy of zero sympathy.

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    3. @7:36 -- Actually, I'm not so sure the scam Deans did see it coming. Academics live in a total bubble, and can't often grasp what happens in the real world. I honestly believe most of these people were just oblivious to what was happening to their graduates.

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    4. @9:35 -- 7:36 here. I think you're making my point. I said any idiot could see it coming, I didn't say that scamdeans could. They saw only that which confirmed their self-interest.

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    5. Sorry, @1:19, but the scamdeans get no pity from me, because they are part of the problem, if not the cause. If they hadn't been so greedy and eager to increase tuition and get more and more butts in seats because it increased profits, there wouldn't be this problem. Yeah, we would have had an economic downturn that affected the legal field like it affected others. But this downturn has been exacerbated by an overwhelming surplus of graduates caused by deans who didn't care that they got jobs and just saw dollar signs in their eyes at the increases in revenue that more and more graduates brought.

      Even as it has become evident that we are graduating far more graduates than there are jobs for, you still have deans calling it a mere cyclical downturn. The only ones for which this is 'mere' are the deans.

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  9. In my state (DE), the bar exam is written and scored by senior practitioners, mostly in the big firms (where you find the practitioners with time to do that sort of thing). I hope they'll stand up to any pressure to lower admission standards.

    Does anybody know how the exams are done in other states?

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    1. A few years after I passed the CT bar exam I received a letter saying that in view of my exceptionally high score on the essays I was invited to be a (paid) exam grader. I declined, being an associate in a firm who had to make hours, and can only assume that it is still done that way.

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  10. We should compare schools and tiers. If there is little change among T14 or T1 results then the exam was consistent with previous years. 2013 and 1014 Classes there are very similar in quality.

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    1. 2013 and 1014 classes? Lawyers cant write no more! It is time to make those state bar exams more difficult. :)

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  11. See this post for a good explanation of the discrepancy between class quality decline and bar passage score drop: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/11/muller-class-of-2014-lsat-scores-.html

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  12. Things are looking pretty dismal in Illinois. Of course its well known that schools admit more students with crap test scores and nonexistent writing skills. Now that these poor misguided souls do not have the skills to pass the bar, the law school deans are upset that the State may raise the threshold passing score and make the exam harder claiming that there is no good reason to do so. The 90,000 licensed attorneys in Illinois might beg to differ.

    http://www.chicagolawbulletin.com/Articles/2014/11/12/Illinois-Bar-Exam-Scores-11-12.aspx

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  13. The likeliest explanation is that the 2014 graduating class was worse than previous years. The law schools carefully gamed the statistics for the 2011 entering class to hide how much worse LSAT/GPAs were. And this is only going to get worse as standards have dropped steadily since 2011.

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  14. I have read a few interviews with Allard, and he comes across as a braggart. Just my impression. But this brag from two months ago is ironic in light of the bar passage results that he is whining about.

    "Which brings me to our students. They are our purpose, not our excuse for having a law school. We are unwavering in admitting only those who we believe can do well in law school, pass the bar and land good jobs. Given their performance we can proudly say that we know how to pick ‘em."

    BLS Dean Nicholas Allard, September 14, 2014

    http://campus.lawdragon.com/2014/09/14/dean-limelight-brooklyn-law-school-nick-allard/

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  15. The median and 25% LSAT scores for Brooklyn Law's incoming class in 2011 (i.e., the class that took the 2014 bar exam) were 163 and 160. The median and 25% LSAT scores for St. Johns and Syracuse's entering class in 2011 were 160/154 and 155/153 respectively. Thus, the median and 25% LSAT numbers for Brooklyn were substantially better that St. Johns and Syracuse. However, both St. Johns and Syracuse had a higher pass rate than Brooklyn for the July 1014 New York bar exam (87% as opposed to 84.5%).

    I think that once you get below a certain number, bad LSAT scores (say below 150) translate into bad pass rates on the bar exam. However, when Brooklyn's 25% LSAT number for the entering class in 2011 was 160, I don't know that we can attribute its performance on the 2014 NY bar to declining admission standards. There is a certain amount of randomness when it comes to passing and failing the bar.

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