Lincoln Memorial records 81% bar pass rate for inaugural class

Lincoln Memorial University’s Duncan School of Law may have just completed a remarkable turnaround. Two years ago, the law school was left for dead, after the American Bar Association denied accreditation and the then-dean claimed the denial would cause irreparable harm to the small Tennessee school. But one year ago, the school dropped its lawsuit against the ABA and replaced its founding dean, Sydney Beckman, with a seasoned veteran — Parham Williams.

Now the school has reported that its inaugural graduating class achieved an 81 percent passage rate on the Tennessee State Bar Exam — higher than the national average of 78 percent.

“All of us — law faculty and staff, law administration and university administration — were joyously surprised,” said Williams, who was the founding dean at Chapman University School of Law, and dean at University of Mississippi School of Law and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. “We knew that we had provided a sound and thorough legal education to these students, but we also were aware that the initial graduates of a new law school rarely achieve higher than a 50 percent bar passage rate. In my wildest imaginings, I did not predict that our graduates would achieve an 81 percent passage rate.”

The ABA had denied approval in December 2011 because it found that Lincoln Memorial did not have a system in place to ensure that students who received low scores on their LSATs would be able to graduate and pass the bar exam.

“As a result of the denial of provisional ABA approval, the entire institution engaged in an intensive evaluation of itself and of the outcomes of its effort,” said Williams, who is interim vice president and dean of the law school. “The ‘new direction’ of the law school was a product of that self-evaluation. We are a more effective institution today.”

The law school implemented a series of programs to provide students adequate preparation for the bar exam, as well as the professional workforce. The school incorporated writing and skills exercises into every course, implemented mandatory midterms and adopted technology to provide students with non-traditional assistance.

Programs are in place for students before they begin their first year, including a free ‘bridge week,’ which offers first-year students the opportunity to learn to read, analyze and brief cases and create effective legal arguments. The program also affords first-year students a chance to learn how to utilize legal research tools.

“For at-risk students, the law school has mandatory – and free – academic support programs in which the students are aided by tutors and counseled by faculty members,” Williams said.

The school also provides feedback for students by requiring midterm exams. Williams said after each exam, professors are required to provide feedback and counseling for students who did not do well.

Additionally, Williams said students with writing problems are assigned to Writing Labs staffed by skilled English professors from Lincoln Memorial University.

Williams said the administration has always believed the law school will become accredited by the ABA.

“What has changed since we first applied for provisional accreditation in 2011 is that we have graduated our first class in May, who then passed the bar exam above the national average in July,” Williams said. “Really, what’s different now is that there’s an external measurement of how well we are preparing our students for the practice of law. We’re not just saying that we’re producing practice-ready graduates. Rather, a two-day examination, given to nearly 800 graduates wanting to be Tennessee lawyers, has confirmed it.”