Aaron N. Taylor
Executive Director
AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence

There is much research tying student engagement to academic performance. The more engaged students are, the better their academic outcomes. Little of this research, however, has been conducted in the law school context. This is a significant gap in information, particularly given the extent to which law schools must focus on outcomes, such as bar exam passage rates.

AccessLex Institute aims to fill this gap with an upcoming report summarizing our work with the AccessLex/LSSSE Bar Exam Success Initiative. The report—planned for release in Spring 2020—will present findings from analyses of factors that impact law school academic performance and first-time bar exam performance among graduates of 19 law schools that are participating in the initiative.

We considered a range of factors, including graduate demographic background; their undergraduate GPA and LSAT score; their law school grades; and responses that many of them provided on the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) in their third year. In all, we tested the marginal influence of over 60 engagement variables on law school grades and bar exam performance.

Understanding the factors that influence academic and bar exam outcomes can aid law schools in identifying high-impact experiences and interventions premised on student success. This insight could also help schools better design their admission processes in ways that properly contextualize admission factors and minimize overreliance on certain factors.

Across all 19 schools, measures of law school academic performance were the strongest predictors of bar exam performance. For the vast majority of schools, LSAT scores and undergraduate grades (UGPA) were partial predictors of law school academic performance. At the median level, a one-point increase in LSAT score was associated with a 0.07 increase in final law school GPA. At the median level, a one-tenth point increase in UGPA was associated with a 0.08 increase in final law school GPA (LGPA). The LSAT score had a statistically significant predictive relationship with final GPA at 18 of the 19 schools. The UGPA was tied to final GPA at 15 of the 19 schools.

The analyses also yielded interesting findings about relationships between different aspects of student engagement (as captured by LSSSE responses) and academic and bar exam performance overall and among the 19 schools. Below are three of the most notable. All of these findings yielded statistically significant relationships to final LGPA or bar exam outcome, even after controlling for the other factors in the model. Put simply, these factors were independently influential.

#1: Raise your hand if you’re……unsure.

The frequency of asking questions in class had a positive and statistically significant relationship to final LGPA. Students who reported asking questions “very often” in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.25, while those who reported “never” asking questions in class had a predicted final LGPA of 3.18. Asking questions are a manifestation of engagement, and among the pool of students we studied, questions were associated with higher grades.

#2: Do the reading!

Unsurprisingly, coming to class unprepared was associated with lower grades. Students who reported coming to class unprepared “very often” had a predicted final LGPA that was 0.17 grade points lower than those who reported “never” coming to class unprepared. So, students: do the reading. Your grades really do depend on it.

#3: Student-faculty interaction matters

At nine of the 19 schools, the quality of relationships between students and faculty had a positive, statistically significant relationship to final GPA (the strongest predictor of bar exam outcome). Students who rated these relationships highly tended to have higher GPAs. Interactions with faculty members are central to the law student experience. How students view their professors – as teachers, as mentors, as sources of guidance and support – translates into more engagement and better outcomes.

Be on the lookout for our national report as well as a companion blog on this website providing a more in-depth discussion of key findings. This analysis will employ applied research principles and methods to provide participating schools with tangible, actionable information, including explanation and illustration of significant findings from the project and appropriate recommendations. If your law school would like to be a part of our initiatives involving student engagement and bar success, contact us at research@accesslex.org.