Letters raise concerns about changes to the bar pass accreditation standard

Early next week, the ABA House of Delegates will again vote on whether to approve a revised bar passage accreditation standard [Standard 316]. The Society of American Law Teachers and the ABA Diversity Entities both have written to the ABA House of Delegates setting forth significant concerns about the proposed standard change.  Both letters are worth a full read.

Amongst the issues the letters raise about the proposed change are the following:

1.  There is incomplete data about how it will affect HBCU’s and other law schools with significant enrollment of people of color;

2.  It fails to account for state bar exam cut score differences and differences in state bar exam pass rates;

3.  It may result in even greater reliance on LSAT scores in the admissions process despite studies showing the scores’ limited predictive value for academic or bar exam success at many schools and despite warnings from the LSAC about how to use the scores properly in the admissions process;

4.  It may negatively impact schools willing to take a chance on students who are poor standardized test takers but who will be excellent lawyers and leaders if given the opportunity to attend law school and the coaching necessary to pass the bar exam;

5.  It does not consider the effect of transfer students on bar pass rates for schools that admit students who otherwise would not be admitted to law school, who perform well, and who then  transfer to other institutions;

6.  It eliminates some important aspects of the current Standard that take into account varying state pass rates, a school’s mission, the transfer issue, and the fact that improving bar passage is a complex and nuanced issue that requires study and experimentation [something currently underway at many schools];

7.  Now is not the right time for change given current studies about the validity of the bar exam as a licensing method and work being done to explore law licensing assessments that better measure who will be a competent attorney.

Proponents of the proposed change to Standard 316 believe it is necessary to protect consumers from law schools that admit students without devoting the necessary resources to ensure bar passage or that admit and retain students who have no chance of obtaining a law license.  The letters cited acknowledge the importance of the consumer protection issue but argue that issue can, and should, be addressed in other ways.

If you have concerns about the proposed change to Standard 316, contact your state ABA delegate.  The delegate information starts on page 13 of the ABA 2018-2019 Leadership Directory.

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I wrote a reply on the Legal Skills Prof Blog. Here it is in part:

    These are legitimate concerns. The question, however, is why many law schools did nothing to improve legal education to help minority students when bar exam scores started to decline several years ago. In 2007, Best Practices and The Carnegie Report demonstrated in great detail that law schools were not providing a quality education to their students. Since then many scholars have reiterated these concerns. For example, I wrote an article showing how law schools could help minorities do better in law school. How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Groups Succeed in Law School, 1 Texas A & M Law Review 83 (2013). Professor Louis Schulze put similar ideas into practice at FIU, and his school has scored highest on the Florida bar exam again, again, and again. (here)

    All law schools must do their part to increase the diversity of the legal profession. However, they should not be able to do this by admitting unprepared students, then doing nothing to help them become effective attorneys. It does nothing for minorities if law schools graduate them without the tools to be competent attorneys. It does nothing to help disadvantaged communities for law schools to graduate students who will hurt those communities more than help them. The present situation is turning out attorneys who can not earn enough money to pay off their crushing law school debt.

    I urge the House of Delegates to enact the proposal. As I noted, many law schools have ignored the call for legal education reform for over ten years. We can’t wait any longer. Do your part, or lose your accreditation.

  2. Let’s all agree that law schools need to do more to prepare students to serve clients in practice, to serve our profession and a civil society, and to succeed when they must face that obstacle to practice, the bar. The Council’s more recent proposal however, will incentivize law schools on the backs of law students. Don’t forget that 94.8% of all students eventually pass the bar (1998 LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study). The Council, under the pretext of consumer protection, by shortening the time given to achieve 75% passage and eliminating the flexibility in the current standard to account for state-by-state differences in pass rates and transfer issues, is doing just that – hurting those law students who will pass eventually – many of whom will bring more diversity to the profession.

    Perhaps law schools should have to return some of the tuition they collect to people who fail twice – at that point they can make an informed decision about whether to keep trying or whether they can make another career choice without facing so much crushing debt.

  3. lizryancole,

    The point is that many law schools can do a much better job educating students than they are currently doing. They can solve the bar passage themselves by using better approaches to educating their students. FIU did it. Let’s don’t let lazy law schools off the hook. Let’s have diversity, consumer protection, and better law graduates. Everybody wins.

  4. CLEA has also written a thoughtful letter opposing the revisions. It is available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9v3jfqq

  5. Scott and Liz, you both have added so much to our collective knowledge through your work and scholarship. Thanks for your thought provoking comments.

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