Raising the bar
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Law students earn second highest Bar Exam pass rate in Va.
Liberty University School of Law earned the second-highest pass rate in Virginia for first-time test takers for the July 2016 bar exam with an 89.66 percent pass rate, only 2.1 percent behind the first place holder, the University of Virginia School of Law.
According to Rena Lindevaldsen, Liberty Law professor, 52 first-time takers took the bar exam this past July in various states throughout the country. In Virginia, Liberty Law had 29 students taking the exam for the first time.
Liberty’s law school has been implementing new programs and classes for the past two years in an effort to raise bar exam pass rates and give the students a firm understanding of the practice as they go. According to Lindevaldsen, the level of preparation needed during the summer months can sometimes be as much as 60-80 hours per week.
“During the past few years, we have implemented several curricular changes, including a new third-year writing course, a revised bar studies course, and some Virginia specific courses,” said Lindevaldsen. “We have put together a curriculum that can prepare students to pass the bar exam. When they put forward the work that is necessary to complete the work, they can pass the exam.”
Another key component to the bar exam success is the summer mentorship program where faculty and alumni stay connected with the students to offer much-needed support during their studies.
“A couple of years ago, we brought in alumni to mentor the bar takers during the summer to offer prayer support and to answer questions about taking the bar exam. Last summer, we also asked faculty to stay in contact with the bar takers,” said Lindevaldsen. “I believe this helps them know that they are not alone as they are putting in the long hours. When they put in the work, they can have confidence that they can pass the bar.”
Dean of the School of Law Keith Faulkner said he agreed that the alumni program has helped the students excel, and the alumni are excited to be a part of it.
“The students were talking about the pride they had as early alums and the great success that they enjoyed. They want to pour back in and see the next generation of Liberty lawyers enjoy the same and even greater success,” Faulkner said. “I think our alumni program will become even more robust, and our students will really cherish the relationships they build with our alumni over the summer spent preparing for the bar.”
Professor Lindevaldsen also noted that the law school has entered into a partnership with BARBRI. This program offers an intensive orientation training for the students and provides great resources throughout their three years at the school to help prepare them for the bar exam and practice.
“The BARBRI materials permit the students to test themselves throughout law school to ensure they are learning the material well enough to pass the bar exam, rather than waiting for a crash course during the summer before the bar,”
The program is relatively new, but the results have been positive, according to Faulkner.
“We’re really out there as one of the early adopters of this program, and our student body has been very receptive to it,” Faulkner said. “There’s a lot of excitement about the potential for the success of this partnership, but at the end of the day, the hard work of the students and the demanding classroom experience offered by our professors are what actually gets our graduates prepared for the bar exam.”
“The university has been incredibly supportive of our efforts to increase Bar passage rates,” Lindevaldsen said. “Obviously, as the law school excels academically and on the bar exam, the university excels.”
To accommodate the new methods of teaching and programs, the law school decided to decrease enrollment and focus more on a select group of students to raise Bar scores.
“We … decreased our enrollment for the first time in order to increase our statistics for the incoming class, and that required the university to say that we’re going to make that decision even though it means less revenue for us,” Lindevaldsen said. “The university has been incredibly supportive of us, which shows that they value the good education that’s being provided here and to do whatever it takes to help our students pass the Bar.”
According to Faulkner, the current status in Bar scores puts Liberty in a good light for the public and helps the school from a recruiting standpoint. It brings Liberty into a new conversation, gives the school a lot of credibility and gives the students a good reputation with the public and potential employers.
“This was a big win for Liberty University and of course for the School of Law,” said Faulkner. “This really helps the university be viewed through a lens of quality, and that’s what we’re about.”
Panyard is a news reporter.