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Saturday, February 2, 2008

ABA to Impose 75% Bar Passage Requirement as Law School Accreditation Standard

Interesting article in next week's National Law Journal:  ABA May Tighten Rule on Bar Exam Performance; Controversial Move Has Drawn Sharp Criticism From Minority Groups, by Leigh Jones:

Amid pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABA is poised to tighten a rule that requires law schools to show that they are graduating students who can pass the bar exam.

The ABA is expected to approve the controversial measure at its meeting in Los Angeles from Feb. 6 through Feb. 12, when its House of Delegates will consider a recommendation from the ABA's legal education section.

The proposed change has drawn sharp criticism, especially from those representing minority law students' interests. But it is one that the ABA hopes will appease the Education Department, which grants the ABA authority to accredit law schools. ...

In general, the change would create a quantitative rule requiring law schools to demonstrate that 75% of their graduates passed the bar exam or to show that their pass rates were within a certain range compared with other law schools in the same jurisdiction. ...

Under the current rule, the ABA does not require law schools to demonstrate a specific pass rate, but instead to show in general that they are preparing students for admission to the bar and maintaining a rigorous academic program.

Approving the change at this month's meeting is particularly important because the ABA in June will go before the Department of Education, which will consider whether to renew its accrediting authority. The ABA House of Delegates will not meet again until August at its annual meeting. ...

At a hearing last month before the Accreditation Standards Review Committee about the change, several prominent lawyers and scholars expressed their disapproval. Among them was General Motors North America Vice President and General Counsel E. Christopher Johnson, who argued that a bright-line rule would hurt minority enrollment because it would deter law schools from accepting applicants with lower scores on the Law School Admission Test. Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who is a member of the standards review committee of the ABA's legal education section, said that it was "highly inappropriate for the Department of Education to insist on bright-line rules." ...

Eddie Koen Jr., national chairman of the Black Law Students Association, said that the new rule was particularly troubling in light of a recent report released by Columbia Law School showing that law school enrollment among blacks and Mexican-Americans has fallen by 8.6% in the past 15 years. "This will do nothing but exacerbate the problem," Koen said.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Update:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2008/02/aba-set-to-impo.html

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Tracked on Feb 2, 2008 11:12:24 PM

Comments

"a bright-line rule would hurt minority enrollment because it would deter law schools from accepting applicants with lower scores on the Law School Admission Test. Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen"

*shouldn't* law schools be deterred from accepting students who are likely to fail the bar? these comments make it seem as if admitting students who are likely to fail the bar is a practice that must be protected.

Posted by: andy | Feb 2, 2008 4:52:56 PM

This is troubling because it will create incentive for all but the highest achieving schools (in terms of bar pass rate) to raise their 1L minimum grade requirements thus increasing 1L attrition (they'll make up the spots through transfers).

And you better believe these schools will continue accepting the same number of students and hanging on to their first year of tuition as they boot them out the door!!! Gosh, the legal education system and profession are so broken, and it seems it will only get worse...

Posted by: Look to your left, look to your right... | Feb 2, 2008 6:26:13 PM

Dumb question: how many schools would be in danger of losing their accreditation if this were the rule right now?

I'm looking through an easy-to-find list of law school bar passage rates from 2000, and when you compare the state bar passage rates to the school bar passage rates, there are, it seems to me, a LOT of schools that are both under 75% passage and more than 5% below the state bar passage rate, in order of magnitude of difference between the state and school passage rates:

CUNY, Texas Southern, Ohio Northern, Southern, Touro
John Marshall, Whittier, Regent, Capital, Howard, Northern Illinois, California Western, Widener, Western New England, Texas Wesleyan, Tulsa, Gonzaga, Catholic, New England, Suffolk, Saint Thomas, and Toledo

Because these are 2000 numbers I don't have anything for schools like Ave Maria and Appalachian; you can cut off everything after Northern Illinois if you change the standard to "more than 10% lower" than the state passage rate.

Anyway, it seems to me that's a lot of schools. Maybe all the passage rates have gone up in the last ten years? Somehow I doubt it.

