Paul L. Caron

Thursday, January 24, 2019

ABA To Again Consider 75% Within 2 Years Bar Passage Accreditation Standard Opposed By Diversity Advocates, Some California Law Schools

ABA Logo (2016), ABA to Reconsider Proposal to Tighten Bar Exam Pass Standards:

The second time could be the charm for pushing through a stronger bar pass standard for law schools.

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates on Monday will consider a proposal to bolster the existing rule, requiring at least 75 percent of a school’s graduates to pass the bar within two years of leaving campus or risk losing accreditation. The House rejected the same proposal in February 2017 amid concern from diversity advocates who said it could imperil schools with a large percentage of minority students, especially at a time when pass rates across the country have plummeted.

Among those opposing the measure is a coalition of minority and women’s entities within the ABA, which wrote to the legal education council on Jan. 11 to express “serious misgivings” about the proposal. “We encourage the Council to abandon the revised bar passage rule at least until it conducts further analysis of the effects of proposed changes on access to the profession for underrepresented lawyers,” the letter reads.

The proposal touched off a heated debate in 2016 and 2017, but the response this time has been less vocal, said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education. ...

Schools reported data on nearly 98 percent of 2015 graduates who sat for the bar and more than 88 percent passed within two years, according to a legal education council memo in support of the change. But results varied by school. In total, 19 of the 203 ABA-accredited law schools fell short of the 75 percent pass threshold over two years. Two of those schools were in California and two were part of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (Law deans from HBCUs and California law schools were the most vocal opponents to the proposed change in 2016 and 2017.)

The ABA’s legal education council examined the data and determined that the proposed change would not disparately hurt HBCUs or law schools in California, Currier said.

“Additionally, 88.3 percent of everyone passed,” he said. “Asking every school to have at least 75 didn’t seem like an unreasonable request. The standard is based on the notion that you’re supposed to admit people who are qualified and give them a program that allows them to graduate and pass the bar. The bar pass standard is the best measure of whether a school is doing that.”

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Of the nineteen schools listed in the USA Today article as posting a <75% two-year bar pass rate, three of them are the only ones in their jurisdiction. Two more are in Puerto Rico, where the top school's two-year rate is only 77.6%. I don't want to distract from the question of diversity and access, but I'm not sure what to make of the idea that three states and one territory might lose all of their accredited law schools as a result of this proposal.

Posted by: LSAP | Jan 25, 2019 6:25:50 AM