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Brooklyn Law School Defends Itself after Low Bar Passage Rates Reported
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Dean Nick Allard of the Brooklyn Law School questioned the NCBE's claims.

Summary: After the National Conference of Bar Examiners wrote New York law school deans expressing concerns over lower bar exam passage rates, the dean of Brooklyn Law School wrote back, defending his students.

Bar exam passage rates have recently been released in New York, and, unfortunately, many students are likely disappointed with their results. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the 2014 New York state bar exam pass rates declined for most of New York’s law schools. The state saw such a decrease that the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) sent a letter to deans of New York law schools airing their concerns over the July 2014 bar exam results.


Nick Allard, the dean of Brooklyn Law School, sent a stern letter back to the NCBE in defense of the passage rates, which criticized the bar exam itself. In addition, Dean Allard ordered that the NCBE should apologize to law students who were “disparaged” by the letter from the NCBE, which claimed students who did not pass the bar exam were “less than able.”

Here is last week’s article about the exchange between the parties.

The test results were released on October 30. Bar examiners had originally expected to release the results in mid-November, as has been the typical release date the NCBE followed in the past. Erica Moeser, the president of the NCBE, advised the New York deans that a “drop in scores” raised concerns.

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Here is an article from last year about New York law schools’ high costs and low employment rates.

Only three law schools in New York did not see their scores drop. Brooklyn Law School saw a drop of 9.5 percentage points. Last year, the law school’s passage rate was an impressive 94 percent. It has now fallen to 84.5 percent with the latest results.

Many other law school deans are shocked by the results. Anthony Crowell, the dean of New York Law School, which suffered a drop of 12 points, stated, “I am surprised and deeply disappointed in these results.”

Columbia University School of Law and New York University School of Law, both among the top law schools in the nation, experienced drops of four and three points, respectively.

Moeser insisted that the law passage rates reflect the students or the schools, and that the test itself is not to blame. “[We] always take quality control of…scoring very seriously, we redoubled our efforts to satisfy ourselves that no error occurred in scoring the examination or in equating the test with its predecessors. The results are correct.”

In the response written by Dean Allard, he called Moeser’s memo “surprisingly defensive” and “offensive.” He noted, “There is no explanation how you reached your conclusion, nor transparency to your process. [So] how can we have confidence in this self-serving unaudited assertion?” He continued, “Frankly, your statements ring hollow…You can do a better job and provide both the deans and the students a more thorough review.”

Click here to read about Brooklyn Law School’s tuition cuts.

When asked for an opinion as to why the passage rates have dropped, Dean Allard said, “…the 2014 downswing in scores and passage rates is so far unexplained, but the notion expressed by the NCBE that it is the students and not the test is small minded, insulting and false.” He explained, “Bar prep was even more rigorous [in 2014] than the year before. My take on it is, it’s not our students. It’s the test. And that is unacceptable.”

However, it is uncertain how the New York bar exam has changed, if at all. Many are unsure as to whether the structure, content or administration has changed since 2013.

“[We] do not know if the scoring was done differently in 2014. Bottom line, there is no transparency in the process, and we cannot be sure that the test is fair and accurate this year,” Allard explained.

Regarding subtle or minor exam modifications, Dean Allard said, “That is in part what we need to learn and understand.” On the bar exam, many questions are often recycled, and other questions are “trial” questions, which are not graded, unbeknownst to students as they sweat through the test.

However, Moeser maintains that “all points to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.”

Dean Allard and Moeser do agree on some points. According to Dean Allard, “We all can agree that new lawyers should be capable and held to a high standard before giving them a license to serve the public as attorneys.” However, Mallard continued to express his doubts of the bar exam: “But, that is not what we are talking about. What we are questioning is a quirky, unpredictable, unexplainable test that seems to have little to do with ability or competence.”

Who do you think is to blame for the reduced bar passage rates in New York?

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Dean Allard has defended his students since the results were released. He theorizes that if students complete law school and graduate, then the final step before licensure, the bar exam, must be the problem. “If law schools are doing their job, and we are, if our students do the work, and they do, then graduates should be passing the bar,” he explained.

Some wonder if the decline in the legal job market may have caused students to spend less time on traditional academic courses, and spend more time studying areas for the modern lawyer. However, in response, Dean Allard said, “Students who graduate from an ABA accredited law school must complete a rigorous program of study that prepares them to be practicing lawyers. It is not possible to skin by and earn a J.D.”

Some explain that, if both the test and the students are not to blame, then the fault may partially be that of the examining institution. Dean Allard commented, “Right now the NCBE is acting like a medieval trade guild, arbitrarily and unpredictably raising a very expensive toll bridge and forestalling the entry into the profession of well qualified, very competitive motivated people. There is a lot of money spent on the bar examination industry.”

The deans of the New York schools agree that changes must be made, it’s just a matter of where. “We’re all scratching our heads and left with questions as to what this means,” Dean Michelle Anderson of the City University of New York School of Law stated.

If changes are not implemented, Allard warns that the legal profession could suffer: “This is not a Brooklyn or a New York state issue. This is a national problem because it is denying deserving graduates admission to the bar and shortchanging the public of motivated, talented, competitive new attorneys.”

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