Monday Morning Message 11.4.19 It's Never about the Setback. It's Always About How We Respond.

Posted 2019-11-04 10:32am

“The impulse to hide bad news and instead offer rosy forecasts has a long history….denial is not inevitable, even if it is always a temptation. Dialogue- the capacity to discuss the undiscussable- is the antidote, and confidence makes it possible….” - Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Confidence

“Companies fail because success is viewed as deserved rather than hard earned…. People begin to believe that success will continue almost no matter what the organization decides to do, or not to do.” - Jim Collins, How the Mighty Fail

“To be gritty is keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week, after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty  is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” - Angela Duckworth, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Every Monday morning, I am very proud to share the great news at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and happily, there has been a lot of great news to share these past several years.

Record bar passage rates. Record employment rates. Record enrollment growth. Nationally ranked in eight specialty law areas. Named a best law school in health and business law. Nationally recognized Centers in Health Law, Criminal Justice, Cybersecurity, and Global Space Law. The only Solo Practice Incubator in Ohio. One of the first online Master of Legal Studies Programs in Cybersecurity in the country. One of the first law school leadership education programs in the country. Named one of the best value law schools in the country. Our admissions yield (the % of admitted students who enroll) is in the top 10% of law schools in the country. The best student: faculty ratio of Ohio’s nine law schools. The list goes on. We are, without a doubt, a law school on the rise.  

But I’m also obligated to be transparent and share news that demonstrates where we can further improve.

The July 2019 Ohio Bar Exam results were recently announced, and our first-time passage rate was 75%, down from the 93% our graduates earned on last July’s exam. 

I hesitated before sharing this news in my Monday Morning Message, because it is a natural human tendency to amplify the positive and to deny, downplay, or discount anything that’s not.

Given our consistently strong past bar exam passage results and our exceptionally strong academic support program, we believe that the July results are an outlier. Nonetheless, to not share the results with those I consistently share the good news, would have been exactly contrary to what I say to our students who fail the bar exam- namely, to face up to your setback, learn from it, believe in yourself, and show the grit, perseverance, hard work, focus, and confidence to rebound and succeed.

Our confidence in our talented students and the outstanding teaching and academic support we provide them, gives us great confidence that we can and will match our success last year and return to a 90% or higher bar passage rate. 

For those who did not pass this time, we share in their disappointment, but we continue to believe in their ultimate success. Their education, powered by the grit and tenacity we intentionally foster at Cleveland-Marshall and for which we are well-known, is a recipe through which they will achieve their goals. We remain here and eager to support them through their efforts to pass the bar exam in February. 

Each year we congratulate and celebrate our many graduates who passed. But too often law schools do not reach out to those who don’t. Each year I write the following message to those graduates who did not pass.  

“I want you to know we share in your disappointment, but we continue to believe in you and in your ultimate success. Each of you has been a high achiever in your life, and for some of you, this may be your first failure. Unanticipated and unwelcome developments in a career path can open new doors. It may not feel that way right now, but you can turn this into something positive. I don’t pretend to know or understand how you are feeling, but I want to share some thoughts based on my own experiences.

Although I’ve had the great privilege of serving in state public office for 18 years, I also had my share of setbacks along the way. From President of Fernway Elementary School through my first 14 years in public office, I never lost an election.

All that changed in 1994 when I barely lost my re-election for Ohio Attorney General. I was stunned and for a while I not only experienced loss, I felt lost. In 1998, I barely lost my race for Governor. I was hurt. In 2010, I lost my race for the U.S. Senate. I was disappointed. Each time I lost, over 11 million people knew that I had failed to pass my election exam.

But each defeat led me to a new, unanticipated, exciting opportunity, and my last defeat put me on a path that led me to where I am today- the best job I’ve ever had among many great and fulfilling jobs. Each time I lost, I reached out to family and friends who were willing to share not just in my joy, but also in my pain.

I’ll never forget what my then 4-year-old daughter Jessica said when I lost my first election in 1994. Jessica was crying, and said, ‘Does this mean you won’t be my Daddy anymore?’ Her words helped me understand that my loss didn’t define who I was. Each time I lost, I failed up, not down, because I refused to allow my defeat to define me.

Why do some and people rebound after a setback while others sink into despair? The answer is resilience.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book, Leadership in Turbulent Times, notes that dramatic reversals shattered the private and public lives of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.

She writes, ‘Abraham Lincoln suffered a blow to his public reputation and his private sense of honor that led to a near-suicidal depression; Theodore Roosevelt lost his young wife and his mother on the same day; Franklin Roosevelt was struck by polio and left permanently paralyzed from the waist down; Lyndon Johnson lost an election to the United States Senate.’

