Ave Maria Best in State on Michigan Bar Exam

Catholic college's pass rate exceeds 5 other law schools'

By Mike Wowk / The Detroit News
Sunday, November 9, 2003

ANN ARBOR -- Dan Kelly of Minneapolis was admitted to the law schools of both the University of Minnesota and Notre Dame, his alma mater.

But he chose instead to attend Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, a 220-student college founded three years ago by former Domino's Pizza owner Tom Monaghan.

"His (Monaghan's) goals and aspirations for academic excellence fit with mine," said Kelly, 31, now an Ann Arbor patent attorney. "On top of that, there was the flair for the renewal of the Catholic legal tradition."

Ave Maria's first graduating class this year -- including Kelly -- scored the highest passing rate on the Michigan Bar exam among all six of the state's law schools, according to the State Board of Law Examiners.

Twenty-six of the 28 Ave Maria graduates -- 93 percent -- passed. Among first-time test takers, the University of Michigan Law School was second at 90 percent.

The passing rate for all first-timers on the Michigan Bar exam was 75 percent. Among all test takers, the statewide average for passing was 68 percent.

Bernard Dobranski, Ave Maria's dean, said another 38 graduates took the Bar exam this year in other states, and their passing rates were also in the 90th percentile.

"When I first sat down with Tom Monaghan to talk about Ave Maria, there were two things we both agreed on," Dobranski said. "First, it had to be firmly grounded in the Catholic legal tradition."

The legal system of the Western world is based on centuries-old principles espoused by the Catholic Church and, later, by other Christian denominations, Dobranski said. Students in a first-year course on property law, for example, are taught the underlying philosophical foundations of property, as well as the legal issues, he said.

"Secondly, it had to be academically excellent. We had to teach those same technical skills as other law schools so that our students could compete (for jobs) at the best law firms," he said.


Passing rates, by law school, on the July 2003 Michigan Bar exam for first-time takers, before appeals:

* Ave Maria: 93 percent (26 of 28 students)

* University of Michigan: 90 percent (37 of 41)

* Detroit College of Law: 85 percent (107 of 126)

* Wayne State: 81 percent (129 of 160)

* U-D Mercy: 59 percent (41 of 70)

* Cooley Law School: 43 percent (35 of 81)

* Out-of-state graduates, including repeat test takers: 67 percent