Freakonomics Blog (which I read less and less now that the RSS feed serves up only excerpts, thanks to the NY Times) points me to a paper accepted for publication in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Legal Education. Douglas Rush and Hisako Matsuo examine ((
Does Law School Curriculum Affect Bar Examination Passage? An Empirical Analysis of the Factors Which Were Related to Bar Examination Passage between 2001 and 2006 at a Midwestern Law School , full paper available in PDF
))whether success or failure on the Missouri bar exam is correlated to the courses taken by a student while at law school — i.e. does taking a commercial law course in law school help you pass the commercial law bar exam? They find that it does not. Unsurprisingly the predictor of success was your position in your law school class.
What interested me was the assertion by Rush, quoted in Freakonomics Blog, that:
The "conventional wisdom" among law school faculties and deans is that law students, especially law students who academically rank low in their class, should take as many of the courses whose subject matter is tested on state bar exams (i.e. contracts, torts, property, etc.) as possible in order to improve their chance of passing state bar exams
That may be true for law schools in the U.S., but it sure wasn't the case at Osgoode, and, I'd suggest, would not be the faculty or decanal wisdom at other Canadian law schools either. We did everything in our power to persuade students that there was no need whatsoever to let the bar admission course subjects influence their course selection; but our power was really nothing against the wisdom of the student crowd, which declined this freedom en masse and chose the predictable program of study.
Of course, the issue here was not so much passing the exams (California has a high failure rate; Canadian bars a very small one; don't know about Missouri) as it was getting through the bar admission course with the minimum of effort. And who could blame the battle weary students, already carrying the burden of seven years of postsecondary education, for seeking all possible ways of lightening their load?
Now that there is simply a bar exam (here in Ontario at least) my guess is that students will be even more conservative in their law school choices, if that's possible; and studies such as this one will fail to make even the slightest dent in their resolve.