Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Using the LSAT as a Predictor for Bar-Passage Rates, so as to Not Throw Eager Students into the Abyss

Recently, David Frakt asked the question again about LSAT scores being indicative of bar-passage rates in his post on the Infilaw Schools, and it reminded me of the kerfluffle that has occurred between various scamdeans on the one hand and the National Council of Bar Examiners not so long ago.
To recap: for scamdeans and other interested persons desperate to justify their existence, it's wrong to deny opportunities to law students, especially URMs, just based on an entrance test.  For the NCBE, a few intellectually-honest law profs, and even the ABA (if you read their often-not-enforced regulations, at least), it's wrong to allow students to pay $200k over three years to only pull the rug out at the end because they are unable to get their bar license.
At the core of the debate is the question as to whether or not (1) the LSAT actually predicts success on the bar exam, and (2) whether there is enough data to say so one way or the other.  While I am no Professor of Statistics by any means, it doesn't take much work, either, to come up with answers of (1) a qualified yes, and (2) a qualified yes.  This is based on three years of bar passage data for 200+ law schools that has been complied by Law School Transparency - which translates to approximately 600 data points.  The results are below:

Given the correlation of 0.51, there is arguably a trend here. To start off, the question of LSAT predictability is more complicated than a simple function box, and no one has ever seriously claimed otherwise.  This, after all, makes practical, experiential sense - the idea that only one variable (median LSAT) is the only factor that influences outcome (first-time bar passage percentage) is an oversimplification. However, to say that there is no correlation whatsoever and the LSAT should be thrown out is also self-serving Cartel-dishonesty, and takes us back to the feuds between the establishment deans and the NCBE over what this data means in the first place. Obviously, several factors would logically and likely apply here to give a better predictor for bar-exam performance, but what those factors are, and how to quantify them, are an ongoing matter of debate.

Second, scatter in the data is not license to throw out the conclusion that LSAT scores are a predictor. Horizontally, for example, you find 90%-plus first-time bar passage rates at a median LSAT of 150 and up. Notable, however, is that the number of sub-170 scores that can claim this are not numerous, and there are no sub-150 data points that can claim this at all. Further, the variance in the 90%-plus passage rates data decreases as you approach 170-175, as can be seen from the triangular grouping of the raw data.* There are no sub-90% data points at 170-175.
Vertically, the spread in passage rates can vary as much as 40-50% at a median LSAT of 150, for example. By the same token, that variance narrows significantly as you approach 160, 170, and 175. The data does "cluster," and that clustering has significance. Again, what does that mean? Zip codes matter? Students matter? Schools matter? As stated above, something is going on here, and it certainly has something to do with that elusive term, "caliber."
So, the scamdean canard that "anyone deserves a chance and can pass the bar exam, regardless of low gate-keeping predictors" may carry some weight, but again, the LSAT is indicative of bar passage rates, full stop. The trendline would suggest that even a school with a median of 120 would have 1-in-3 students that pass the bar, which could be somewhat believable (hey, Cooley passes half their students with a median 146). In light of ABA regulations, the questions remain that "should that student be admitted to law school in the first place," and "what does it mean that someone who scores a 120 could pass the bar exam on occasion," among others. One might even question the value of the bar exam in the first place, or why a costly three-year program of study is required as opposed to apprenticeship, if the goal is to get quality lawyers out there who may do poorly on a standardized test, pre- or post-law school, yet can still kick-ass in the courtroom.
And the GRE substitution for acceptance to law school is just "new clothes" anyway, buying a few years for desperate law schools to get more student loan money until the same trend in LSATs becomes apparent in GRE scores and the same policy argument is made all over again. Schools like Harvard can afford to be magnanimous and "lead" the way on this count, as they get a ton of 170+ LSAT takers and the results are plain to see as regards bar passage. No big risk there. Lower-tier schools, however, not so much.
In conclusion - while there are certainly "diamonds in the rough" out there, (and, personally, I readily apply the "rough" designation to myself despite my so-called "success"), it's just too big a gamble to throw caution and $200k to the wind for trite, hackneyed notions of "defending liberty" and "pursuing justice." There are already too-many lawyers and the legal market is shrinking.  Young people should not be used up and discarded in so callous a fashion, law school scam or not - but, somehow, the Cartel reasons otherwise... 
*Interestingly, U of Wisconsin and Marquette University both report 100% pass rates for the three years considered. WTF? Harvard and Yale only squeaked by in the mid-90s on average. It's like Wisconsin schools don't understand the question being asked by the ABA...or maybe it's that basking in the glow of the Great Lakes and Canada, nearby, bumps American pass rates off the chart. What then, explains Cooley...?


