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Brooklyn Law School dean comes to Brooklyn’s defense

Nick Allard Defends Brooklyn After Decrease in 2014 Bar Passage Rate

November 17, 2014 By Charisma L. Troiano, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

The 2014 New York state bar exam pass rate saw a noted decline among most of New York’s law schools, prompting the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to pen a note to New York deans expressing dissatisfaction with the July 2014 bar exam results.

Brooklyn Law School (BLS) Dean Nick Allard came to the defense of his school replying back in a sharply worded letter criticizing the test itself and demanding an apology for law students who were “disparaged” by the words of the bar examiners who identified the failing students as “less than able.” 

The July 2014 bar exam results were released on Oct. 30, earlier than the targeted mid-November release date the NCBE has adhered to for past bar exams. In a memo dated Oct. 23, Erica Moeser, NCBE president, cautioned deans that a “drop in scores” raised a level of concern.

All but three of New York’s law schools saw a decline in passage rates, with BLS noting a sharp decline of 9.5 percentage points. Last year BLS boasted a passage of rate of 94 percent, and while the administration was taken aback by the dip to 84.5, it was not alone with its shock.  

“I am surprised and deeply disappointed in these results,” said Anthony Crowell, dean of New York Law School, which experienced a 12-point decline. 

Top-ranked schools Columbia University School of Law and New York University School of Law both saw dips in passage rates of four and three points, respectively.

Moeser, in her letter, asserted that the low rates reflected on either the students or the schools, and not the test.

“[We] always take quality control of … scoring very seriously, we redoubled our efforts to satisfy ourselves that no error occurred in scoring the examination or in equating the test with its predecessors. The results are correct.”

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Allard replied to Moeser’s “surprisingly defensive” and “offensive” memo and queried the conclusion that the test was not at fault. “There is no explanation how you reached your conclusion, nor transparency to your process,” Allard commented on Moeser’s assertion that an internal review was conducted.  “[So] how can we have confidence in this self-serving unaudited assertion?” 

“Frankly,” Allard’s letter continues, “your statements ring hollow…You can do a better job and provide both the deans and the students a more thorough review.” 

In an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Allard added that “the 2014 downswing in scores and passage rates is so far unexplained, but the notion expressed by the president of the NCBE that it is the students and not the test is small minded, insulting and false.” 

“Bar prep was even more rigorous [in 2014] than the year before. My take on it is, it’s not our students. It’s the test. And that is unacceptable.” 

It is unclear in what ways, if any, the bar exam changed either in structure, content or administration between this year and the 2013 test when BLS had a pass rate of more than 90 percent.

“That is in part what we need to learn and understand,” Allard told the Eagle regarding subtle or minor test modifications.  Questions are often recycled on the exam and a number of questions are identified as test or trial questions; these questions are not graded and not known to the testing students. 

“[We] do not know if the scoring was done differently in 2014,” Allard added. “Bottom line, there is no transparency in the process, and we cannot be sure that the test is fair and accurate this year.” 

Moeser advised the New York Law Journal that she stands by her letter: “All points to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.”

“We all can agree that new lawyers should be capable and held to a high standard before giving them a license to serve the public as attorneys,” Allard said, concurring with Moeser. “But, that is not what we are talking about.  What we are questioning is a quirky, unpredictable, unexplainable test that seems to have little to do with ability or competence.”

In defense of his student body, Allard quipped that if students are able to get through law school and gradate, the final testing apparatus — the bar exam — is likely the problem. “If law schools are doing their jobs, and we are, if our students do the work, and they do, then graduates should be passing the bar,” Allard said.

Some questioned whether or not the decline in traditional job opportunities for new lawyers might have detracted study away from solid academic courses into realms more tailored for the new-age lawyer. 

“Students who graduate from an ABA accredited law school must complete a rigorous program of study that prepares them to be practicing lawyers.  It is not possible to skin by and earn a JD,” Allard told the Eagle in a response to critics. 

If not the test, as Moeser asserts, and not the students, as Allard contends, the blame may partially rest in the examining institution itself.  

“Right now the NCBE is acting like a medieval trade guild arbitrarily and unpredictably raising a very expensive toll bridge and forestalling the entry into the profession of well qualified, very competitive motivated people,” said Allard.

“There is a lot of money spent on the bar examination industry.” 

All involved agree that changes need to be made; the question that remains is where.

“We’re all scratching our heads and left with questions as to what this means,” said Michelle Anderson, dean of the City University of New York School of Law.

If changes are not addressed, however, Allard cautions that the effect could be long-lasting for the legal profession.

“This is not a Brooklyn or a New York state issue.  This is a national problem because it is denying deserving graduates admission to the bar and short changing the public of motivated, talented, competitive new attorneys,” Allard concluded. 

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