Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Diversity, Consumer Groups At Odds Over Proposed Tougher Bar-Passage Rule For Law Schools

National Law Journal, Diversity, Consumer Groups at Odds over Tougher Bar-Pass Rule Proposed for Law Schools:

Factions are again forming in the battle over the American Bar Association’s bar-passage standard for law schools, with diversity and consumer advocates at odds over a proposal to strengthen the rule.

The proposal now under consideration by the ABA would jeopardize the accreditation of many schools with large numbers of minority students and would discourage schools from admitting them, according to diversity advocates and the deans of all six law schools housed at historically black colleges and universities.

Consumer advocates counter that a tougher standard is necessary to protect law students from spending three years and thousands in tuition to obtain a law degree if they are unlikely to pass the bar exam. “Graduates who fail the bar cannot diversify the profession,” wrote Deborah Jones Merritt, a professor at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law, in a comment to the ABA. “Instead, these graduates suffer substantial personal and financial costs.”

The debate over bar-passage rates comes at a time when the ABA is under increased pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, which grants the organization its ability to accredit law schools, to hold schools accountable for the outcomes of their students. The ABA cited the proposal as evidence of its efforts to boost accountability when it came under sharp criticism from a department committee in June over its oversight of law schools.

Bar-passage rates nationwide have also declined in recent years, adding another dimension to the discussion.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is weighing the proposed standard, intended to bolster and simplify the current rule, and will hold a public hearing Saturday during the organization’s annual meeting, held this year in San Francisco. Opponents and proponents have already weighed in via written comments, and their arguments hew closely to those made in 2014—when the ABA last considered changes to the bar-passage standards—but ultimately did not move forward.

Under the proposal, 75 percent of a school’s bar takers must pass the exam within two years of graduation.

The current rule allows law schools to meet the bar-passage requirement in two ways: At least 75 percent of their graduates pass the bar exam during three or more of the past five years; or the first-time bar pass rate is no more than 15 percent below the statewide average in at least three of the past five years. ...

Twenty-two of the 24 law schools with an enrollment that is at least one-third minority would struggle to meet the proposed standard, according to a letter from the National Bar Association, the Society of American Law Teachers, and deans of 20 law schools. The National Black Law Students Association; the Clinical Legal Education Association; and the ABA’s Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity also wrote to oppose the change, citing concerns that law schools would increasingly screen out minority applicants based on their disproportionately lower LSAT scores.

While diversity is an important goal, minority law students deserve to attend law schools that will position them for successful legal careers, Merritt wrote in her letter supporting the change. “Maintaining the accreditation of law schools with poor bar passage rates, on the contrary, is a counterproductive way to diversify the profession,” Merritt wrote. “We owe minority students the best our education system has to offer—not programs with low success rates.”

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@ML Well, if Dr. Pepper kept delivering half-full bottles of soda .... does it matter where the pressure is coming from?

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Aug 4, 2016 5:04:10 AM

ML, were you able to type that and not laugh or choke on what you are trying to shovel?

The bottom-feeding schools are in no way, shape or form competition for those in the top 50. Contrary to your statement, Prof. Merritt is actually taking an admirable stand in favor of students' interests and well-being that may cause her to lose favor with some of her colleagues.

Posted by: todd | Aug 3, 2016 2:47:03 PM

Prof. Merritt, as a professor at a top 50 school, has an interest in reducing the competition for her school and its graduates. How does this make her a "consumer advocate"? If Coke asked the government to put Dr. Pepper out of business, would it be advocating for anyone's consumers?

Posted by: ML | Aug 3, 2016 6:25:44 AM