  1. Wisconsin allows bar passage via "Diploma Privilege", hence 100% 'pass' rate...

    1. Ah, that's it, thank you. Had forgotten about that particular tidbit...

  2. Law profs are greedy and lazy. They will discount anything that interferes with their privilege to take advantage of innocent and poor law students. The liberals will even admit minority law students who have no chance of passing the bar so that they can continue to receive their undeserved, high salaries.Social justice is bs.

  3. Passing the bar is easy. Getting a decent career in law, with a reasonable return on your investment, well, that's another matter entirely.

  4. This is very interesting data and some good analysis by dupednontraditional. There is a lot of variation in bar passage rates in the 150 score range. Some of those data points are probably just outliers. But there is still a large standard deviation if the outliers are disregarded.

    The variation may be due to the interaction of the student’s aptitude and the quality of the school. The LSAT is an aptitude test while the bar exam is an achievement test. Aptitude tests like the LSAT, MCAT, and GRE evaluate a person’s ability to learn a skill or subject. Achievement tests like the bar measure the amount of knowledge a person has acquired. So individuals with better aptitude to learn the law, will more likely acquire the knowledge needed to pass the bar, regardless of the quality of the education. On the other hand, individuals in the 150 range and below, will have more difficulty acquiring the knowledge needed to pass the bar. The success of these individuals is more dependent on the quality of the legal education they receive. If the scam deans and professors put in more effort into teaching their less than stellar students rather than writing worthless articles about the LSAT and the bar exam, they might not be in this predicament.

    The other variable at play is the student’s work ethic. Achievement tests do not evaluate intelligence or aptitude. They simply test knowledge that has been acquired. Students with a high degree of intelligence and aptitude could probably slack off and still pass the bar exam. A less intelligent, but hard working student can probably overcome their deficiencies and pass the bar as well. But some of these students at bottom tier law schools, with GPAs in the 2.0s and LSATs in the 130s-140s, do not have the work ethic, intelligence, or aptitude to learn the law and will most likely fail the bar.

    1. Great points.

      I was surprised to see how much spread there was at 150, given the argument I've seen several times that "no one with a 150 should be admitted, ever." On the other hand, maybe it is precisely because the triangle is so wide at 150 and narrows sharply as LSAT scores increase that people in the 150s should not be admitted. Arguments either way.

  5. To Anonymous at 5:54: Why is passing the bar exam easy? Look at California and Florida. More than half the people sit for the bar exam and aren't licensed by their respective state bars. However, I am more interested in analyzing the reason behind this.


    Today the State Bar of California released the results of the July 2017 California Bar Exam, and announced that 4,236 people (49.6 percent of applicants) passed the General Bar Exam. If those applicants satisfy all other requirements for admission, they will be eligible to be licensed by the State Bar to practice law in California.


    In July, 3,247 applicants took the Bar Examination in Tampa, and 1,553 candidates were approved for admission to The Florida Bar. For any questions about the results, you can call the Florida Board of Bar Examiners office at (850) 487-1292.

    In my humble opinion, if the ABA mandated that law schools require a 155+ minimum LSAT, these bar passage rates would be 90%. However, doing a cost-benefit analysis, what would motivate the ABA to act in such a manner.

