Is This Christian Law School Lying About Its Success?

The late Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University in 1971. The Liberty University School of Law opened in 2004.

The dean of the law school, Mat Staver, is raving about his school’s success:

“The new results from the Virginia bar pass rate for Liberty University School of Law at 94.44 percent is absolutely phenomenal,” he contends.

That overall score places the law school among the top five in the country, which Staver notes is quite a growth since its beginning. “Most schools struggle to get to 70 percent, and most schools never even break the 80-percent bar pass rates,” he explains.

Let’s look at those claims (which come from the Christian OneNewsNow site, so take that as you will):

Top five in the country? Hardly.

A quick Google search brings up a list of current data for law schools (compiled in the Spring of 2008). A 94.44% success rate for the bar would place the school 23rd in the nation. Hardly in the top five. Top five percent? Possibly. But if that’s the case, that seems like a very convenient word to leave out, don’t you think?

You don’t see Liberty University on that list, though. I’m not sure why… possibly because it’s only provisionally (and not fully) accredited with the American Bar Association.

Staver also said “most schools struggle to get to 70 percent, and most schools never even break the 80-percent bar pass rates.”

Not so. In fact, the number of schools on the Internet Legal Research Group list that can boast a 70% pass rate is 169. The number of schools above 80%? 139.

The list also doesn’t include the number of students in each class (which would skew some of the percentages). I suspect Liberty has far fewer law students than many of the schools on the list, though I don’t have data for this.

I have a close friend who just passed the bar exam in Illinois and I showed her the article. I asked her if there was any truth behind what Staver is saying.

Here’s what she said:

Yikes, this scares me. The first thing is when he says the school is in the top five of the country — that can’t be right. You have to look at U.S. World News Rankings, because that is only one factor to determine rank. It is possible it has that percentage only in this category.

Second, you have to look at where the majority of the students are taking the bar. Each state has its own bar passage rate because the bar exam could be easier depending on the state. Also, you can go to that bar association’s website (which will indicate how much you need to pass). IL needed 60% has a safe pass — but this is an “easy state.”

Third, you have to see if it is an ABA (American Bar Association) accredited law school. Most employers and OTHER STATES will NOT admit you to the bar if you graduated from these schools. Also, California has the lowest bar passage rate — but it has the most unaccredited schools in the country.

Fourth, the BEST schools do NOT teach you to pass the bar. They say the fact that you have a high LSAT and got in here means you will pass the bar. In fact, the more “poor” law schools are known as three-year bar review courses…

I checked the U.S. News and World Report list of the best law schools in the country. Liberty University is unranked.

If anyone can shed further light on the matter, go for it.

  • Vincent

    Liberty is unranked because USNWR only ranks accredited law schools.
    That said, the rankings are a poor guide to quality, though they are a guide.
    But bar pass rate is a low factor in ranking.

    Your friend is right about the different states having different difficulty of passing. There’s another reason California has a low pass rate – you don’t have to go to law school to take the exam. Most states require you be a law school graduate to sit for the bar exam, but California lets anyone who pays the fee take the test. They have an incredibly low pass rate because of all the people just taking the exam to take it (often people in prison or just out of prison).

    On Liberty’s favor though: VA is known as one of the hardest bars in the state so a high pass rate is pretty good. You should look at the pass rates of just VA schools to see how they stand.

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    The other notorious Christian Law School in the State, Pat Robertson’s Regent University, is ranked 163 with a 73.7% pass rate. Although it is possible, I don’t imagine Liberty performing much better.

  • Erp

    I suspect that 18 of their students took the bar exam and 17 passed (that fits the statistics given as would some multiple of 18 [up to 54 with 3 failing, I doubt 72 or higher as the entering class size is only 70 and they claim to be expanding]).

    University of Virginia, which Liberty admits had a higher pass rate, has a class size of about 360 (though some may not have taken the Virginia bar exam). It also doesn’t boast about the pass rate instead emphasizing the jobs gotten.

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  • noodleguy

    All schools have a tendency to over-exaggerate their accomplishments but this is just ridiculous.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    ABA accreditation is kind of a big deal. But it shouldn’t be that hard to get if you’re serious about providing a good legal education. The ABA looks for schools that 1) maintain an ethical code substantially similar to their model; 2) possesses faculty who have reached a certain level of academic achievement by way of peer-reviewed academic articles and significant accomplishments in the law; 3) has a substantial law library; 4) has a substantial campus; and 5) uses a rigorous and competitive student-selection process. A “provisional” accreditation means that the school falls short in one or more of these areas but has presented the ABA accreditation committee with a plan to remedy those shortcomings.

