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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, February 10, 2014

ABA 'Holds its Collective Nose,' Throws in the Towel on New Bar Passage Standard; Also Allows Credit for Paid Externships, Requires 6 (not 15) Hours of Clinics, Retains Tenure Requirement

ABA Logo 2ABA Journal:  ABA Committee Throws in the Towel on New Bar Pass Standard, by Mark Hansen:

After several years and as many false starts, an ABA committee has for the time being given up trying to improve upon the existing bar exam requirements in the law school accreditation standards. The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s standards review committee, which met Friday in conjunction with the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago, voted instead to recommend turning the current interpretation on bar passage rates into a standard.

The vote followed a brief presentation by committee member Catherine L. Carpenter, a Southwestern Law School professor who chairs the working group that drafted the proposed new bar pass standard the committee was supposed to consider. Carpenter said the working group had reluctantly concluded that its draft proposal wasn’t ready to be acted upon because not all jurisdictions currently provide name-specific bar exam results to law schools. Under the draft proposal, a law school would be required to show that 75 percent of its graduates who took a bar exam in the two years after the year of their

Committee chair Jeffrey E. Lewis, professor and dean emeritus of St. Louis University School of Law, ... [said that t]urning the current interpretation into a standard would preserve the status quo, allow the committee to complete its comprehensive review of the standards on time and buy the committee time until more jurisdictions agree to release name-specific bar pass information to the schools, he said.

The committee unanimously agreed, although committee member Robert J. Cordy Jr., an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, said he would like the record to reflect that it did so while holding its collective nose.

Under the current interpretation -- and proposed new standard -- a law school can meet the bar pass requirement in one of two ways: Either by showing that 75 percent of its graduates who took the bar exam in at least three of the previous five years passed or by showing that its graduates’ first-time bar pass rate was no more than 15 points below the average bar pass rate for ABA-approved schools in states where its graduates took the bar.

At its meeting Friday, the committee also:

  • Voted to recommend eliminating the current prohibition on granting academic credit to a student who participates in a field placement program for which the student receives compensation.
  • Reaffirmed its previous decision to recommend raising the experiential learning requirement from one credit hour to six credit hours. The council has posted two such proposals for notice and comment: The one previously recommended by the committee and one which would increase the experiential learning requirement to 15 credit hours.
  • Declined to wade back into the debate over whether to eliminate tenure as an accreditation requirement.
  • Decided not to quantify the standard that says a law school should provide students with “substantial opportunities” to participate in pro bono legal services or law-related public service activities.

Update:  National Law Journal, ABA Moves Toward Allowing Paid Student Externships

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"After several years and as many false starts, an ABA committee has for the time being given up trying to improve upon the existing bar exam requirements in the law school accreditation standards. "

Paging Senators Grassley and Boxer, paging Senators Grassley and Boxer: it's time to start questioning the ABA's worthiness as an accreditor again...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 10, 2014 4:02:14 PM

Law profs, here's a law review article to consider: "Regulatory capture" in professional accrediting organizations. Or is that a little too close to home?

Posted by: Modest Proposal | Feb 11, 2014 7:03:22 AM