    Look at Harvard Law School. Harvard for all intensive purposes is the gold torch for every Law School in the country. Harvard recently just allowed the GRE to be an alternative. Through Harvard, many law schools will now follow this model where the GRE will now be the model instead of the LSAT.

    What will be the result of all of this? Bar passage rates will continue to fall decrease as people gaming the system with high GPAs and low LSATs but who will rather take the GRE will flood the law school application market and 3 years later, they will likely fail the bar exam.

    However, there is one ultimate Trump card that I believe the ABA even knows. If the Prosper Act passes, expect open season.

    For instance, consider the argument set forth here, "http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2017/12/a-looming-asteroid-for-law-schools.html"

    We live in interesting times.

  6. To 8:51.

    I am a Senior in College and am applying to law school. My real dream is to be a Public Defender like Dybbuk. However, what I've noticed is that the "George Soros" boogeyman of the right very much deserves this label.

    It scares me that George Soros and his billions of dollars have essentially tainted the criminal justice system.

    Consider http://dailysignal.com/2016/12/19/the-staggering-campaign-of-liberal-billionaire-george-soros-to-swing-local-prosecutor-elections/

    Out of the 12 Public Defender races he funded which were predominantely Hispanic and African American indiviudals, 10 won!

    What is the end result?

    3 days into new job, Philadelphia DA Krasner fires 31 staff members

    Scary stuff! All those law professors at Harvard Yale Stanford write precious scholarship about criminal law but George Soros with his $$$ has more than all them combined when you think about it.

  7. The bar exam is a standardized test. It is therefore not surprising that people who do poorly on tests such as the LSAT have difficulty passing the bar. There is always an argument to be had against bar exams, and their purpose, but as long as they exist they will be standardized, given the costs of individualized evaluation.

    I personally think there should be a minimum score on the LSAT to attend Law School. Something comparatively low such at 144 or 145. If an exemption should exist, it should be for prospective law students who have low LSAT scores but high undergraduate GPAs. However typically there appears to be a correlation between low LSAT scores and lower GPAs. I wish there were an outcomes study on students with high GPAs and low LSAT scores, to see if they had better performance on the bar exam.

  8. I'm not really sure about the validity of the LSAT regarding passing the bar in that it can be prepared for and the score significantly increased. And passage of the Bar is dependent on how you approach the exam. My first Bar exam (more than 30 years ago) was Louisiana and I studied my rear end off. learning much of the material for the first time, having missed it in Law School. No multistate .. 10 essays... passed. A year later with much less effort I passed the Pa. exam . . I was working full time at the time in New Orleans for a mid tier defense firm. Final Bar a few years later...Florida and aced the exam with barely trying. Having practiced law,even in a non-common law state made the exam imho easy. I also believe the Florida exam was so much easier because I did not sweat the details...but made sure I understood broad concepts. I think many fail the bar because they freak out, spend too much time on the detail and ignore the bigger picture. I just believe that if you are smart enough to graduate from Law School, regardless of the LSAT score (which again can be gamed)..you should be smart enough to pass the bar. Also passed the Board Trial Law Certification in Florida with not much effort. As I recall, my LSAT was pretty poor...based on Grammar...not my best subject..although I did pretty well in my SAT (the old SAT from the 70's). I have little trouble reading and digesting case law and understanding legal issues. I just don't think this stuff is rocket science.

    1. I think you are making OP's point - if you did indeed have a "low" LSAT, yet managed to succeed, then you are one of the ones who made the cut. There are lots who didn't, though, and when you look at the pattern on the plot, it's something to consider carefully. Personally, I think it's more about economics and the price of a law degree just to get in the door to take the bar exam.

      That said, the data is from 2010-2012, and your points on how to study comes into it. A different style (maybe better) bar exam, like the one you took, might change how the picture looks also. Essays show some degree of comprehension, MBEs show how good you are at gaming the test after a while - just look at the SAT, GRE, ACT, LSAT, etc.

  9. To 2:56:

    I too have passed 4 different bar exams. California, Florida, New York, and Connecticut.

