A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships: This Ohio Law School’s Mission to Support Minority Students

Published on December 26, 2019

More minorities in law school and then the legal workforce benefit society. The term ‘minority’ includes racial, LGBTQ+, ethnic, and religious categories. Also, people who come from poverty/below poverty levels and women are included.

Increased minority lawyers mean more workforce diversity, options for clients, social/economic advancement for individuals, and perspectives influencing the law.

The increase in minorities in the legal workforce is somewhat attributable to the changing nature in which law schools structure its curriculum. The traditional culture of law school is outdated.

The old teaching philosophy is the only advice students get is “read the cases.” It’s up to the students to figure out how to succeed. That means those with family, family friends, or other connections to the legal community often are those who succeed.

This system also favors single, young, childless, nonworking people who are financially supported by their families. But, that setup is not available to most people. Further, the less privilege one has, the harder it is to gain the connections necessary to succeed in this outdated system.

The new teaching philosophy is student-based and focuses on attention span issues. It integrates cutting-edge teaching tactics like catering lessons to maintain student attention and integrating different learning styles like audio, visual, and tactile into lesson planning.

Law schools supporting minorities increased the overall bar passage rate and benefit society.

One case study is the University of Dayton School of Law (UDSL), whose recent bar exam passage scores have seen a drastic increase.

Bar Passage At University of Dayton School of Law
Andrew Strauss, Dean at the University of Dayton School of Law | Source: University of Dayton

Grit Daily spoke with Andrew Strauss, the Dean at the University of Dayton School of Law to get a better understanding of the university’s recent spike in passage rates.

Strauss took the position of dean at UDSL in 2015, following the Ohio Supreme Court’s release of bar passage scores; only 58% for first-time bar exam candidates from UDSL.

Strauss took over for the university’s former dean, Paul McGreal, who now serves as the dean at Creighton University School of Law.

But Strauss emphasized that this was not an overnight effect. Rather, it was the result of a “multiple years-long team effort at the university to get the passage rate to 89% in 2019.”

The team responsible includes the Academic Success department run by Professor Tamara Tabo, the Bar Passage Program directed by Professor Micheline Kidwell, a groundbreaking tutoring program for bar takers, and an effort to shrink class sizes.

Many deserve a great deal of credit for UDSL’s tremendous bar passage victory in 2019. To name a few, Sheila Miller, Jenna Hosier, Tommy Sangchompuphen, Dan Craine, Katie Armstrong, and Ashley Russel.

Also, those who contributed to UDSL’s success are professors who teach bar-tested subjects and student mentor Dean’s Fellows. And, of course, the 2019 bar takers deserve credit for giving it their all!

Due to UDSL’s faculty and staff’s hard work, students with work-ethic can rise to the challenge of leveling the playing field in the legal community.

Courses Specifically Tailored to the State and Universal Bar Exam

UDSL created specifically tailored courses aimed at bar passage such as Bar Exam Preparation, Elements of Legal Analysis, Remedies, and Advanced Legal Analysis classes. In addition, there are legal labs supporting learning in bar tested classes. These provide more opportunities to succeed.

No one comes to law school to zone out for three years,” Strauss explained. So, many of the changes at UDSL focus on engaging the students and holding their attention in classes.”

The Dayton community has become much closer, after surviving the devastation the fifteen tornadoes earlier this summer wreaked upon the city, as well as October’s Oregon District shooting.

The local law school’s effort to change education strategies demonstrates another key aspect of the school–social justice.

The community is special at Dayton,” Strauss added. “The law school and the broader school; there is a commitment to social justice and service.”

The servant’s heart priority at UDSL is shown by their law student’s pro bono and volunteering work in the greater Dayton area.

Back to Bar Passage

It was clear there was a problem with the old teaching philosophy of “just read the cases” and huge classes due to the bar passage rate.

Notably, the bar passage rates suffered in recent years nationally. For example, in New York, the statewide pass rate dropped from 88% in 2013, to 83% in 2014, and 79% in 2015.  Further, in California, the overall rate dropped from 48.6% in 2014 to 46.6% in 2015; the lowest pass rate in the nation.

But, thankfully this problem is fixable as UDSL showed. Law schools supporting minorities increased the overall bar passage rate and benefit society.

Law schools must evolve past the old teaching philosophy.

To a degree, success always revolves around who you know. This emphasizes my earlier point as to the importance of law students finding a legal mentor. The reality of ‘it’s about who you know’ is why the traditional teaching philosophy has endured.

But, UDSL isn’t the only school that can benefit by leaving traditional law school teaching behind. Implementing similar teaching strategies can help change the game for all students, especially minority students.

Valuing Diversity In Legal Education

Making the change in law schools is important because diversity means everyone has a seat that the table and are valued equally. This integration applies in law schools, the legal profession, and in culture in general. Diversity can only be attained via greater access to the biggest equalizer of people – education.

Valuing diversity in legal education means using teaching strategies that work rather than clinging to tradition.

Law schools are starting to make this change. As their bar passage shows, UDSL is now leading the way in revolutionizing legal education by making it more accessible to all people and minority students.

This change is a rising tide that lifts all ships. UDSL supports minority lawyers by providing everyone resources to compete successfully in law school and pass the bar.

Now regardless of one’s background or minority status, the tools to succeed are accessible. It changes the rules of the law student success game from ‘its who you know’ to ‘its how hard you work.’

New teaching philosophy pioneers, like those at UDSL, are doing the important and necessary work of changing legal education. Further, Harvard and Yale are also integrating new ideas into their JD programs. Yale now has more degree programs available to students and Havard has a more diverse list of classes available.

It all comes back to the attention span of students and their engagement in classes. The work Harvard, Yale, and UDSL are doing matters because the inclusion of minority students changes the legal workforce and culture for the better.

Further, diversity can also be attained via greater access to probably the second biggest equalizer of people – technology and technological competency.

How Can Law Adapt to Technology? It Starts With Education

Law schools throughout the US are preparing lawyers for e-filing, e-discovery, and giving students the option to specialize in cybersecurity/technology law.

For example, UDSL already has a reputation for being cutting-edge in technology law and recently it launched an Online Hybrid JD program.

UDSL was among the nation’s top 30 law schools, ranked 16th, in the country when it comes to legal technology in the fall 2018 issue of the National Jurist.

The new ABA-approved Online Hybrid J.D. program includes live online classes, interactive online coursework and a total of 10 campus visits spread across four years. The program includes real-time interaction with law school faculty members. It is another way technology is being used to make legal education accessible to more students globally.

Further, other law schools such as Berkeley, Harvard, University of Colorado, and Georgetown are utilizing tech in their law schools. These schools are offering tech courses and creating legal clinics that focus on cybersecurity, cyberbullying, blockchain technology, and digital monies.

New teaching strategies combined with tech law classes, concentrations, and clinics are allowing law schools to be a force of equality for law students. This work to make technology a force for good has a wide-reaching local and global effect.

Law schools supporting minorities increased the overall bar passage rate and benefit society.

So, cheers to the revolutionaries changing law schools!

Nova Levante is a Legal News Columnist at Grit Daily. Nova is a licensed and practicing attorney focusing on debt negotiation, the Fair Debt Collection Defense, expungement, and bankruptcy. Nova attended Rutgers University, where Nova concentrated in global cyber-security law and policy. As a computer programmer and lawyer, Nova provides a unique perspective on technology law.

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