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Friday, February 7, 2014

ABA to Vote on Imposing Tighter Bar Exam Passage Rules and Mandatory Clinical Requirement on Law Schools

ABA Logo 2National Law Journal:  Panel Near Decision on Law Schools' Bar Exam Passage Rates, by Karen Sloan:

Following years of deliberation, the panel overhauling the ABA’s law school accreditation standards is near a decision about whether to tighten the rules governing rates of bar-examination passage by graduates.

The ABA’s Standards Review Committee will meet Friday and Saturday to discuss a range of proposals, none of which has proven as controversial as the bar-exam passage standard. Now the committee’s chairman, Saint Louis University School of Law professor Jeffrey Lewis, believes the group will finally reach a consensus. "I think we will make a decision at this next meeting," he said.

The committee has already backed off a suggestion to raise the minimum passage rate from the existing 75 percent within five years of graduation to 80 percent within two years. The National Bar Association—the largest association of black lawyers and judges—and the Society of American Law Professors this summer wrote a joint letter warning that the proposal would have "dire consequences on law schools with racially diverse populations."

Instead, the committee will discuss retaining the 75 percent passage minimum but requiring that threshold be met within two years rather than five—meaning law schools would have less time to get their graduates accredited professionally. ...

The argument is hardly new. The ABA set its specific bar-pass minimum only in 2008. Earlier, it enforced what was known as the 70/10 Rule—70 percent of school's first-time test takers had to pass within the school's home state. Alternatively, the first-time pass rate could be no more than 10 percent below the average for other ABA-accredited schools in that state. The U.S. Department of Education demanded a clearer rule, however. ...

That won’t be the only juicy matter the committee takes up. It will also consider increasing the practical-skills training that law students must complete. Existing rules require only one credit hour of so-called experiential learning, including clinics, externships and simulation-based courses. The committee is considering boosting that requirement to either six or 15 credit hours—the latter option supported by the Clinical Legal Education Association. A number of Yale Law School professors and dean Robert Post have sent the ABA letters opposing the 15 credit hour option.

The committee also will discuss whether to allow students to earn money as well as academic credit for externships—existing standards bar them from receiving both. The ABA’s law student division believes the change would "send a bold message to our nation’s law students that the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is committed to addressing some of the financial hurdles law students encounter financing their legal educations," according to a letter from the division’s leadership.

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