By the time Jessica Ismond JD’17 was preparing for the bar exam, she’d moved far from her Willamette Law peers and study group to live in Ohio.
Rather than study in isolation, she joined a WUCL program called the Bar Examination Accountability and Support Team (BEAST) and signed up for Edmodo, a Facebook-like online forum that connected her to other Willamette students taking the bar.
In addition to feeling much less alone, Ismond also passed the bar.
“The bar exam has so much material to learn and remember,” she says. “The BEAST program is integral to the success of bar-takers.”
Stakes for bar examinees have always been high — the endurance required to push through testing days, the expense, the possibility of failure after months of preparation — and the need for academic and emotional support has only grown. According to the ABA, July 2018 saw the lowest national test scores since 1984.
Oregon’s bar exam ranks among the toughest in the nation, even after the state Supreme Court lowered the minimum passing score from 284 to 274 last year. Add to that a nationwide decline in bar passage rates and a puzzling discovery by the College of Law: Even when grads completed a commercial bar prep program, many still didn’t pass the bar.
In response, Director of Bar Preparation Professor Amy Meyers, with support from WUCL’s administration, overhauled the “Legal Analysis for the Bar Examination” course and in 2016 created BEAST — a volunteer, around-the-clock effort by the entire law community to help examinees succeed. Within one year, the average MBE score of WUCL graduates rose to the highest in four years.
A supplement to a commercial bar program, BEAST is a catch-all resource for first-time examiners and re-takers that starts several months before testing commences. BEAST offers mentoring from law deans and faculty, a Google drive full of study resources, and live-streamed lectures and workshops — all for free.
So far the results have been very positive. Nearly 80 percent of first-time takers from Willamette in Oregon and Washington combined (who make up the bulk of Willamette takers) passed on the first try this past summer. Since the BEAST program was implemented, Willamette first-time takers have performed at or above the state averages, despite having average LSAT scores well below their in-state peers.
Bradley Mielke JD’18, who passed the February bar, says BEAST’s biggest advantage is its transparent learning environment. If he posed a question to the online community, everyone could learn from it.
“The gap in your understanding may be filled entirely by coincidence,” he says, “and you’re that much more likely to pass.”
Beyond its abundant study resources, BEAST’s biggest benefit is community support. On test days, WUCL alumni volunteered to field calls from stressed-out examinees and even offered them dinner in Portland. Placement and alumni staff provided lunch, office supplies and an over-the-counter medicine kit to examinees. One alumnus mailed his old law textbooks to a graduate retaking the exam.
Cristina Gordon JD’17, a BEAST alumna who passed the bar in February 2018, says the program’s resources adapt to all learning needs. The academic and emotional support provided by expert mentors like Meyers is also invaluable.
“I had a great mentor who truly knew me, how I took tests and how I process information,” she says. “It’s great to have someone who’s not only a cheerleader but is giving you more tools to succeed.”
This article was originally published in the 2018 issue of Willamette Lawyer magazine.
About Willamette University College of Law
As the first law school in the Pacific Northwest, Willamette University College of Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. Willamette Law’s small class sizes foster an interactive learning environment among our diverse student population with a thriving externship and clinical program, ample practical skills courses, and a new Business Lawyering Institute. With a “one student at a time” placement approach, our students are given individualized development plans and tools for success in today's legal job market. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region.