Posted by: Sarah | Feb 3, 2008 1:49:03 PM

What? You mean Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't already marching in the streets and making boycott threats about this idea?

Man, they must be slowing down with age.

Posted by: MarkJ | Feb 3, 2008 3:06:05 PM

Sarah, here's the 2008 data. Southern, DC, Whittier, Thomas Jefferson, Golden Gate, St. Thomas, CUNY-Queens, Barry, Roger Williams, Baltimore, Nova Southeastern, Tuoro, Regent, Arizona State, Howard, Detroit Mercy, Syracuse, and Chapman are all more than 5 points off the state bar average and have less than a 75% passage rate. (Someone can check if I'm wrong).

Posted by: merevaudevillian | Feb 3, 2008 3:08:49 PM

Do you really think that they'd have the balls to take accreditation away from Howard?

Posted by: UChi1L | Feb 3, 2008 3:27:35 PM

Cripes, the ABA should simply shut down the bottom 10% of schools without another thought. Then get started winnowing down the class sizes of each school.

Yeah, I'm serious. There is no place on earth for garbage schools like Cooley--they rip their students off and send them into student loan penury.

Close em. Now.

Posted by: Spartee | Feb 3, 2008 3:34:05 PM

Either an exemption is made for "affirmative action" [regardless of what its actually called] OR the bar exam itself will be watered down to make this hurdle easier to overcome, which is actually even more corrupting.

Posted by: newscaper | Feb 3, 2008 5:28:45 PM

Those numbers are incorrect. Chapman's rate for the July 2007 bar exam was 72% and the California state average for first time takers from out of state ABA schools was 67.3%. The average for ABA approved schools located within the state of California rate was 75.9% (thanks in part to an incredible 85% from USF!!!) Either way, Chapman is clearly within 5 points of the state bar average for first-time ABA takers.

http://calbar.ca.gov/calbar/pdfs/admissions/Statistics/JULY2007STATS.pdf

Posted by: Chapman | Feb 3, 2008 6:41:21 PM

"This is troubling because it will create incentive for all but the highest achieving schools (in terms of bar pass rate) to raise their 1L minimum grade requirements thus increasing 1L attrition (they'll make up the spots through transfers)."

"And you better believe these schools will continue accepting the same number of students and hanging on to their first year of tuition as they boot them out the door!!! Gosh, the legal education system and profession are so broken, and it seems it will only get worse..."

----

Honestly, I think this is badly needed and one of best things I've seen from the ABA in recent years.

Sure, it's unethical for schools to milk law students for a year when they know they're going to dismiss them - but it's not any more ethical for schools to milk those students for two more full years when they know perfectly well how many of the people they're graduating won't be able to pass the bar.

Under legal academia as it currently stands, a bunch of schools are enrolling a ton of students and taking a lot of money from people who they know will have serious trouble both passing the bar and finding employment as a lawyer.

1. Anything the ABA does to winnow this down is a good thing.

2. If a school wants to try to game the system by flunking a bunch of students after their first year, that will only be successful if that school's first year grades are a good gauge of a student's progress in school so far (another common complaint among law students), so it could also lead to progress (or at least a cessation of complaints) on that front.

Posted by: WAL | Feb 3, 2008 8:00:40 PM

More Loyola 2L fallout (WSJ lawyer of the year for 2007.)

Posted by: anon | Feb 3, 2008 8:33:01 PM

"This will do nothing but exacerbate the problem," Koen said.

It will if your metric is the # of minorities that are ENROLLED in law school. If the metric is the % of minority (and other students) that actually PASS the bar, then it will help. Now who benefits when (mostly minority) students spend 3 years of their life and over $100K of someone's money (usually not their own) ENROLLED in a school for a trade they will never qualify to practice?

Posted by: Jack Denver | Feb 3, 2008 9:23:14 PM

if a school was found to fall below how long till it was taken off list of aba schools? when are they starting to evaluate these schools?

Posted by: applying for law school | Feb 20, 2008 1:17:32 PM