    The ABA website does not indicate why Liberty has been given a provisional accreditation. My guess would be that it falls a little short of ABA standards in either student selection and ethics (Liberty may give a preference to Christians and particularly to evangelicals) and maybe in the academic credentials of its faculty. And it would be B.S. for the faculty to complain about an “anti-Christian bias” in the legal academy; there is no “Christian” interpretation of Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code or the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Those subjects may not be as sexy as church-state relations, but in real life, there is very little demand for that sort of thing. So if their scholars want to write about the kinds of things legal scholars all over the country write about, they’ll get their publications in somewhere — maybe not in Harvard or Yale or Stanford but there will be prestigious enough academic journals to publish serious legal scholarship, assuming that’s what Liberty’s faculty is turning out.

  • Vincent

    The ABA website does not indicate why Liberty has been given a provisional accreditation. My guess would be that it falls a little short of ABA standards in either student selection and ethics (Liberty may give a preference to Christians and particularly to evangelicals) and maybe in the academic credentials of its faculty.

    I used to work at Stanford’s law library. I remember when the accreditation examiner came. The library is a HUGE deal to them. I’d guess this could be the problem with Liberty since I know Stanford had many books that would have been considered scandalous or sinful by the truly rightwing nuts.

  • Michael

    Let me preface this by saying I’m a student at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Here in North Carolina, there are two schools with provisional ABA accreditation: Elon and Charlotte Law. They’re provisionally accredited because the ABA only gives full accreditation after a few years of provisional accreditation (5 years?). Perhaps Liberty Law is just too new to be fully accredited. A provisional accreditation under this rule basically puts the school under closer and more frequent scrutiny from the ABA, but any student graduating from the school while it has provisional accreditation is deemed to have graduated from an ABA-accredited school, whether that school is given permanent accreditation or not.

    Bar passage rates mean nothing. Campbell University has the highest NC bar passage rate, but nobody calls them the best law school in the state. In fact, most would say that Duke is unquestionably the best followed by UNC and Wake. Recently ABA rules have been revised to allow schools to give credit for bar review courses. Most of the top schools don’t do it, but many of the lower schools do. Liberty has a very strict curriculum. Most schools allow you to pick classes after your first year; it appears Liberty does not. Courses like Evidence and Business Associations appear on the bar exam but are not mandatory at most schools; they are mandatory at Liberty. See Curricular Offerings, Liberty University School of Law, http://www.liberty.edu/academics/law/index.cfm?PID=8966. This may explain the high bar passage rates.

    A quick check on the Law School Admission Council’s Official Guide gives the following stats on bar passage rates:
    Liberty University – No information provided to ABA/LSAC
    Stanford University – 97 takers in CA, 89% pass rate (compared to 65% overall in CA)
    University of North Carolina – 156 takers in NC, 87% pass rate (compared to 74% overall)
    Campbell University – 86 takers in NC, 97% pass rate (compared to 74% overall)

    And the same guide on libraries says:
    Liberty University – 228,387 volumes, 206,022 titles
    Stanford University – 480,130 volumes, 280,302 titles
    University of North Carolina – 527,954 volumes, 137,536 titles
    Campbell University – 191,519 volumes, 47,652 titles

    So clearly Liberty’s library isn’t inferior in its size.

    I have no idea if Liberty has a good program or not, but I went to a Christian undergraduate institution that’s one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country. Just because they’re Christian doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

  • chancelikely

    Poking around their website, I find that 84 students were admitted in Fall 2005. After a three-year program, that group of 84 would be ready to take the bar this year.

    94.44% is equal to 17/18ths, which means that the number of people who took the bar is a multiple of 18, and the number who passed is a multiple of 17. So our options are:
    17 passed of 18
    34 passed of 36
    51 passed of 54
    68 passed of 72.
    Any higher multiples of 18 exceed the 2005 enrollment (and transfer students were negligible).

    I’m not exactly sure how impressive “Hey, we got 17/34/51/68 students to pass the bar in various states” is.

  • LU Law Student

    All new law schools must go through a period of mandatory accreditation. Liberty law is provisionally accredited simply because it hasn’t been around long enough to apply for full accreditation. The comments about the statistical significance of a high passage rate for a small class are perhaps valid, but the current 1L class has well over a hundred students, and the school is growing steadily. I suspect that any statistical concerns should be readily confirmed or denied within a very few years. What this blog has proven is that people are afraid to admit that those who band together in Christ might actually do something better than everyone else. What even atheists should be able to appreciate is that those who are especially purposeful in their endeavors have stand a greater chance of success.

  • noodleguy

    So, mr. supposed LU Law Student? None of the complaints we have made have absolutely anything to do with it being Christian or not. I would be just offended if any university was similarly exaggerating its achievements, whether or not it is Christian.

    And exaggerating they are. Top five percent maybe true. Top five PERIOD? No, not even close.

