Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

ABA 'Overwhelmingly' Rejects 75% Bar Passage Requirement

ABA Logo (2016)Following up on yesterday's post, ABA To Vote Today On 75% Bar Passage Requirement:  ABA Journal, ABA House Rejects Proposal to Tighten Bar Pass Standards for Law Schools:

The ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday voted against a proposal to tighten bar passage rate standards for accredited law schools. ...

A storm of criticism has surrounded Standard 316’s proposed revision, which would have required that to meet accreditation standards, 75 percent of a law schools’ graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period. ...

A proposed revision to Standard 501, which addresses law school admissions, was approved Monday by the House of Delegates. Resolution 110A states that law schools should “adopt, publish and adhere” to admissions policies and practices consistent with the Standards and only admit applicants who appear capable of finishing law school and passing the bar. Also, It adds language that being in compliance with Standard 316 is not alone sufficient to meet the Standard 501 requirements, and it makes an additional requirement that law schools with non-transfer attrition rates higher than 20 percent must demonstrate that they’re in compliance with 501.

ABA Press Release, Bar Passage Proposal Fails, Immigration Resolutions Approved After Spirited ABA House Debate:

The proposal from the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar drew the most attention, and failed on a divided voice vote that was overwhelmingly opposed. The change would have simplified and strengthened the bar passage rate – considered a measure of the quality of a law school education – by requiring that ABA-approved law schools have 75 percent of its graduates who take the bar exam pass it within two years of graduation. The exam is given twice a year.

The House action on Resolution 110B followed more than an hour of debate, and reflected the national debate in legal education for striking the best balance between goals of diversity in the profession and consumer protection of students. The ABA sets standards and accredits more than 200 law schools. Both the schools and ABA, because of its singular national accreditation role, are being criticized for enrolling and graduating too many law students who cannot pass the bar exam, and who leave law school with significant debt.

The council is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit the nation’s law schools. Under ABA rules, the proposed change goes back to the council for consideration and can be brought up one more time to the House. Regardless of the outcome of that potential action, the council has the final decision on how to proceed.

National Law Journal, ABA Rejects Stricter Bar-Pass Rule for Law Schools:

Christine Durham, a Utah Supreme Court justice and member of the ABA’s legal education council, told the delegates that some law schools hit with steep applicant declines are admitting people who aren’t qualified and who become weighted down with debt without ever passing the bar. Moreover, historical data on bar passage shows the proposed rule would not disproportionately impact minorities, she said.

Tracy Giles, a lawyer with Giles & Lambert in Roanoke, Virginia, spoke in favor of the tougher standard, citing the debt burden graduates face when they can’t pass the bar exam. “I haven’t heard anybody offer to give the money back if the student is left hanging, the student’s family is left hanging,” she said. “Some of that burden ought to be shifted right on top of the school.”

But others argued that the proposal was too simplistic and unfair. “Bar pass rates vary dramatically between states, making a national one-size-fits-all standard and bright-line rule problematic,” said Austen Parrish, dean of Indiana University Maurer School of Law — Bloomington, speaking in opposition. ...

Because the bar pass standard failed to gain approval, the existing rule remains in effect. Law schools can meet the existing standard in two ways: At least 75 percent of their graduates pass the bar exam during three or more of the last 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. ...

A group of 94 law deans, writing under the umbrella of the Association of American Law Schools’ Deans Steering Committee, asked the council on Jan. 13 to withdraw the bar pass standard from the House of Delegates agenda on the grounds that the proposed change needed more study in light of the steep decline in California’s bar passage rate. Short of that, they called on the House of Delegates to reject it. The new rule could imperil the accreditation of many law schools, particularly within the Golden State, where the overall bar pass rate plummeted to 43 percent in July from 56 percent over the last three years, the deans wrote.

Even deans who have been vocal proponents of the need for a tougher bar standard — notably Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Daniel Rodriguez and Syracuse University College of Law’s Craig Boise — said they believe a deeper analysis was now called for due to the low passage rates in California.

Separately, a group of 20 deans from California law schools have asked the state’s Supreme Court to temporarily lower its minimum passing score of 144 while the State Bar of California studies whether that cutoff is too high. The deans want a minimum cutoff between 133 and 136. ...

The deans of all seven of the nation’s law schools housed at historically black colleges and universities opposed the change, as did a myriad of other deans and advocates.

Legal Education | Permalink


with Jerry Falwell Jr. as Trump's higher ed advisor running the expensive and questionable Liberty univ. law school, do you really expect the new administration to clamp down?

Posted by: wtfreqkenneth | Feb 8, 2017 10:52:46 AM

This was not a case of regulatory capture. The body most "captured" voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new standard.

Posted by: Kyle McEntee | Feb 8, 2017 9:06:29 AM

Why does the ABA have any authority over law schools in the first place? Couldn't the DOE just reclaim its authority on the matter and immediately impose the necessary reforms?

I think a lot of law school grads would relish the opportunity to see professors put their own career advice to good use when 3/4 of schools close. They've always claimed they're giving up millions of dollars in biglaw salary to teach 1st year property to people with 150 LSATs. Let's see if this is true.

Posted by: Jim W | Feb 8, 2017 7:44:13 AM

So, this means that the policing function is going to fall to the Trump Administration via the Dept. of Education, rather than the accreditors.

Posted by: Evergreen Dissident | Feb 7, 2017 12:48:20 PM

Institutional and financial self-interest wins out over the interests of law students. Shocker.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 7, 2017 10:07:17 AM

Regulatory capture at its worst. It's shameful the ABA would have so little regard for law students.

Posted by: lawprof | Feb 7, 2017 6:30:15 AM

Regulatory capture. Wait until DeVos's DOE drops the hammer on the entire law school industry.

Posted by: Jojo | Feb 7, 2017 4:53:40 AM