Bar Exam Strategies & Stories

Are there ways to help all who take a bar exam better prepare and improve their performance?

That is the question being studied by a team of law and psychology researchers from Indiana University, University of Southern California and Stanford University.

Using surveys and focus groups of recent bar exam participants, the research team developed Bar Exam Strategies and Stories. This online program includes an introductory film, stories from prior test takers and a writing activity in which participants share insights and strategies that may be useful to them and to future test takers.

The effort is already changing lives.

Through a partnership with the State Bar of California, the program was offered to all applicants for California’s July 2018 and July 2019 bar exams.

The results were promising: The program increased the likelihood of passing the bar exam by at least 6.8 percent among test takers who timely registered for the July 2018 or July 2019 bar exam.

Next, the research team seeks to replicate its results in California and expand Bar Exam Strategies and Stories to three new jurisdictions.

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The Problem

Tens of thousands of students enroll in law school every year. The investment is huge. Between tuition, living expenses, and lost wages, the cost can run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many students fund their education by taking on massive loans. Still, the potential payoff is greater: the student becomes a successful professional, and the public gains greater access to high-quality legal services.

Yet too often the promise of legal education is not realized.  Around a third of those entering law school do not pass the bar exam three years later. In California last year, the bar passage rate was under 50%. Those who do not pass the bar cannot repay their loans, build their careers, and serve the public through work as practicing lawyers.

Worse, the shortfalls of legal education disproportionately affect people of color, women, and the communities they would otherwise serve. In New York, the black-white race gap on the bar exam is more than twenty percentage points.  Today, barely a third of all lawyers in the United States are women. Only 15% of all U.S. lawyers are people of color.

The result is squandered millions of dollars, wasted years of people’s lives, and a legal profession is not representative of those it aspires to represent.

What We Did

In 2016, the MILE team of law and psychology researchers from Indiana University, University of Southern California, and Stanford University began studying how to help everyone taking the bar exam better prepare and improve their performance. Partnering with the California Bar Exam, the team used surveys and focus groups of recent bar exam participants to design approaches to mitigating challenges that can affect all students studying for the bar exam.

The result was Bar Exam Strategies and Stories, a 45-minute online program offered to students as they start studying for the bar exam. The program includes an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share insights and strategies that may be useful to them and to future test takers.

Bar Exam Strategies and Stories is now widely available to applicants studying for the California Bar Exam, which is the nation’s second largest. Starting in 2018, all applicants studying for California’s July bar exams have had access to the program.

The Results

The efficacy of Bar Exam Strategies and Stories exceeded expectations. Those who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program.

What’s Next?

MILE seeks to make Bar Exam Strategies and Stories available to all applicants planning to take a bar exam anywhere in the United States. To that end, we are looking for new bar partners and for additional funding opportunities.

Our immediate aim is to offer Bar Exam Strategies and Stories to all applicants for July 2021 bar exam in three additional jurisdictions. We hope to expand to other jurisdictions soon afterwards. So we are looking for new bar partners now!  If you are from a state, territory, or district bar that might be interested in partnering, please reach out.

We are also working to line up additional funding partners. Most pressingly, we seek resources to expand Bar Exam Strategies and Stories to nationwide after 2021. If you are from an organization that might be interested in such work, please let us know!

MILE’s long-term goal is to transform the pipeline from college into successful legal practice. We seek funding partners who share this passion. By surveying the thousands of students who participate in MILE programs, we continually improve our understanding of the challenges that new and aspiring lawyers face.  We aspire to use this knowledge and our experience running programs to help everyone do their best on the LSAT, in law school, on the bar exam, and during the formative years of their legal practice.