The ABA has already signaled that it takes bar-passage rates seriously. It revoked provisional accreditation from the University of La Verne College of Law in Ontario, Calif., in June because of the school's low bar-passage rates. In 2009, a scant 34% of La Verne students passed the California bar examination on the first try, and the school's first-time bar-passage rate was 53% in 2010 — improved, but still not good enough, according to the ABA.
Applying a bright-line bar-passage standard is a fairly new idea for the ABA. Before 2008, the ABA spelled out no specific bar-passage minimum. Instead, it enforced what was called the "70/10 Rule": At least 70% of the school's first-time bar takers had to pass the exam in the school's home state. In the alternative, the first-time bar-pass rate could be no lower than 10% below the average of other ABA-accredited schools in that state.
The U.S. Department of Education, which has authorized the ABA to be the national accreditor of law schools, asked for a clearer standard in 2007. After protracted wrangling, the ABA adopted a requirement that at least 75% of a law school's graduates pass the bar exam in at least three of the past five years. Schools can also meet the standard if their first-time bar-passage rate is no more than 15% below other ABA schools in the same state during three of the past five years. The 15% requirement is intended to level the playing field across states, given that passage rates vary widely depending on jurisdiction. The outcome was a compromise, representing a minimum standard higher than what diversity advocates wanted but lower than the initial proposal. ...
The new proposal would require that at least 80% of graduates pass the bar in three of the past five years, or that first-time bar-passage rates be no more than 10% below other schools in the same state — bringing the standards closer to the test used before 2008.