Sunday, February 03, 2008

ABA to Impose 75% Bar Passage Rate Requirement for Accreditation

And minority groups aren't too happy about it:

Amid pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABA is poised to tighten a rule that requires law schools to show that they are graduating students who can pass the bar exam.

The ABA is expected to approve the controversial measure at its meeting in Los Angeles from Feb. 6 through Feb. 12, when its House of Delegates will consider a recommendation from the ABA's legal education section.

The proposed change has drawn sharp criticism, especially from those representing minority law students' interests. But it is one that the ABA hopes will appease the Education Department, which grants the ABA authority to accredit law schools. ...

In general, the change would create a quantitative rule requiring law schools to demonstrate that 75% of their graduates passed the bar exam or to show that their pass rates were within a certain range compared with other law schools in the same jurisdiction. ...

Under the current rule, the ABA does not require law schools to demonstrate a specific pass rate, but instead to show in general that they are preparing students for admission to the bar and maintaining a rigorous academic program.

Approving the change at this month's meeting is particularly important because the ABA in June will go before the Department of Education, which will consider whether to renew its accrediting authority. The ABA House of Delegates will not meet again until August at its annual meeting. ...

At a hearing last month before the Accreditation Standards Review Committee about the change, several prominent lawyers and scholars expressed their disapproval. Among them was General Motors North America Vice President and General Counsel E. Christopher Johnson, who argued that a bright-line rule would hurt minority enrollment because it would deter law schools from accepting applicants with lower scores on the Law School Admission Test. Loyola University Chicago School of Law Dean David Yellen, who is a member of the standards review committee of the ABA's legal education section, said that it was "highly inappropriate for the Department of Education to insist on bright-line rules." ...

Eddie Koen Jr., national chairman of the Black Law Students Association, said that the new rule was particularly troubling in light of a recent report released by Columbia Law School showing that law school enrollment among blacks and Mexican-Americans has fallen by 8.6% in the past 15 years. "This will do nothing but exacerbate the problem," Koen said.

David Bernstein writes:

Johnson is probably right, though another possibility is that pressure would come to bear on state bars to make their bar exams easier (which, as someone who doesn't believe in bar exams to begin with, I think would be a good thing). Meanwhile, one can question whether schools whose minority students pass the bar at rates well below 75% are doing those students much of a favor by accepting them despite low LSAT scores that predict future bar passage issues, taking their tuition money, and then leaving half or more of them without a career as an attorney.

(HT Instapundit)

P.S. -- Here's a list of schools that might be affected by this change.

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