Detroit Mercy Law grads beat state averages on bar exam

January 31, 2023
An aerial photo of Detroit Mercy's School of Law in downtown Detroit with other buildings and cars featured on a sunny day.

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law graduates achieved a first-time pass rate and overall pass rate on the July 2022 Michigan Bar Exam that far surpasses state averages.

First-time test takers from Detroit Mercy Law had an 84% passage rate, well above the state average of 76%. These results have Detroit Mercy Law graduates tied for second in the state in terms of first-time bar passage for the July 2022 Michigan Bar Exam. Overall, graduates who sat for this exam had a passage rate of 73%, also above the state average of 66%.

This marks a significant increase over passage rates in 2021, which hovered at state averages. This increase is being attributed, in part, to Power of One, a data-driven program implemented in 2021 by Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum, designed to help law graduates succeed on the bar.

“Student success on the bar exam has been a school-wide effort,” said Jefferson Exum. “The work that everyone is putting in to prepare our students is making a difference.”

Since the launch of Power of One, all graduates who completed the program’s key benchmarks passed the Michigan Bar Exam on their first attempt. Students who meet the benchmarks and pass the bar on the first try receive a financial incentive.

Sarah Garrison, director of Bar Preparation, led the launch of the program. She teaches a bar exam strategies course and provides additional programming that assists graduates while they study for the exam. She developed Power of One with Paula Manning, assistant dean for academic success and bar preparation.

“Success on the bar is completely within a candidate’s control,” Garrison said. “Power of One helps graduates focus their preparation efforts with strategic benchmarks and ensures they know the Detroit Mercy Law community is supporting them every step of the way.”

These benchmarks include completing a Detroit Mercy Law-developed bar exam strategies course, finishing at least 85 percent of an approved commercial bar prep course and participating in faculty mentorship during preparation for the bar where they receive individualized support.

“From orientation to years of class instruction, the faculty are there to guide our students, so it only makes sense that they would continue to mentor them through bar exam preparation,” Garrison said.

“While students study for the bar exam in their own way, it’s important to help them focus their efforts during the bar study period,” said Karen McDonald Henning, associate dean of Academic Affairs and associate professor of law.

“The mentorship I received while studying for the bar really made a difference for me," said Rita Soka '22, who passed the bar on her first attempt this past July. "Not only the substantive support while studying, but also the moral support the faculty gave was truly unique. It was an extension of the community I felt at Detroit Mercy Law during my three years as a student."

The Detroit Mercy Law community has historically supported graduates taking the bar exam by providing lunch and emotional support canines to students at in-person administrations of the exam. They have also provided the financial support helped launch Power of One.

“We’ll continue to analyze the key benchmarks after each bar exam administration so that we can continue to support students in this way,” Jefferson Exum said. “We are all excited to see the continued success of our graduates moving forward as Michigan transitions to the Uniform Bar Exam in February.”

To learn more or to contribute to the Power of One fund, visit