Saturday, October 22, 2016
National Law Journal, Tighter Bar-Pass Rule Adopted by ABA Accrediting Body:
The American Bar Association body that accredits law schools voted on Friday to tighten the bar exam-passage standard that schools must meet in order to get the organization’s accreditation blessing. The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar overwhelmingly decided to strengthen its bar pass standard for accredited law schools—a long-debated move proponents said is necessary to ensure law schools don’t admit students unlikely of passing the all-important attorney licensing exam.
The council voted for the stricter standard over the opposition of diversity advocates who warned that schools with large numbers of minority students could lose their accreditation and that the stricter rule would prompt schools to admit fewer minority students. That, in turn, would exacerbate the legal profession’s longstanding diversity problem, they argued.
The changes aren’t final yet. The ABA’s House of Delegates still must sign off, which could happen as early as February at its midyear meeting. Should that happen, the new rule would be in effect for the 2017 graduates who sit for the July bar exam. Critics of the change have vowed to oppose the House of Delegates’ approval.
“I’m very disappointed that the council approved the change despite the opposition expressed in the comments and the testimony they received,” said Howard University School of Law Dean Danielle Holley-Walker, who represented a coalition of deans from the country’s six law schools housed at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in opposition. “It feels like our concerns were not taken seriously.”
But Deborah Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law and vocal proponent of the tougher standard, said the council made the right call. She argued in op-eds and blog posts that law schools with large minority enrollment can’t improve the diversity of the legal profession if their graduates can’t pass the bar. “I’m pleased but not surprised,” Merritt said Friday. “I think this represents a change in accountability and another step forward in law schools understanding how closely they are integrated into the profession.”
The new rule isn’t a dramatic change, but supporters say it closes several loopholes in the existing standard and makes it more straightforward. It mandates that at least 75 percent of a law school’s alumni pass the bar within two years of graduation—rather than the current five-year period. It also eliminates a provision allowing schools to meet the standard if its first-time bar pass rate is within 15 percent of the statewide average, and a provision enabling law schools to meet the standard based on data from only 70 percent of graduates.