December 17, 2019

Perspectives on Raising the Bar

Diana Le - Academic and Bar Success Intern
Academic and Bar Success


Diana Le is an intern in AccessLex Institute’s Academic and Bar Success department. She received her J.D. from Howard University School of Law in 2019, and she is a 2020 L.L.M. candidate at Howard University School of Law.

As a recent J.D. graduate and current LL.M. candidate, I wish I had discovered Raising the Bar sooner. The legal sphere can be an intimidating space to navigate. Law students are often stricken with fear at the simple mention of the words, “Bar Exam.” However, bar exam preparation can be an empowering journey, if students have the right tools, resources, and mindsets. Raising the Bar was started for this very reason: to empower the next generation of lawyers by providing a platform for all stakeholders with curated content to help law students succeed.  Raising the Bar contains content from impassioned legal professionals eager to pass down their wisdom along with empirical studies formulated into usable data to highlight the qualitative and quantitative factors that contribute to bar passage, and it is an accessible forum for verified resources including bar-related conferences and grants information.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

When I applied for the Bar Success Research Internship at AccessLex, it was a conscious and impassioned pursuit for me to work towards a positive cause and to be a part of a team that actively invests in the success of future lawyers and future legal scholars. Coming from an underprivileged background (my parents were refugees from the Vietnam War; I was raised in a low socioeconomic neighborhood in the Bay Area, and I was a first-generation high school graduate), I was determined to be part of the solution. Unexpectedly, however, I went from graduating high school with a cumulative GPA of 4.2 and getting admitted to a top-tier California university, to somehow finding myself struggling during my 1L year at Howard University School of Law. Sometimes it requires exploring the depths of an ocean to appreciate the elevation of a mountain. I just knew that I didn’t come this far, just to come this far. I was determined to prove that the greater the setback, the stronger the comeback. This mantra came to fruition by the end of my 3L year. I had won two American Jurisprudence Awards my 2L year; graduated law school with the highest GPA increase; and I even received the Reginal F. Lewis Award at graduation in May 2019. Following the granting of my J.D. degree, I applied and was accepted into the LL.M. program at Howard with an emphasis in Civil Rights and National Security. Now, I’m set to graduate as a “Double Bison” in May 2020. All that to say, statistics are insightful; but they are not the end-all be-all.

To law student readers: If you feel that you are pre-disposed to being less likely to pass the bar exam, challenge that assumption; work to mitigate the variables you can control instead of being thwarted by the variables you cannot control. If you failed the bar exam the first time, learn from the experience and document what adjustments need to be made. The key is to always push forward. It is easier said than done, but the alternative option is to regress. Passing the bar is not impossible. We are here to stack all the odds in your favor. It’s your turn to get it done.

In the October 2019 issue of Raising the Bar, we provided a number of Academic and Bar Success resources, including 10 Steps to Consider in Developing a Data Analytics Program for Legal Educators and a list of Selected Bar Passage Barriers for consideration (in an upcoming issue we will provide a list of curated mitigations to such barriers). These were formulated to help law schools help their students with Academic and Bar Success. And, from my perspective, they are just as helpful to students as they are to faculty.

I eagerly await the January 2020 issue and encourage every stakeholder in legal education and the profession to consider submitting content to future issues.


Notable Excerpts from Raising the Bar Volume 2, Issue 3: July 2019

“Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Bar Exam,” Deborah Jones Merritt, John Deaver Drinko Chair in Law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law; Member, ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education.

As an advocate for a pragmatic approach to the Bar Exam, Deborah Jones Merritt explains and challenges “Bloom’s Taxonomy” in this piece. Although it was conceptualized over sixty years ago, educators still use this scheme to set learning goals, plan coursework, and write exams. In her commentary, Merritt details how “Bloom’s Taxonomy” contains a flawed sequence that contradicts contemporary cognitive science. Despite this antiquated structure, the Bar Exam builds upon this pyramid with memorization at its base. Merritt noted, “We’re not stuck with a 1950s framework for testing: It’s time to refresh both Bloom’s Taxonomy and the bar exam.” To read more about Merritt’s proscription and call to action, make sure to check out Raising the Bar.


“Looking Past Bar Failure,” Dr. Jennifer Bard, J.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Professor at the University of Cincinnati School of Law; Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Cincinnati School of Medicine; Visiting Professor, University of Florida Levin College of Law.

“The near catastrophic bar failure rates among as many as 10% of accredited law schools has woken the sleeping bear of our professional regulators prompting much needed focus on the causes of bar failure and on the development of systems to improve pass rates.” In this commentary Dr. Jennifer Bard notes how the legal education system, designed for the Harvard Class of 1880, is contemporarily out of tune with today’s students. “Medical schools have responded to changes in their profession by completely changing their curriculum and methods of instructions at least three times in the last forty years. Legal education has known for decades that despite our good intentions, many of the students in our classes feel alienated and excluded rather than inspired and energized Why, then, do we cling so tightly to a structure of education that has never been evaluated?” To read more, check out Raising the Bar.

