Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU bar passage hits highest rate in modern times

Leaders at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law were beyond pleased when the initial results of the July 2009 Bar Exam passage rates were released in October. And then, results moved higher after appeals of the exam results were complete.

In the final tally, released Nov. 17, DU’s passage rate hit 91 percent — the highest DU passage rate in modern times. The new passage rate should be posted on the Colorado Supreme Court’s Web site soon.

The program saw its passage rate dip below 60 percent a few years ago in a February exam, so the rate completes a turnaround interim law Dean Martin Katz believes is just the beginning.

“We’ve gotten good news followed by better news,” Katz says. “The entire faculty has taken the bar passage rate quite seriously and recognized that we wanted to do something about it. There is a renewed emphasis on taking steps to improve.”

The law school also is relishing another dose of good news. The national magazine Super Lawyers’ newest law school rankings, issued this month, ranked Sturm 53rd in the country and the No. 1-ranked Colorado law school.

Katz says the high ranking is gratifying because Super Lawyers rates how successful DU law graduates are in their careers after school.

“We’re doing something right,” Katz says.

Achieving the new high in bar passage didn’t come by accident, he says. Katz and the faculty have worked for two years on building the passage rate by admitting students that have the best chance of succeeding in law school and passing the bar, and by creating a program dedicated to passage.

Lecturer Scott Johns, director of the DU Bar Success Program, says students are challenged throughout their years to learn their craft, and also are provided with intensive counseling and bar passage programs after they graduate.

Students are encouraged to devote the two months between graduation and the July bar exam to study and test preparation. Off campus, they are encouraged to avoid full-time work and dedicate themselves to study. On campus, faculty conduct classes and lectures multiple times each week, followed by mock exams, writing assignments and personal coaching.

“A lot of it is building their confidence,” Johns says. “Students learn to think, ‘I can solve problems. I’ve got a good strategy for solving them and a good strategy for writing them down.’  The heart of the legal profession is writing, so we focus on analyzing problems and clear, legal writing.”

Looking forward, Katz sees stronger and stronger classes that have met increasingly tough admission standards. He says the challenge is to build on this year’s success, and he’s confident the students will come through.

“The best is yet to come,” he says.

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