By Marilyn Odendahl
The Indiana Citizen
June 21, 2023
While continuing to await a decision on whether its graduates can take the Indiana Bar Exam, Concord Law School, the online legal institution that is part of Purdue University Global, is trumpeting its February bar passage rate as proof its graduates can meet the requirements to be lawyers in the Hoosier state.
Concord presented a proposal to the Indiana Supreme Court in 2022 that would allow the school’s graduates to sit for the state’s lawyer licensing test. Currently, only graduates of law schools accredited by the American Bar Association are permitted to take the Indiana bar.
The ABA has not accredited Concord, in part, because the school has no brick and mortar location and offers its curriculum fully online. Concord enrolls students from across the country but since it is only accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California, the graduates can only sit for the bar exam and be licensed to practice in the Golden State.
All states give their bar exams two times a year, in February and July. Scores are divided between those who are taking the test for the first time and those who are taking it again.
Concord posted a record pass rate of 62% among first-time takers of the California bar in the February. This is same as the first-time pass rate for Indiana’s February bar.
Martin Pritikin, dean of Concord, hopes the performance will calm some apprehension within the Indiana legal community.
“We can essentially perform as well or better than ABA (accredited) schools and do it completely online for a third of the cost,” Pritikin said. “If we can achieve those outcomes, what real good reason is there not to – at least – give us a try?”
A working group the Indiana Supreme Court assembled to study Concord’s proposal submitted a report in February 2023 outlining the pros and cons of allowing the school’s graduates to take the Indiana bar. Among the concerns were Concord’s academic standards and bar passage rates.
In March, the Supreme Court released the working group’s report and asked for reaction. The feedback has not been made public but the state’s highest court said recently it “deeply appreciates” the comments.
Currently, the Supreme Court is “proceeding cautiously and checking with the American Bar Association about the potential for accreditation,” according to Kathryn Dolan, spokeswoman for the court. No final decision has been made about letting Concord graduates take the Indiana bar.
Pritikin is confident the success of Concord graduates on the California bar would translate to equal – or better – success on the Indiana exam. In particular, the California test has a minimum pass score of 278, which is higher than Indiana’s 264, but the exams are similar.
“The issue spotter questions, the type of answers you’re looking for, the format, it’s virtually identical,” Pritikin said. “There’s a slight difference about what legal subject matter might be asked but other than that, the bar exams are almost identical.”
The Purdue-affiliated law school has previously produced some abysmally low bar scores, dropping to an all-time low of 13% for first-time takers of the February 2017 California bar. Since 2021, Concord’s pass rate has swung between a low of 42% and a high of 57%.
Pritikin said the 62% pass rate is not a fluke. Rather the score is a culmination of changes to the school’s curriculum and shifting of resources that have taken place since he became dean seven years ago.
In the classroom, students are given periodic quizzes, requiring them to apply what they have learned, rather than being given one exam at the end of the course as most law schools do. Also, the students are tested each year on the material taught the previous year and the subjects are integrated across the curriculum so the students encounter the material multiple times.
“We mapped everything out holistically across courses within a given term and also across terms,” Pritikin said explaining Concord’s approach to teaching the law. “In their first two terms, (the students) take contracts, torts and introduction to legal analysis, which is like a writing class. Those are corequisite because the assignments they get in the writing class are actually coordinated with what they’re learning in their substantive classes.”
Concord has also focused on bar prep, subsidizing 80% of the cost of the Kaplan Bar Review program for its students. Moreover, the school has hired a full-time director of bar support to provide coaching for bar takers.
The bar support director “not only gives them a study plan to help them stay on top and make sure that they’re practicing but also kind of works on the psychological part of taking the bar,” Pritikin said. “Some people get stressed out about taking timed exams. Some people kind of psych themselves out about performing under high pressure. He helps them with those things as well.”
Concord’s February pass rate came from just 13 graduates taking the California bar. By comparison, 169 individuals took the Indiana exam in February.
Pritikin said Concord has been growing its enrollment since being accredited by California in 2020 and he expects 20 to 30 more Concord graduates will sit for the California bar in 2024. Also, he anticipates the bar passage rate will remain high.
“I think because we have these holistic supports in place, it’s not going to be dependent on ‘Oh we happen to have a few stellar students this time,’” Pritikin said. “I think it’s more systemic. I think it’s going to last.”