law-schoolWhat is your law school’s bar-passage rate?

If you’ve been out of school more than a few years, you probably don’t track that kind of data. But what would you guess? 75 percent? 80 percent? Even better?

What if you discovered your school’s bar failure rate was 93 percent?

I know; my jaw dropped too.

You may have seen this story via the ABA Journal, which reported on a lawsuit in which the Southern California Institute of Law (its real name) sued over the California Bar’s requirement that the school divulge its bar-passage rate for the past 10 exams (required of all California-accredited schools).

(Sidebar: On its website, the school says that Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski was its 2013 commencement speaker. Can anyone report what he said in his address?)

I had to smirk when I read about the school’s attempt to claim a First Amendment violation:

“The school claims it is being forced to publish a government message with which it disagrees, violating its free speech rights. The school says it disagrees with the ‘ideological belief that a law school should be judged by the passage rates of its graduates.’”

Very high-minded of them.

I think any lawyer who has ever practiced for even a day may agree that there is not a direct correlation between law school classes and successful practice, or even (necessarily) between the bar exam and practice (except, of course, that you need to pass the exam to practice).

But in an age of law school transparency efforts (like this one), prospective law students (read consumers) deserve as much information as possible. As alumni from even highly performing schools graduate and face bleak job prospects, a school’s impish insistence on its own free-speech rights is almost insulting.

And no, despite questions some folks have raised, the school’s lawyer is not one of its own graduates (which could have been problematic on UPL grounds). But I was pleased to see that George Shohet offices right in Venice Beach, where I recently visited; I should have stopped in to visit the Loyola Law School grad, who was admitted in California the same year I was. (I pointed out here how cool a Venice law office could be.)

Thanks to Above the Law for providing a link directly to the judge’s order denying the relief the school sought. You can read what ATL calls a judicial “smackdown” here. (And you’ve got to love the caption, which ends with the names of the defendant Bar examiners: “Southern California Institute of Law v. Archie ‘Joe’ Biggers et al.”)

Where do you come down on the issue? It may be a no-brainer that a school cannot hide this information. But when it comes down to it, what data really mean something to you when you consider a lawyer’s credentials?

Judge Alex Kozinski

In the April issue of Arizona Attorney (currently on the newsstands, or the coffee table, or wherever you keep it), our back-page news story describes a visit to Arizona by the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

For the brief story, I interviewed some lawyers who organized the event, as well as some rank-and-file attendees. And what was one thing that was oft repeated by the lawyers about Judge Kozinski?

“He’s a straight shooter,” a number of people reported. He’s candid and honest, said others. People enjoy reading his opinions.

Joe Palazzolo

Or even his dissents, as it turns out.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog noted a Kozinski dissent in a gun-show case. As writer Joe Palazzolo describes, the Ninth Circuit’s “11-judge panel considered a long-running dispute over a ban on gun shows at the Alameda County fairgrounds in California.” That ban had been in place since 1998, when 16 people were injured in a shooting.

And since 1999, the case has wound its way through the courts. Opponents, not surprisingly, want the ban expunged.

But earlier this month, the panel voted, 9 to 2, to send the case to mediation. However, Judge Kozinski would have none of it. In his dissent, he says:

“The parties have not asked for mediation; they have said nothing that suggests mediation would be fruitful; when asked about it in court, they displayed obvious distaste for the idea. We overstep our authority by forcing the parties to spend time and money engaging in a mediation charade. Our job is to decide the case, and do so promptly. This delay serves no useful purpose; it only makes us look foolish. I want no part of it.”

There is some of that candor lawyers and others enjoy—even when they may not agree with his position.

The order—and dissent—in Nordyke v. King is here.