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Ave Maria Law School Takes Steps to Boost Bar Passage

The Ave Maria School of Law in Naples is taking further steps to improve the performance of its graduates on the Florida bar examination.

The school has been struggling since its move to Florida from Michigan in 2009 to increase the percentage of students who pass the exam on the first try, a number which all too frequently has been among the lowest in the state. For the most recent exam, taken in the summer, just 47.8 percent of Ave Maria Law graduates passed the exam. That was the lowest of all Florida law schools, more than 20 percentage points below the statewide average and more than 40 percentage points below the top two performing schools, Florida International College of Law and the Florida State University College of Law.

Law school President and Dean, Kevin Cieply, said in a communication to law school supporters that he was "disappointed" by the results but pointed to a number of changes he said have been implemented recently to improve bar passage.

"We changed our curriculum, implemented mandatory mid-terms and bar preparation courses and increased the rigor with which we evaluate our students' academic progress," he said. "In addition, we hired a director of bar passage."

Dean Cieply said the school also has increased its selectivity in admissions. Included in that effort was a new scholarship program funded by the school's founder, Tom Monaghan, that offers a three-year, full-tuition scholarship to students who met certain criteria for academic achievement and faithfulness to the Catholic Church. The law school said in a statement that 20 scholarships were awarded, although the initial announcement of the program said that 50 would be available. (Click here for the Ave Herald story on the announcement of the program in October, 2014.) 

Most Ave Maria Law graduates do, however, eventually pass the bar. Dean Cieply said that an analysis of 100 percent of the law school's graduates during the last five years shows that 83 percent passed a bar exam either in Florida or another state. That rate, he said, "puts us comfortably within the American Bar Association's standards concerning bar passage rates," which generally expect that at least 75 percent of a school's graduates in the last five years will have passed a bar exam.

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