“To Sit or Not to Sit: That Is the Question,” Kandace J. Kukas, Esq., Assistant Dean and Director of Bar Admission Programs at Northeastern University School of Law.

In this perspective piece Kandace J. Kukas, Esq., examines the pros and cons to sitting for the Bar Exam immediately after graduation. “Everyone immediately starts commercial bar review courses the day after graduation. Everyone studies eight to ten hours per day and everyone sits for that grueling two to three-day test at the end of July. But is that the best for all candidates? Sometimes it is not.” To see the complete list of pros and cons when considering taking the Bar Exam in February, make sure to check out Raising the Bar.

“Spaced Repetition: A Scientifically Proven Method to Improve Learning and Bar Passage Rates”
Gabriel Teninbaum, Professor and Director of the Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology at Suffolk University Law School, and founder.
Gabriel Teninbaum attempts to answer the question: what is the best way to help law students learn more and pass the Bar Exam at a higher rate? According to numerous studies corroborated by the New England Journal of Medicine and American Psychological Association, the answer is: spaced repetition. Read more about how spaced repetition works at Raising the Bar.



Notable Excerpts from Raising the Bar Volume 2, Issue 4: October 2019

Daniel B. Rodriguez, Harold Washington Professor and former Dean (2012-2018), Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law
In this commentary, Daniel B. Rodriguez gives his perspective on legal education in the U.S. He describes it both “precarious and exciting” for we are in a time where “true transformations in pedagogy and purpose are underway in American law schools, and bold innovations are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.” He perceives such transformations as being both “bullish” and “cautious” and further expound on these tensions. Check out Raising the Bar to see how he attempts to reconcile these tensions and his call to action to legal educators.

 “Exam Anxiety: No one is Immune,” Meghan Hammond, associate at the Washington DC office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.  In this perspective piece Meghan Hammond, Esq., provides an insight on the process of taking the Virginia Bar and recalls how an unexpected visit from anxiety almost derailed her. “I sat for the Virginia Bar in July of 2016. Initially, I was unfazed. I had done well in law school and had managed to become Editor-in-Chief of the Northwestern University Law Review. As harrowing an experience as the bar exam may have seemed to many, I felt I was well-equipped. Not so.” The piece references to the correlation between stress and performance. This upside-down parabola of stress in relation to performance shows that at a certain level of stress, an increase of performance occurs. However, as the level of stress and anxiety pass the vertex, the level of performance drops noticeably. To read how Meghan overcame exam anxiety, check out Raising the Bar.

Greg Sergienko, Professor of Law at Concordia University School of Law.
In this program profile, Greg Sergienko highlighted how first-semester outreach helped create a cumulative passage rate of 100% on the Bar Exam. “The cohort was Concordia Law’s 2016 bar takers. It started with a median LSAT of 152. Many promising students, more than a fifth of the class, transferred. Only 4.5% were academically dismissed or otherwise left. Yet all passed, most on the first time, despite a UBE cut score of 280.” To read more about what Greg Sergienko identified as the key elements of the Outreach Program that attributed to the astounding success rate, check out Raising the Bar.

“Next Generation Data Analytics and Individualized Interventions for Bar Takers: 10 Questions/Steps to Consider in Developing a Data Analytics Program,” Mike Barry, President and Dean at South Texas College of Law Houston; Isabel Freitas Peres, Director of Bar Studies at Seattle University School of Law; and Zoe Niesel, Executive Director of Law Success and Assistant Professor of Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law

In this section, scholars and law professors created a guide on how to use data to gain insights on how to better prepare students to succeed in law school and on the Bar Exam. The ten questions and steps were designed to function as a roadmap to encourage law schools to taking the first steps toward becoming a data-savvy institution. To see the list of the 10 Questions/Steps, please visit Raising the Bar.

The list of first-time bar passage barriers was identified and selected by many stakeholders, including those who attended the 2019 AccessLex Bar Exam Research Forum.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. However, it does identify some of the most common bar passage challenges including time barriers, knowledge barriers, skills barriers, financial barriers, stigma & internalized bias, test anxiety-related barriers, health barriers, testing conditions barriers, and bar review/preparation barriers. The goal of this list is to promote awareness and encourage self-reflection to recognize these challenges in order to effectively mitigate them. To view the list of barriers, click here.

And, last but not least, the October 2019 issue of Raising the Bar included content on mental health and legal education: a reference to The Path to Lawyer Well-Being Report and recommendations based on case studies of effective interventions. Mental health and well-being awareness can successfully be integrated as standardized procedures if law schools prioritize them as such. This would require law schools to act proactively. An example would be implementing accessible and effective intervention programs. To view the complete summary and additional resources on mental health, click here. And, a short piece from Attorney Dacey Cockrill, an associate at Eric Buchanan & Associates, PLLC, “The Bleak State of Mental Health and Well-Being in the Law.” “For too long, the legal profession has turned a blind eye to widespread health problems. Many in the legal profession have behaved, at best, as if their colleagues’ well-being is none of their business. At worst, some appear to believe that supporting well-being will harm professional success. Many also appear to believe that lawyers’ health problems are solely attributable to their own personal failings.”