Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Revised Bar Passage Law School Accreditation Standard Threatens Compliance With Diversity Standard

ABA Logo (2016)Law Practice Today: Proposed ABA Law School Accreditation Standard 316: A Threat to Diversity in Law Schools and the Legal Profession?, by Robert Furnier:

On the one hand, the amendment to Standard 206 (Diversity and Inclusion) would strengthen the obligation that law schools “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to diversity and inclusion.” On the other hand, the revised Standard 316 (Bar Passage) would hamstring the ability of law schools to comply with Standard 206 by toughening the bar passage requirement for accreditation.

Consistent with changes enacted in August 2014, proposed Standard 206 reinforces that law schools must provide an environment embracing diversity and inclusion; offer members of underrepresented groups, especially racial and ethnic minorities, the opportunity to study law and enter the profession; and have a diverse faculty, staff and student body. ...

One group of law schools epitomizes the goals of Standard 206, having as part of its mission to create a pipeline for underrepresented minorities, particularly African Americans, into the legal profession—the diversity-rich law schools of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University College of Law; Howard University School of Law; North Carolina Central University School of Law; Southern University Law Center; Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. According to ABA-required disclosures, compiled by the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, law schools had a total enrollment of 127,599 students for the 2013-14 academic year. Among these students, 23.6% reported themselves as minorities. The percentage of minorities attending HBCU law schools today is more than three times higher than that figure.

Conscious of their mission, the HBCU law schools sometimes accept students that other schools will not, as do other schools living up to their diversity commitment under Standard 206. This practice, however, may have to be curtailed because of the significant toughening of Standard 316, the bar passage rule. The new standard would require schools to prove that at least 75% of students in each class have passed a bar examination within two years of graduation. ...

The HBCU law school deans—Shelley Broderick at UDC, Phylliss Craig-Taylor at North Carolina Central, Felecia Epps at Florida A&M, Dannye Holley at Texas Southern, Danielle Holley-Walker at Howard, and John Pierre at Southern—have banded together to fight the adoption of the new Standard 316. They point out that minority law graduates, whether at predominately white law schools or HBCUs, tend to have a lower bar passage rate than their white counterparts. Consequently, proposed Standard 316 will disproportionately impact law schools with a high concentration of students of color, such as HBCU law schools. ...

In short, what Standard 206 would giveth, Standard 316 would taketh away. ...

The HBCU deans do not oppose a standard tied to bar passage. They simply feel that figuring out that magic number ought to be the subject of intense study before endangering the accreditation of any law school. ...

The Council is under intense pressure to demand that all law schools adhere to metrics measuring quality legal education. The HBCU deans fear that yielding to this pressure without proper study could threaten the very existence of their schools, which have historically given this country some of its finest lawyers of color, and of all law schools striving to meet their commitments to diversity and inclusion under Standard 206.

Legal Education | Permalink


It doesn't do any good to graduate minority students if they can't pass the bar. Might these deans be more interested in their jobs than in their students?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 17, 2016 9:05:23 AM

Well, minority students who graduate high school might not succeed in life either. So by that logic, why not just end their education at 8th grade?

Posted by: ml | Jul 17, 2016 5:14:59 PM

"Well, minority students who graduate high school might not succeed in life either. So by that logic, why not just end their education at 8th grade?"

Because learning to read and to count is a good thing.

Posted by: The Dude | Jul 18, 2016 5:53:59 AM

This is pure exploitation. There is no other way to put it.

Posted by: JM | Jul 18, 2016 6:37:51 AM

@ ml,

Because they don't rack up debt in grades 8-12, and individuals of this age are expected by society to be in school therefore full time employment alternatives are slim to nonexistent.

Posted by: JM | Jul 18, 2016 7:04:32 AM


Let's be clear on what exploitation means here. Law schools are admitting students with low indicators, LSAT and GPA, who have little chance of passing the bar. Many (most?) of these applicants are minorities.The deans mentioned in this post are using "diversity" to justify this. However, what they are actually doing is putting these students into endless debt to keep their law schools running. As JM said, this is exploitation--exploitation of those are are least able to bear it. These deans should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 18, 2016 10:58:09 AM

"However, what they are actually doing is putting these students into endless debt to keep their law schools running."

The debt will end, one way or another. Either the students pay it back within 20 years--as most seem to--or the government will forgive it at the end of 10 to 20 years.

It's only exploitation if you can prove that minority students are mostly worse off having gone to law school than they would be if they hadn't gone to law school, and any non-financial benefits of law school don't outweigh the financial costs.

Having to take the bar exam 2 or 3 times to pass is not the end of the world.

Posted by: time | Jul 19, 2016 9:36:41 AM

Some students never pass the bar. In that case, the burdens vastly outweigh the benefits. They are life-ruining.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 19, 2016 12:03:42 PM

"Having to take the bar exam 2 or 3 times to pass is not the end of the world."

Yeah, it's a walk in the park finding an attorney job two years after graduation, with zero relevant work experience, and having to explain why you failed the bar exam three times, while competing with new grads who don't have stale credentials.

Posted by: Lonnie | Jul 20, 2016 9:15:39 AM

"Having to take the bar exam 2 or 3 times to pass is not the end of the world."

The ignorance is strong with this comment - and such flip condescension and ignorance is driving the NACIQI to push for the removal of the ABA's accreditation powers (not to mention the GOP platform revealed Monday of eliminating all federal student loans). But good job whistling by the graveyard.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 20, 2016 10:55:50 AM