    It cracks me up seeing lawyers walking around like they run shit. Anyone with half a brain knows now that Silicon Valley is where the real power is.

    Google (newspapers, the liberal arts education), Amazon(retail stores) Facebook, Twitter, Tesla (getting the electric car going) Netflix (cable tv) AirBNB (hotels) are all killing industries one by one.


    Even these bitcoins and other currencies such as litecoin, ethereum are taking on the Wall Street Banksters that caused the 2008 Financial currencies.

    Now even all the startups for legal nonsense are annihilating Sullivan and Cromwell and all those worthless law firms.


    To me, the North East ruling elite with their fancy Ivy Leaguges are old news. California is the future. I have a 17 year old son and I have flat out told him he is going to school for STEM or he can live on the street!

    1. "I have a 17 year old son and I have flat out told him he is going to school for STEM or he can live on the street!"

      I'm sure he is thrilled you are telling him how he should spend his life...especially if he hates or is not good at math. You must have a great relationship.

    2. You are right 6:04, not only about the changes in the economy but also the changes in education. Schools like Stanford are better than many of the Ivy League schools.

      According to the BEA, real GDP increased 51.5% between 1997 and 2016. But the real GDP of the legal services sector declined 2.6% since 1997. Think about that. The economy grew about 52% over a 20 year period. Yet the legal services industry declined almost 3% over a 20 year period. Of course, during that period, ABA law schools churned out 40k+ additional lawyers a year.

      Compare law to the STEM fields. According to the BEA, the real GDP of the computer systems design industry grew 288% between 1997 and 2016. Data processing, internet publishing, and other information services grew 306%. The manufacture of computer and electronic products grew 712%. The health care industry grew 60.6%. Oil and gas extraction grew 44.4%.

      Perusing the BEA data by industry, there are very few industries that declined over the last 20 years. One industry that declined about the same rate as law was the mining industry (excluding oil and gas). Miners do not need to wait three years and pay a $150k+ entrance fee to enter their declining profession. And politicians and the public feel sorry for them. But lawyers need to pay $150k and give up three years of income “studying” the law in order to enter the glutted legal profession. And nobody feels sorry for struggling lawyers. In fact, politicians are always actively trying to pass laws to further limit the ability of lawyers to file lawsuits or collect judgments.

      Keep your son away from law. Convince him to enter a STEM field.

    3. STEM has been gutted for awhile, but that's the difference between the elites and the poors.

      The poors attack their children, threaten them with poverty, and refuse to lift a finger to help them.

      The elites just rig things to benefit their children every step of the way.

      A 17 year old child doesn't have the wisdom of the world or networks to use. That is the parent's job.

      The elites know this. They set things up. They believe in legacy, that a family unity is about the older members helping the younger ones, and then in return the younger ones establish themselves and take care of their older parents.

      The poors shit over their children, their children struggle and scrape, the market turns and the older parents are no longer such hot shit, and then the grown children just shove them into nursing homes where minimum wage health workers watch the old farts rot and die.

      You reap what you sow. The elites deserve their wealth and their legacies and their better outcomes if the poors insist on behaving like such animals.

    4. Before calling the "poors" animals, remember that they don't have the same options as the élites: they lack money, information, networks, contacts, opportunities.

    5. IMO, he's right (Grouse).

      I noticed this some time ago. Successful parents "invest" in their children all they can. If that means a tutor for the LSAT, they do it. If it means "XYZ", they do "XYZ".

      I experienced this behavior in my own life and it set me back greatly. My parents took every opportunity to shit all over me when I was working my ass off in college and it hurt me. That, in turn, set me far, far back for graduate school as my GPA was adversely affected.

      "Poors" parents simply do not think. They fail to plan, etc. and this, in turn, affects their children and the cycle repeats.

      Note: Grouse didn't call the poors animals. He said they ACTED LIKE animals, i.e. not thinking. And this, IMO, is quite true. They do.

      I noticed long ago that non-Poors thinking parents "invested" in their children to the exclusion of all else. And they do. Nothing to them is more important.

