Following up on my recent posts (links below): ABA Journal, Should the ABA Change Bar Passage Standards for Law Schools?:
In the days before the ABA House of Delegates revisits a proposed standard revision to tighten bar passage requirements for accredited law schools, some say an in-depth diversity study should precede any changes made.
Language for the proposed revision to Standard 316—which calls for a bar passage rate of at least 75 percent within two years—is unchanged from what was submitted to the House of Delegates at the 2017 February midyear meeting. The body rejected the proposal, which is listed as Resolution 105 for the 2019 ABA Midyear Meeting. Under ABA rules, the House of Delegates can send a proposed standard revision back to the council twice for review with or without recommendations. But the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which submitted the proposed revision, has the final decision on matters related to law school accreditation.
No accredited law school has ever been out of compliance with the current version of Standard 316, and there are various ways to meet its current requirements. One is that at least 75 percent of graduates from the five most recent calendar years have passed a bar exam, or there’s a 75 percent pass rate for at least three of those five years.
Also, a school can be in compliance if just 70 percent of its graduates pass the bar at a rate within 15 percentage points of the average first-time bar pass rate for ABA-approved law school graduates in the same jurisdiction for three out the five most recently completed calendar years.
In 2018, the council released a memo addressing diversity concerns about the proposed revision, as well as what it would mean for law schools in California, where the cut score of 144 is the nation’s second highest. The memo mentioned a voluntary survey, which had responses from 92 law schools.
“The memo in support of the resolution in the House materials makes clear that the council concluded that it had sufficient data to support the revised standard that is before the House. The action was taken after considerable process and study by a distinguished group of council members, whose service and judgment merit respect,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, in a statement. “The revisions to Standard 316 are driven by the council’s objective of serving the interests of students and the public. Certainly, the council is not asking too much of a law school that charges significant tuition to require it to demonstrate that its program leads to success on a required licensing exam by at least three-fourths of its graduates who sit for that exam within two years of graduation.”
Within the ABA, chairs of the Goal III entities, which work to eliminate bias and enhance diversity, sent a letter to Jeffrey E. Lewis, who chairs the council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. The Jan. 11 letter asks that before the revision goes forward, more be done regarding what the change would mean for diversity in the profession. Requests for a more thorough study also were made in 2013 and 2017, according to the letter, which mentions the council’s November 2018 memo. ...
Besides the Goal III chairs, criticism about the proposed resolution has come from the Society of American Law Teachers in a Jan. 21 letter and Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where a committee wrote a paper opposing the proposal. ...
Alternatively, others support the proposal, including Daniel B. Rodriguez, a professor and the former law school dean at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. The school’s 2015 ultimate bar passage rate was 94.93 percent. “There are, to be sure, a number of important concerns raised by various groups, especially those principally involved with diversity in law schools. These concerns make the issue more difficult than it would be otherwise,” Rodriguez says in an email to the ABA Journal, adding that he hopes there will be growing attention to “the efficacy of the bar exam as a test of competency and, as well, the serious matter of disparate cut scores. It is only by solving all three of those issues that we can really get to the heart of these access and accountability issues once and for all.”
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