Raising the bar
Assistant Dean Ellen Douglas preps students for bar exam passage
Ellen Douglas loves hearing from the strugglers: students having a particularly difficult time preparing for the bar exam—and those who didn’t pass it the first time.
“When I’m able to tweak one or two things in their study plan and it clicks, I know I’m having an effect on their lives and enabling them to work in the career they want,” says Douglas, Loyola’s assistant dean of academic success and bar preparation.
With Douglas and assistant director Kristina Lasker (JD ’19), Loyola has two administrators wholly dedicated to students’ success on the bar exam and throughout their law studies.
Douglas has nearly 20 years of experience in bar prep. She’s a founding employee of Themis Bar Review, where she focused on developing the online platform to incorporate best online education practices, ensuring that all learning styles are considered. She’s also worked for BARBRI Bar Review, managing its law school prep program, and directed chapter operations for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.
In 2018, she joined Loyola as an adjunct professor co-teaching Bar Exam Fundamentals, a two-credit pass/fail course offered both fall and spring. Partnering with adjunct Bill Elward (JD ‘93), Douglas introduces students to the exam, what it tests, where to find the material, and how to approach preparation—strategies for multiple choice questions, essay questions, and the exam’s multistate component.
“[Loyola] has consistently outperformed the state rate for first-time takers. … There’s always room to improve.”
“The bar exam is a best-answer test, not necessarily a correct-answer test,” she says. “It measures reading comprehension and analysis to see whether you can be given a set of facts, think critically, analyze the situation, and convey your answer succinctly in writing. So we discuss why some answers are better than others. Once students complete this course, they can focus on learning or relearning the appropriate material and doing the practice questions.”
As she’s helping individual students get ready for the most challenging exam they’re likely to face, Douglas also has an eye to boosting Loyola’s overall bar exam pass rates.
“Loyola’s pass rates are very solid—the school has consistently outperformed the state rate for first-time takers. I’m a little competitive, and there’s always room to improve,” she says, laughing.
Besides prepping students to prevail on the bar exam, Douglas and Lasker oversee multiple resources—from workshops to one-on-one counseling to the peer tutoring program for first-year law students—that help students maximize their own learning styles and do well throughout their law studies.
“Law school is a whole new world,” she says. “Students are coming from a lot of different backgrounds. For me, an undergraduate accounting student, the learning curve was incredible: issue spotting, rule synthesis, and case law analysis were all new to me.” Douglas hopes her office’s programming will give students these kinds of tools early on, “so they hone their skills in a way that complements their doctrinal learning,” she says.
“I can help you approach an essay question or learn how to spot the issues in a case,” she continues. It’s setting students up to succeed—and letting them take it from there. I can give you the keys to the car,” she says, “but you’ll be the one driving.” –Gail Mansfield (January 2023)
Loyola University Chicago School of Law is a student-focused law center inspired by the Jesuit tradition of academic excellence, intellectual openness, and service to others.