So don’t let this define you. The signature of the great versus the merely successful is not the absence of difficulty, but the ability to come back from setbacks, stronger than before. Failure is not a physical state. It is a state of mind. Success is falling down and getting up, without end.

You were not given this opportunity; you earned it. You pursued your dream by living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you could spend the rest of your life like most people can’t. Now, move forward.”

We as a law school must practice what we preach. We must remain students of our work, relentlessly asking questions and fostering a culture of responsibility-taking and accountability. We as a law school must maintain a learning curve as steep as that of our students. We must be a law school that has an unshakeable belief in ourselves and that digs deep in self-reflection and examination at important moments.

So, what happened?

I must take much of the responsibility. I believe that my constant refrain about our July 2018 record-setting 93% bar passage rate may have had an unintended effect- it may have caused some of our graduates to be overconfident. That doesn’t absolve our graduates, or any of us, from responsibility, but it does point out the need to remain focused on continuous improvement. Our recent bar exam results are a valuable lesson that, as in all aspects of life, past success is not necessarily a predictor of future success.

One thing we know is that the single most important factor in bar exam success, by far, is bar preparation through the Barbri Bar Review Course between graduation and the bar exam. We continue to benefit from our partnership with Barbri that allows us to provide our students with the Barbri bar preparation course as a part of the services they receive through C|M|LAW.

Even our best students, including those in the top 10% of the class, must diligently prepare for the Bar Exam or risk not passing. A close look at the Barbri work that the class of 2019 did reveals what we believe to be the major factor related to this summer’s lower bar passage rate. A number of our graduates did not complete nearly as much of the assigned Barbri program as was completed by the class of 2018. There is no substitute for hard work.

There is never only one reason why our graduates do or don’t do well. We have studied the data. We’ve spent many years gathering information pertaining to our students and their bar results. We’ve tracked students’ incoming undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores, the courses they’ve taken in law school, their law school GPAs, and their completion rates and engagement in Barbri bar exam preparation.  Additionally, teaching methods, academic support, and faculty and alumni mentoring are factors related to bar exam success. 

Our goal is to help our students be in the best position possible to take and pass the Bar Exam, and we are committed to their success. Our Student Success Team is always looking to improve and innovate. We will continue to analyze and use the data we receive on bar preparation and results as we further build on our plan to ensure that we return to our traditionally high bar passage rate. We are already working on further improving. For example:

We have initiated an annual bar preparation diagnostic exam for 2L and 3L students. Upon completion of the exam, students are provided personalized information regarding their own strengths and weaknesses.
We are now offering a 2L Legal Methods class to provide additional academic support in legal reasoning and analysis and bar-related skills.
In addition to our excellent faculty mentors, we are adding recent graduates/bar exam passers to serve as bar exam preparation mentors.

Critical to our success is our outstanding team. Our Director of Bar Preparation Mary Jane McGinty, who leads our staff/faculty-led bar preparation course known as OBEST, Professor and Director of Student Success Heidi Gorovitz Robertson, our Academic Support Team led by Nick De Santis and Michelle Landever Bond, the members of the faculty Academic Support/Bar Passage Committee, and the many faculty members who help mentor and encourage our bar takers- all of us are here to support our students.  

Below are some messages from some of our students who passed.

Dean Fisher, I’m writing to say that I had a wonderful educational experience at C||M|LAW and that I don’t think our Bar passage rate is indicative of the quality of our program. Our professors are world-class, and access to Barbri was instrumental in my bar exam success. Nick Anhold ‘19

Professor McGinty, I just wanted to say thank you for your help preparing for the Ohio bar exam. I ended up passing and scoring in the 100th percentile. I think that attending your OBEST class and the MPT workshops really laid a solid foundation for my success.
Thank you, Paul Lysobey ’19

Professor McGinty, I'm writing to thank you for all you did for me in OBEST and Barbri. I will be forever  grateful for your assistance
Best, Tom Monah ’19

I am asking all of us to renew our commitment to supporting the success of our students.

The mission of our law school is not to survive. It’s even more than to thrive. It’s to make a distinctive impact on the world we touch with such outstanding performance that it would leave a hole that could not be filled by any other law school if we ceased to exist.

If we want our students to believe in themselves, we must believe in ourselves. If we want our students to have grit, we must have grit. If we want our students to learn from their setbacks, we must learn from our setbacks. If we want our students to be resilient, we must be resilient.

It’s never about the setback. It’s always about how we respond. We will continue to be a law school on the rise as long as we remember that.

This Week’s Monday Moment:  5 TED Talks to Hear After a Setback

Have a great day. Have a great week.

For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages

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 My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our law school or our university.

My best,


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