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03 September 2006


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Big Vent

Steve Pirates has it all wrong - CWSL has a 30% atrittion rate for their first year students (you can verify this at LSAC.org. They started a policy in 2003 that denies *any* appeal by a first year student of their grades or their exams, for ANY REASON. There is no appeal allowed for any reason? That doesn't make you even a little suspicious?

According to one dean I interviewed, even in the case of a person getting into a car accident on the way to finals, he/she could not appeal the 0% that would be given for missing the exam!!

And the $3M per year additional income the school gets is a mighty big incentive for everyone there - larger pay, bonuses, school facility upgrades, etc...

Steve Pirates

California Western has about a 10% attrition rate. Not the 33% attrition rate suggested above. The curve requirements quoted by Mr. Vent are accurate, but are on a per class basis. The "Curve-Out" is based on a cumulative GPA after the first year. A below-74 in one class does not necessarily equate to a below-74 cumulative grade average. It is true enough that a third of the students attending will get at least one sub-par grade. But one bad grade does not an expulsion make.

For Mr. Vent's math to work, the professors would have to give poor grades to the same third of the student body over and over. And frankly, if a student is failing all of their classes, then perhaps law school isn't the right place for them.


Woops. I did the math wrong. At 30k per year per student, if 100 of 300 1Ls are dismissed under CWSL policy, CWSL gains 3 million dollars a year (not $300,000) in tuition from students who will never earn a JD from CWSL.


California Western School of Law in San Diego might have a similar scheme. In fact, the very issues raised in the law suit above have been debated at CWSL for some time.

While the school does not come out and directly disclose to students that it will fail out a percentage of 1L students, that information is buried in two separate sections of a thick handbook that is presented to students after they begin lawschool.

It's academic policy 7.21 tells students that they need to maintain a GPA of 74 to remain in school. Then elsewhere, in its academic policy 6.02, it describes that in all first year courses, constituting that GPA, that professors must gives 25-35% of first semester 1Ls a grade lower than a 74 and 20 - 30% of second semester 1Ls a grade lower than 74.

Students only need do the math to find that CWSL's scheme is designed to only send about its top 2/3 to the CA Bar exam to inflate its bar pass rate (which doesn't seem to be working anyway). The scheme also allows, if 100 of 300 are dismissed, the school take in an additional $300,000 per year (30k/student) from students who will never earn a CWSL JD.

William Henderson

Bill, thanks for your comment. I really like the fact that the legal profession is open to people without sterling credentials. For many aspiring attorneys, hard work and perseverance are all that is needed to succeed.

But I just want to make sure that we are dealing from the top of the deck: Disclosure the risks! Also, I think the legal academy need to re-engage on the issue of the bar examination. It is not a particularly good test, and it is a significant barrier for many students.

Bill Gallagher


You raise a very interesting set of issues. But there are a number of other factors that make any assessment more complicated. Many schools with bar passage issues are historically "schools of opportunity". GGU, where I teach, arose as part of the early 20th century backlash against exclusionary practices in the legal profession and legal education--to serve as a point of entry to a profession that was (is?)unresponsive to the needs of immigrants, people of color, women.

At GGU, we admit some students with lesser gpa and LSAT indicators, realizing that these are imperfect predictors of success at school or on the bar exam. We get a very mixed class of students--some who will do well anywhere (e.g., night students with Ph.D.s in biochemistry who want to become patent lawyers--and who are very interesting to teach!), and some who turn out not to be prepared for the unforgiving nature of law pedagogy and exams. It's hard to tell who will end up where by gpa and LSAT alone. As one colleague of mine reminds me, we don't admit people to the bottom half of the class. Some students with low numbers thrive, others do not.

Plus, a large number of students who matriculate do have academic problems early on, and we have a duty not to let them stay enrolled if they will not have a realistic chance of success in school, on the bar, or as lawyers. And an equally large number of students who do well in our first year classes end up transferring to more elite law schools who rejected them initially (and do very well there!)So we (and they) are clearly doing some things right.

I don't think many schools, mine included, are driven to accept students solely to take their tuition dollars for a semester or two before dumping them for academic deficiencies. Most schools like GGU have in place (or are developing) extensive academic support programs that are aimed at providing students with skills necessary to succeed, even if a significant number will not make it. And a number of schools are also implementing the kinds of programs that the study you cite (with data from U.Richmond SOL)has put in place.

One thing that amazes me is the dearth of solid empirical evidence regarding what is and what is not effective in teaching law. My wife teaches first grade, and those folks have decades of research findings to guide their understanding of, say, what is effective in teaching reading or math skills.

Thanks for publicizing what looks to be an important study for law teaching, and for raising some important issues.


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