  • LU Law Student

    Mr. Noodleguy, my name is Harrell Canning and I am a 3L at Liberty law. I’m set to finish in December (I was the first transfer law student, and my credits dictate that I finish in the middle of the year). I’m sure my identity could be verified in a number of ways–perhaps on the Liberty law “Facebook” page. In any event, I’m not sure about the comments made at the ceremony, but in an e-mail sent to the student body on October 16th at 4:02 p.m. Dean Staver indicated that he believed the passage rate would place our students in the “top five percent“. Either someone has reported this wrong, or he misspoke at the ceremony. Of course, because Dean Staver represents a Christian body, he is expected by everyone else to be perfect. When he is not, people seem to relish pointing out his misstatements. Perhaps someone will hold you to these standards someday, too.

  • LU Law Student #2

    Liberty Law has students who hold of a variety of political persuasions and backgrounds. Furthermore, Liberty Law certainly does not condemn or discriminate against those who are not Christian or who did not attend Christian schools as undergrads during the admissions process. In fact, many students who currently attend Liberty Law went to ultra-liberal and/or secular humanist undergraduate institutions including UC Berkeley or Western Washington University. Ultimately, the student body is not unlike that which may be found at other private schools—the overwhelming majority consists of students that are not overzealous fanatics, but rather students who want to peacefully pursue a legal education because they aspire to make a living doing something they enjoy and are passionate about. Moreover, the curriculum does not only prepare students for the bar; rather, Liberty Law has an intense “lawyering skills” program lasting three years that prepares students for actual practice after the bar. The entries above simply consist of mere speculation—the authors of the above entries seem to be DETERMINED to condemn a school (that happens to be Christian) despite having little or no information…and even misinformation. Why all the fuss about a young school that is doing relatively well? What is wrong with having a curriculum that prepares students for both the bar and practice? Isn’t it a good thing that graduating students are passing the bar exam? Top 5, top 5%, faculty member who misspoke…who cares what is the big deal? Why the all the suspicion, speculation and accusations concerning things that are trivial? America has always had private religious schools with higher education programs…get over it you babies.

  • Freedom57
  • Mark

    Yeah, the “friendly atheist” is lying about his stats. The quote is

    That score puts LU in the top 5 percent of all law schools in the country, according to school Dean Mat Staver.

    Just do a Google search for the quote “top 5 percent of all law schools in the country” and Staver.

    The friendly atheist after all doesn’t think lying is a “sin” anyways. So what can you expect. Lying is just apart of ‘his’ communicating.

    If he did a “retraction” he would have to cancel the whole article because it is based upon a lie. But again, what do you expect. I wouldn’t read any article now, any criticism is probably opposite of what he is actually saying.

    Reader beware!

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Yeah, the “friendly atheist” is lying about his stats. The quote is

    That score puts LU in the top 5 percent of all law schools in the country, according to school Dean Mat Staver.

    Just do a Google search for the quote “top 5 percent of all law schools in the country” and Staver.

    The friendly atheist after all doesn’t think lying is a “sin” anyways. So what can you expect. Lying is just apart of ‘his’ communicating.

    There’s no lying. If you read the post and follow the link in the article, I am quoting Staver just as the article did. He didn’t use the word percent.

    Furthermore, I address that possibility in the very next paragraph, which you would’ve noticed if you had actually read the post.

    A quick Google search brings up a list of current data for law schools (compiled in the Spring of 2008). A 94.44% success rate for the bar would place the school 23rd in the nation. Hardly in the top five. Top five percent? Possibly. But if that’s the case, that seems like a very convenient word to leave out, don’t you think?

  • Siamang

    Actually, Hemant, read the article carefully.

    Staver didn’t say that. The sentence where the word “percent” is missing isn’t in quotes. It’s a sentence by the writer of the article, Charlie Butts.

    Elsewhere, in direct quotes, we can find Staver using the word percent including here:

    http://www.liberty.edu/libertyjournal/index.cfm?PID=15758&section=4&artid=449&CFID=4377236&CFTOKEN=62432310

    Some of the webpages that quote this press-release and include the word percent in direct quote from Staver predate the OneNewsNow Charlie Butts article.

    I think this can be chalked up to a reporting error on the part of Charlie Butts. I don’t think you can blame this one on Staver.

  • Mark

    Exactly. Wrong again in his facts. Of course I don’t expect a retraction anytime soon.

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  • Skeptic

    Nice to find this site, as I’ve been knocking this issue around with the Liberty brainwashed all day on Facebook.

    Mr LU Law student said that all political affiliations, etc are on campus… which is in itself deceiving as Democrats are officially considered contrary to Christianity on campus and are not recognized.

    Also, LU students can’t protest… There’s actually not so much Liberty at LU.

    But I digress..

    Important facts I didn’t see well mentioned.

    The February exam is the off exam, mostly non traditional students and repeat test takers. The numbers are inaccurately due to the small sample size.

    Also, Liberty University had a 57% pass rate just two years ago, so the odds are extremely high that Feb’s sample is significantly off from the accurate numbers.

    Did find that five people took it last February, searching for the first time takers and not having much luck thus far.


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