The University of Maine School of Law is celebrating the success of the graduates of the Class of 2020 for their unprecedented pass rate on the Uniform Bar Exam this fall. A record-setting 91% of that class passed the Maine Bar Exam on their first attempt, representing a substantial improvement over the passage rate from the last several years.
While most states decided to hold their postponed summer exams remotely, the Maine Board of Bar Examiners, with the support of the State’s Supreme Judicial Court, decided to proceed with an in-person exam this fall. The rescheduled 2020 Bar Exam was held at the end of September at two separate locations to allow for appropriate social distancing. Test-takers were required to adhere to stringent CDC requirements which included mask-wearing and temperature checks.
Many members of the Maine Law Class of 2020 began preparing for the Maine UBE months before actually sitting for the exam. Through these trying times, graduates remained resilient and were able to work through the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and focus on content mastery and test taking strategies for the exam.
The support of the Law School was greatly enhanced this year when the University of Maine System approved and funded a director of academic success.
“The focus of our applause should be on the students who worked so hard for more than three years and achieved this important accomplishment in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Leigh I. Saufley, dean of the University of Maine School of Law. “At the same time, we appreciate the confidence and support of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Dannel Malloy, who found a way to provide a new resource that allowed the Law School to redouble its focus on student success.”
After a nationwide search, Professor Greg Bordelon was hired to be the director of the Academic Success Program, arriving in Maine in July 2020. He worked previously at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he was a professor of practice and the director of bar success. He has also had experienced leading a bar admissions office as well as teaching and advising students at the undergraduate and graduate level. He brings extensive experience in designing bar examination preparation and bar admissions matters to the Law School.
“Maine Law knew what needed to be done in the midst of a pandemic to put the 2020 graduates in a position for success on the bar exam,” said Professor Bordelon. “We began working in earnest in early summer to lay the groundwork that would support their success. The Bar Task Force at Maine Law was exceptional in getting a formal support program ready to be in place by the time I arrived. I was really able to hit the ground running because of the great work of the Bar Exam Task Force, particularly Associate Dean Carrie Wilshusen, Professor Anna Welch, Professor Andrew Kaufman, and Career Services Director Ann Parrent. This collaboration shows the support and camaraderie of the larger Maine Law community; it is a law school really unparalleled in striving for student success.”
With Professor Bordelon onboard the Law School could take a more strategic dive into bar exam preparation and continue to build upon its existing academic success program. Additions to the program so far this year include:
- Establishing a Bar Coaching Program – Members of the Maine Law Class of 2020 were paired with recent alumni who had previously performed well on the Maine State Bar Exam for more focused bar support and weekly check-ins.
- Developing Study Schedules – Study schedules were developed and provided by the Law School to the graduates who could select either a two month preparation plan or an extended preparation plan.
- Open Availability of Maine Law Faculty – Faculty were readily available for any substantive bar exam questions that the graduates had.
- Focused Support for Repeat Takers – Professor Bordelon worked directly with repeat takers to diagnose skill strengths and weakness and work with them along the way to reinforce strategies for the essays, performance tests, and multiple-choice questions.
The bar results this fall were not only exceptional for Maine Law’s first-time takers, but for repeat takers as well. That specific initiative that Professor Bordelon worked on, one-on-one support for those who were sitting for the exam again, is something he thinks should continue. “To have such a high repeat pass rate (at 62%) in addition to that phenomenal 91% first-time pass rate just shows that when Maine Law grads are committed to achieving a goal, they can do it.”
Anecdotally, those who sat for this exam as repeat takers report that they attribute their successes to having access to clear strategies and exam studying timelines. They also found the focused work with Professor Bordelon to be extremely helpful.
“The Maine Law bar takers fully committed to the work required to achieve a passing score on the bar exam,” continued Professor Bordelon. “It is a full-time job to study for this exam, and the students treated it as such, understood the nature of what the bar exam represented, and practiced, practiced, practiced with the understanding that passing the exam begins their professional livelihood. I couldn’t be more proud of all of them.”
Though success on the exam is not guaranteed for anyone in the future, Professor Bordelon is confident in the commitment the Law School is investing in for students’ successes not only during their time at Maine Law but also on the UBE. The Law School is working on future initiatives to expand the bar exam preparation program for students and graduates, such as:
- Providing a Diagnostic Bar Exam for all 1Ls – Professor Bordelon and others will use this data to create a bar study profile for each Maine Law student.
- Expanding the Bar Exam Skills Course – The 3L course has been expanded to be 3 credits instead of 2 credits, which will allow for more time in the classroom to focus on material, particularly the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), as well as clear articulations and organization for the performance tests and subject matter essays.
- Increasing the Scope of the Bar Exam Task Force – The Law School’s Bar Exam Task Force is now a standing committee of the faculty which focuses on academic success and bar education, consistently reviewing curricular relationships to bar success, and the inclusion of bar-like questions within law school course work.