      Poors parents are short-term. They don't think about the day they'll need their kids to take care of them and when that day comes, the Poors kids cannot do it because they were shit on by their parents.

      IMO, Grouse is entirely correct. It's about belief in family and legacy. Poors don't display this behavior. They fail to think of the future or their actions in any meaningful way. In this, they are no better than animals.

  10. They let me in with my 160 LSAT, I graduated in the middle of the pack, passed the bar on the first try, and... POW. Executed by the job market. Working non-law now.

    1. Hey, at least you fit the mold of an approximate 82% pass rate...! FWIW...? Hopefully the non-law world is treating you better, regardless.

  11. To me, the funniest thing about law school is the whole “international law” thing. First and foremost, there is no such thing as “international law.” Where was “international law” when Bush and Cheney had 600k Iraqis killed for oil? If anything ever comes close to international law, it is the International Monetary Fund who controls the global economy.

    To anyone who studies political science knows, the US has gone around spreading Democracy and Capitalism through the Cold War. To be honest, I love Trump. The US through Trump is making America, China, India, Russia, and the whole world great again! I love Trump! Look at Walmart!

    What is hilarious to me is that kids go to these elite prep schools in the North East then go to the Ivy League and then go to the Ivy League Law schools and learn International law from a bunch of people who went to the Ivy League.

    These people don’t really know the struggle that is international law. They don’t know what it’s like to see real poverty, real struggle, real human rights violations. They don’t know what its like to have family members killed because of US policy during Cold War.

    They read their fancy books and whatever else and get lectured to by Ivy League scholars who all went to the same elite prep schools. No matter how much these Ivy league kids study and how many classes they do well in, they will always be a FOREIGNER to the real practice that is international law.

    To me, international law is summed up by the great Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
    “There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us … First, China doesn't export Revolution; second, China doesn't export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn't come and cause you headaches, what more is there to be said?”

    1. International law does exist, but not really as a form of law: it's rather a set of unenforceable conventions that the powerful states—especially the US—invoke when it suits them and disregard otherwise. It is not a field of practice for lawyers. Nonetheless, every toilet law school from Maine to California eagerly promotes "international law" as a career.

    2. International law is not a field of practice for lawyers? But about 90 ABA toilet law schools offer an LLM in international law! Whittier and Valpo are on the ABA's list of international law programs though. We may see more competition for those coveted seats in international law LLM programs. Certainly an LLM from Golden Gate in international legal studies will lead to a job at the UN or Hague as an international law attorney. Goldman Sachs must be recruiting grads of John Marshall's LLM in international business and trade law.

    3. A toileteer coming out of Valpo (Whittier, of course, is defunct) can't expect much better than a job doing low-grade defense of insurance claims. That would actually be quite a good outcome for a Valponian lemming. But Valpo doesn't offer any LLM or other specialty in insurance claims; instead, it pretends that its dipshit graduates are going to work in international law. Somehow it seems unlikely that states and international organizations such as the UN would entrust questions of international law to the graduates of a toilet school in small-town Indiana.

      Again, no school offers an LLM in document review, low-grade insurance claims, low-grade criminal defense, low-grade personal injuries, low-grade wills, low-grade divorces, or other areas in which a typical graduate of an undistinguished law school (and at least 190 of them are undistinguished) might conceivably work. No, they're all too busy offering LLMs in international law, environmental law, sports law, entertainment law, and other flashy fields that either don't exist or are so tiny that not even a graduate of Harvard can expect to break into them.

    4. Speaking of international law, don’t panic over the loss of Whittier and Valpo’s international law programs. We may have a new law school that focuses exclusively on international law!

      Ray Mancera, a member of the El Paso Law School Initiative, a group seeking a new law school in El Paso, Texas, told Fox 14 that he would like the school to be an international school. Mancera said, “An international law school makes a lot of sense, because anybody who graduates with a law degree and specializes in international law will be much sought after by large companies in the U.S. to represent their companies abroad.”

