Wall Street Journal, New Test for Law Schools: Do Enough Graduates Pass the Bar?:
If a law school can’t prepare three-quarters of its graduates who take the bar exam to pass, it shouldn’t exist.
That’s the view of the American Bar Association’s accreditation council, which is renewing a push to toughen requirements in the face of historically low passage rates for attorney-licensing exams. The ABA group retreated from an earlier attempt after detractors said it would hurt schools with larger enrollments of minority students and those in states with more difficult exams.
The proposal—to condition ABA accreditation on meeting a 75% bar-pass rate—will be back on the table this month at an ABA meeting in Las Vegas and is likely to go into effect this year.
“If a school can’t get enough of its students to have a high enough pass rate, then there’s a problem,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education.
The percentage of law-school graduates passing the bar exam has plummeted in recent years, alarming legal educators and consumer advocates.
Nationally, the average score on a key multichoice section used by most states fell in 2018 to a low not seen in decades. That led to lower pass rates across states such as Florida, where the first-time test taker rate fell just over 4% to 67.2% on last July’s test. In Texas, 73.4% of first-time takers passed last July, down 4.5% from 2017 but higher than in 2015. Some states have started to see upticks.
Declines have been especially acute in California, which administers one of the nation’s most difficult tests. The state said in November that 40.7% of test takers passed the most recent bar exam, the fifth straight year where more failed than passed. Among first-time test takers who graduated from nationally accredited California schools, 63.8% passed.
Many attribute the trend to weaker-credentialed students who were admitted to fill seats in law schools following the last economic downturn. Others blame the tests themselves or changes in the way students learn.
The proposed new ABA standard would require 75% of a given school’s test takers to pass the bar within two years of graduation, or that school will risk losing accreditation. An ABA analysis of 2015 graduates identified 19 schools that wouldn’t have met the new threshold that year. ...
The tougher scrutiny comes as the price of law school is rising, leaving many graduates who fail the exam with six-figure debt loads unable to practice law. ...
Schools have reacted to the ABA scrutiny and falling passage rates by tweaking curriculum to include more bar-prep courses and trying to intervene early if students appear likely to fail. A study of bar-passage predictors among University of Cincinnati College of Law students found that “students who take more rigorous upper-level bar courses are more likely to pass the bar,” said Amy Farley, one of the lead researchers.