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ABA looks again at bar passage

June 7, 2017

Although the House of Delegates rejected the proposal in February, the American Bar Association is still taking steps to tighten the bar passage requirements for law schools.

The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is again looking at changing Standard 316 of the ABA standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The proposal, which the House tossed, would have required law schools to show that 75 percent of their graduates passed the bar exam within two years of completing their legal education.

Controversy surrounded the initial proposal. At the House of Delegates meeting, the revised standard incited an hourlong debate before being rejected on a voice vote.  

Now the council is seeking input from legal educators. It is sending questionnaires to law schools, asking them how the revised standard would change their ability to operate and be in compliance. The results from the survey will be publicized, possibly as early as this fall, and could be presented to the House of Delegates at the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting.  

Indiana University Maurer School of Law Dean Austen Parrish argued against the new requirement, saying, in part, it had the potential to impair legal education. Law schools, he said, would feel obligated to spend more time on teaching to the exam instead of focusing on the skills lawyers need like problem solving and critical thinking.

“[T]here’s no doubt this rule will hurt diversity in the profession,” Parrish wrote in a column for the Indiana Lawyer. “And it will embrace what most in the past have viewed as absurd – encouraging teaching to the test, placing even more emphasis on the LSAT, and forcing less elite schools to look not for good future lawyers but for good test-takers.”

Under the proposal, law schools would have to have 75 percent or more of their graduates passing the bar examination in at least three of the five most recent years. Also, the schools’ annual first-time passage rate could be no more than 15 points below than the average of the other ABA-approved schools in the same jurisdiction.

Schools that fall out of compliance could lose their accreditation. The law schools would be given a minimum of two years to meet the standard but if they do not improve the passage rates, the accreditation committee must recommend to the council that the provisional or full-approval be withdrawn.

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