March 24, 2021

It’s Not Where You Start, It’s How You Finish: Predicting Law School and Bar Success

Aaron N. Taylor, Jason M. Scott, and Josh Jackson
Research and Data
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National Report of Findings for the AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative

(Last Updated March 24, 2021)

Executive Summary 

The AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative is the first multi-institutional investigation into the factors that help predict law school academic and first-time bar exam performance. Mixed effects linear and logit modeling techniques are used to analyze pre-admission data; law school transcript data; and bar exam performance data for almost 5,000 Spring 2018 and 2019 graduates from 20 law schools that participated in this study. Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) response data were also analyzed for a subset of about 2,000 graduates.

Our modeling techniques allowed us to localize the impact of the factors of interest, while also accounting for other factors. For example, our analyses of the impact of various student engagement factors on bar exam performance account for other potentially relevant factors such as law school grades.

We find that:

  • LSAT score and undergraduate GPA (UGPA) are modestly associated with law school GPA (LGPA). LSAT score and first year (1L) LGPA yield the strongest association. Across our sample, a one-point increase in LSAT score is associated with a 0.04 increase in 1L LGPA. A one-tenth point increase in UGPA is associated with a 0.03 increase in LGPA (Figure 2).
  • LGPA is the strongest predictor of bar exam performance, even at the early stages of matriculation. For example, a one standard deviation increase in 1L LGPA is associated with a 402 percent increase in the odds of bar passage (Figure 3).
  • Positive growth in LGPA between the end of the first semester and graduation is associated with greater odds of passing the bar exam, particularly among graduates who struggled early on. Graduates with below average first-semester grades who experienced no LGPA growth had a 25 percent chance of passing the bar exam, compared to 43 percent among their peers who experienced average growth of about 0.17 grade points (Figure 5).
  • Graduates who spent more than 21 hours per week on responsibilities such as caring for dependents or working a non-law-related job had lower third year (3L) LGPAs and bar passage odds than their peers who spent 0 to 5 hours on these activities (Figure 12).
  • Graduates who worked in law-related jobs while in law school (Figure 9); graduates who felt that their law school experience contributed “very much” to their skills development (Figure 10); and graduates who regularly participated in class (Figure 11) were modestly more likely to pass the bar exam than other graduates.

Collectively, our results suggest that academic and bar exam success are driven by what happens in law school, not just early on, but throughout the experience—and the greatest opportunities for impact exist among those who struggle the most early on.

View a snapshot of the findings, methods, recommendations and more here.


LSSSE National Report

LSSSE National Report with Appendixes