FEBRUARY 12, 2021 — Even before a student graduates from Charleston School of Law, passing the bar exam is a top priority. It is also the Law School’s priority from the moment they walk in the door. An institution-wide initiative, Pass the Bar, supplies students and graduates with the holistic tools and resources they need as they prepare to take the bar.
Dyann Margolis, Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Success, oversees the program and works closely with graduates as they embark on their bar-taking journey. “We are incredibly involved as soon as they graduate,” she says. “I do regular check-ins with every student, and every single graduate gets my cell phone number and can call or text me anytime.”
For Allison Gutberlet, who passed the bar in July 2020, having access to Dean Margolis was invaluable. “I felt personally very supported by her,” she says. “One time, I took a practice test and scored two out of 14 correct and immediately texted her. She was able to log on and see my progress and assure me that I was doing fine and was just tired and needed a break.”
A new addition to the program is a faculty mentor for each graduate. “The goal is to match students and professors who already have a rapport,” says Dean Margolis. Mentors check in with graduates and motivate them to stay on track. Repeat bar exam takers receive additional help from two adjunct professors who have significant experience working with bar exam takers.
In addition to mentors, graduates also have access to professors via happy hours. These sessions foster informal discussion on topics that range from property law to torts. “In a perfect world, students would be on-campus doing bar prep,” says Dean Margolis. “But with Covid, we’ve been bringing the students together virtually so they can feel connected.” Allison says the happy hours gave her a much-needed brain break and a non-intimidating forum for discussing topics with professors. “It was also good just to be around people,” she says.
Dean Margolis says the Pass the Bar Initiative follows the data to help students strategize their studying. “We know the biggest commodity is time when it comes to studying for the bar,” she says. “So we focus on what we know from the data will help them the most.”
The written portion of the bar exam consists of the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and counts for 50 percent of the total score. To help students with preparation, the school hosts timed writing workshops followed by detailed critiques.
“The grader gives substantive feedback so the student can figure out how to best approach and answer written questions on the day of the test,” says Dean Margolis. Allison says the feedback helped her most with formatting and clarity, essential elements of success for the written portion of the exam.
Two weeks before the exam, Bar Bootcamps provide in-depth, 90-minute reviews with professors on Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) topics that include contracts and sales, constitutional law, property, civil procedure, criminal law, evidence, and torts.
Graduates also have access to the BARBRI self-study program, which Allison took full advantage of. “It gives you a schedule to follow and you do it every day,” she says. “Unfortunately, it also tallies your hours. Mine added up to 460, but I also did work outside of BARBRI so it probably added up to more than 500 hours total.”
With such a grueling investment of time, the Pass the Bar Initiative includes other perks to help students, including discounted or free parking on campus, study rooms, lunch during the exam, and plenty of snacks.
For Allison, the school-wide focus on supporting graduates preparing for the bar was essential to her success. “The professors were readily available,” she says. “I felt like I could talk to any professor who taught me if I had a specific question about a subject. It was like having 20 unlimited tutors.”
“Student success is our top priority,” says Dean Larry Cunningham, who brings a background in student outcomes, assessment, and institutional research to his position. “Passing the bar exam is a critical hurdle that we all share a universal commitment to helping students overcome. The Pass the Bar Initiative provides important, comprehensive services and programming to help graduates with this challenging exam.”