National Law Journal, ABA's Rejection of Stricter Bar-Pass Rule Draws Support, Criticism:
The American Bar Association's rejection Monday of a stricter bar pass standard for law schools is a win for diversity in the legal profession, or it's a missed opportunity to protect vulnerable law students.
It depends on whom you ask.
The legal academy reacted swiftly to news that the ABA's House of Delegates voted down a controversial, long-debated proposal to give law schools two years to ensure at least 75 percent of recent graduates pass the bar exam, instead of the current five years. The proposal also would have eliminated a provision under which law schools can retain their accreditation as long as their bar pass rates are no lower than 15 percent of the statewide average in their particular jurisdiction.
Many law deans applauded the proposal's failure, citing a need for further study on the rule's impact at a time of falling bar pass rates. But consumer advocates said it will further enable law schools to admit unqualified students.
"I was pleased," said Danielle Holley-Walker, dean of Howard University School of Law and a member of a coalition of deans from the nation's seven law schools housed at historically black colleges and universities who mobilized against the proposed new rule on the grounds that it would disproportionately impact schools with high minority enrollment. "We want to work with the [ABA's] Council of the Section of Legal Education to develop a standard that both values accountability — we all want to make sure that students admitted to law school have a good chance of passing the bar — and values diversity and values differences in law schools. No one wants a standard that forces every law school to be exactly the same."
But Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, said the ABA's rejection of the bar pass proposal represents a failure to stand up for the interests of law students who amass significant debt to pursue legal careers. "The thing that bothers me the most about the rhetoric [in opposition] is that the arguments all seem to be centered on protecting law schools," Moeser said Tuesday. "Indeed, it's the law student consumer who should be the object of everyone's concern. The ABA is really ceding the moral high ground on its expressed concern about law school debt. That debt is never more devastating than to the person who incurs it and cannot achieve a professional license." ...
Dan Rodriguez, dean of the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said he is glad the House of Delegates heeded the call from 94 law deans, including himself, for a delay in approving the bar pass proposal. That group, writing under the umbrella of the Association of American Law Schools Deans Steering Committee, last month urged postponement in order to allow for more study. Rodriguez said Tuesday that he hopes the delay, while welcome, won't derail the council's efforts to strengthen the bar pass standard. He said more opinions and data will result in a better rule. ...
But Andrew Morriss, dean of Texas A&M University School of Law, lamented the decision to reject the bar pass proposal on the grounds that more information was necessary. "I think it's unfortunate," he said. "There will always be a need for more data, but to use that as an excuse to wait to address a very important problem I think is an unfortunate choice." ...
Tinkering around the existing standard won't protect the interests of law students, Moeser said, and the ABA must act soon. "Delay is really a euphemism for death," she said of the House of Delegate's decision. "The ABA needs to step up to the fact that if they're going to regulate law schools, it needs to be meaningful regulation."