      You may ask, but why don’t students in El Paso just attend one of the nine Texas law schools, including UT law, one of the top law schools in the nation? Well, Mancera said, “It’s not just the economics, it’s not just the education. It’s also about family. Why should they have to leave when they can stay here and keep enjoying mom's cooking, and what El Paso has to offer?” 

      Over on tax prof blog, UNE pointed out that only 66% of 2016 graduates of Texas law schools obtained a FT, LT, bar passage required job.


    5. El Paso is in BFE compared to the rest of the state, so in some ways it makes geographic sense. That said, all this is about is getting a law school to the valley, nothing more...

  12. I used to religiously read Inside the Law School Scam by the Professor Paul Campos at the University of Colorado Law School. I remember him talking about all these law school kids going into law school for politics.

    I to this day remember Paul Campos said in one of his comments, "Sure, let's find this mythical Obama character."

    I then read this post

    I wonder if anyone in the Law Class of 2017 who have now graduated law schools and are members of the Bar Organizations in good standing have failed out of law school, been readmitted due to an ABA 505 letter, and then passed the bar exam on their FIRST time. I doubt any such figure exists.

    If this person exists, I wonder if they would be willing to sell the rights to the story to have a movie/book made about them. Anyone know anyone like this?

  13. Even if someone wants to argue that the LSAT isn't a great predictor of bar exam passage, it's still crucial because it's so accurate at predicting the likelihood of succeeding in law school. Class rank and the doors it opens is pretty much everything in this job market.

    I graduated from college in 2010 with an extremely high GPA, but scored a 156 LSAT. Personally, I think I should never have been admitted to law school. It's just not a strong enough aptitude score to succeed in law school. 1L was a huge struggle for me. I had a difficult time understanding what was being taught, and ended up at the bottom of my class.

    When it came time to take the bar exam in 2013, I was afraid that my LSAT score and law school grades would mean I would more than likely fail the bar exam. Not that it mattered, as I graduated with no job offer.

    Of course, once I started bar prep and reviewed all the 1L material, I realized how infuriatingly easy it is to grasp these concepts. I still feel bitter about law school making me spend two years of my life feeling like an idiot when it turns out the material was more straightforward than the way law profs presented it. (3L was spent in clinical work, where I had my own clients and learned the skills lawyers actually need.) I realized that I needed to treat the bar like an AP Law exam: keep up with the review classes, review the knowledge, learn to present the information the way examiners want for the essays, and practice the multiple choice to get familiar with the exam language. Passed the bar, relatively stress free, on the first try.

    But all of that didn't matter, because, again, while my LSAT score did not predict that I would have no problem passing the bar, it did accurately predict that I would not do well in that important first year of law school. It doesn't matter if you passed the bar if you end up at the bottom of your class, which closes the doors to certain important opportunities that will open those few doors to jobs after graduation.

  14. > Given the correlation of 0.51, there is arguably a trend here.

    Uh... That's not a correlation (r) of 0.51.

    According to the plot label, that's an r^2 (i.e., total variance accounted for) of 0.51. Or in other words, of all of the factors that could be responsible for the variance (squared difference from average) in bar passage rates betwen your 200+ schools, differences in the average LSAT of students at these schools predict half of the variance in pass rates at the school level. As a couple of others have noted, It looks like there is still some interesting variation not predicted by average LSAT of students admitted. Some of it is likely related to what the school actually does for you once you get in. Some of it is how easy it is (on average) to pass the bar in the states where different schools have their students (bar pass rates could vary by state based on how hard the test is). Some of it is just pure measurement error. And some of it, of course, is just because a linear function is unlikely to be the correct one here, since no school can generate a pass rate higher than 1.0 or below 1.0; if I asked you to draw the line of fit, you would be drawing a curve.

    And there are other issues with this analysis besides these. But, that said, average LSAT levels alone are a potent predictor for these set of schools, and would support your doing the experiment of being more selective on LSATs and seeing whether pass rates increase as expected.