The University of Akron School of Law has struck an agreement with a bar exam preparation company to help more graduates secure attorney credentials.

The move comes after the disappointing overall results of UA law school graduates on the two most recent exams.

“Our goal is for all Akron law graduates to pass the bar on their first try," the law school's dean, Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters, said.

Last July, UA placed last among Ohio’s nine law schools for the percentage of first-time test takers with a pass rate of 65 percent.

Last February, UA placed fourth from the bottom among the Ohio law schools.

Under the agreement, a Texas company called Barbri will be the exclusive provider of bar preparation courses for Akron law students.

This spring, UA will offer a new course that it developed — incorporating Barbri materials — aimed at improving first-year students' study and reading skills as well as their ability to analyze legal cases and communicate. UA law school faculty will teach the course.

Peters said these skills will help the students succeed in law school, as well as on the bar and after they graduate.

After their first year, students will take a Barbri test akin to a “mini bar” exam, Peters said, so the law school can determine where individual students might need help.

“We’re signaling to the students,” Peters said, “that they need to focus on these skills from day one — not just on learning the substance of contract, tort and property law."

Law schools’ focus on bar preparation is relatively recent and came about with the increased focus on law-school rankings in publications such as U.S. News & World Report. Bar passage rates are a part of the rankings. Additionally, Peters said, the law school accrediting body began paying more attention to the rates about a decade or so ago.

The UA law school has previously offered a first-year course to bolster study and other skills. But the course was only offered to students deemed at risk, based on their grades in their first semester of law school. 

The plan now is to require all first-year students to take the Barbri-supplemented course, Peters said.

“We’re still working out the details with the faculty, because this is a transition from the existing system,” Peters said.

The law school will pay for the beefed-up preparation with an existing "tuition set-aside" — $25 per credit hour — that students pay.

Several years ago, the law school instituted the set-aside, using it to reimburse each graduate taking the bar up to $2,250 for the cost of taking a commercial bar review course. Students would sign up for a class on their own, taking it from Barbri or another vendor.

Often, the $2,250 would not cover all of the cost of the course.

Now, the same pot of money will be used to pay Barbri to provide bar preparation courses for all law graduates. UA also will get access to other Barbri materials and tests, including those for the first-year students that will be piloted this spring.

Nick Karam, a third-year law student graduating this spring, said students are happy that all of the costs of a bar-review course will now be covered. He said having the first-year course focusing on study and other skills would have been helpful. "You're building on those foundations" as you go through law school, he said. He has worked as a student representative for Barbri, promoting the company at student information sessions. 

Barbri also has materials for second- and third-year courses that UA law school is considering offering. Full-time students typically take three years to graduate and part-timers typically take four years.

Also, the agreement with Barbri means UA will have access to all the data the company collects.

“As we start tracking these students,” Peters said, “we’re going to be able to look and see, ‘Are people doing better in this subject and worse on that subject?' We're going to be able to gauge what's working in our curriculum."

Peters said the decline in UA's bar passage rates coincides with a drop in law school entrance exam scores of incoming students. The nationwide drop in law school applicants between 2010 and 2015 prompted UA and many other schools to become less selective.

Last year, the Akron law school made a concerted effort to become more selective, admitting students with higher undergraduate GPAs and LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.