TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, May 18, 2019

ABA: Law Schools Will Lose Their Accreditation Unless 75% Of Their Graduates Pass The Bar Within Two Years, Beginning With The Class of 2017

ABA Logo (2016)ABA Journal, ABA Legal Ed Section's Council Adopts Tighter Bar Pass Standard; Clock For Compliance Starts Now:

Following multiple years of discussion, and two rejections from the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar adopted a proposed revision to tighten an accreditation standard regarding bar passage Friday.

To be in compliance with the revised version of Standard 316, at least 75% of a law school’s graduates who sat for a bar exam must pass within two years of graduation. Under the previous rule, there were various ways to meet the standard, and no law school had been found to be out of compliance with it.

Those ways include:

  • Having a 75% pass rate for all graduates over the five most recent calendar years;
  • Having a 75% pass rate for at least three of those five years;
  • And having at least 70% 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 of the five most recently completed calendar years.

Under ABA rules, the House of Delegates can send a proposed revision back to the section’s council twice, but the council has the final decision on matters related to law school education. The House of Delegates voted against the proposed revision in February 2017 and this past January.

An FAQ sheet posted on the section’s website before the vote was taken states that if adopted, the proposed revision “will be effective at the conclusion” of Friday’s meeting. The first time that law schools would be subject to the revision is spring 2020, when they file ultimate bar passage rates of 2017 graduates. Like the old version of Standard 316, once it’s determined that a law school does not meet the standard requirements, they have two years to come into compliance.

For how many law school graduates of the classes of 2015 2016 passed the bar within two years of graduation, see:

Law schools rallied against the proposed revision and frequently argued that diversity of the profession would be harmed if it was implemented. There also were questions about what the revision would mean for law schools in California, where the state bar cut score of 144 is the second highest in the country, and the state’s July 2018 bar passage rate was only 40.2%, according to state bar data. Others worried that the change could prompt state courts to change their cut scores.

National Law Journal, ABA Toughens Bar-Pass Standard for Law Schools

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It's up to the state legislatures to shutter weak law schools. Of course, they do nothing. As is, the over-production of JDs is such that it's a reasonable inference that 1/3 of those who complete their studies will be unable to build careers in law.

Posted by: Art Deco | May 19, 2019 8:41:09 AM

I must say I'm shocked the ABA actually took this step. The step itself has always seemed so non-controversial to me. It's the fortitude to do what is obviously within the ABA's "mandate" that has been lacking.

I can't wait to see what fanciful and pernicious schemes the worst actor schools will adopt to circumvent this. I've learned over the years reading this blog law schools are capable of things that would make Enron executives blush,

Posted by: Anon | May 19, 2019 9:08:09 AM