ABA votes down toughening bar standards

The American Bar Association House of Delegates has again shot down a proposal to toughen bar passage standards for law schools. 

In a recent vote at the ABA MidYear Meeting in Las Vegas, the ABA's governing body voted to maintain the status quo, meaning law schools are in compliance if  75 percent of their graduates pass the bar within five years of graduation. The proposal would have would cut that to two years.

It's the second time that the House of Delegates voted against the change. It did so two years ago as well.

Once again, schools with larger minority student bodies fought the proposal, saying it would impact them most. Proponents argued that two years should be enough time to meet the threshold. 

This time, the proposal was floated when a number of states are seeing bar passage rates crater. In California, for instance, the July bar saw the worst pass rate in decades. Only 55 percent of first-time takers passed it.

The last time the proposal came up, it was argued that more data was necessary before moving forward. Since then the ABA compiled results on the Class of 2015 to see how it fared on the bar over two years. This led to a new statistic called “the ultimate bar pass rate.

Most schools met the threshold, with 88.3 percent of all graduates passing within the two years. But a number of law schools with higher minority populations did not or came close to not meeting it. If their accreditation is threatened, it could make diversifying the field all that more difficult, they argue.

Barry Currier, managing director for the ABA law school accreditation process, released a statement following the vote. The process changes now that the House has twice voted down the proposal:

“Because this is the House’s second rejection of this proposal, the council’s options are to abandon the effort to revise the standard; propose a different revision; or reaffirm and implement the changes. The timetable for the council’s consideration of the matter has not been set. The council understands this is a complex matter. Revisions to the existing standard on bar passage outcomes provide more straightforward and clear expectations for law schools and provide regulation and process that are more appropriate for today’s environment. Most students go to law school to become lawyers. Becoming a lawyer requires passing the bar exam. How well a school’s graduates perform on the bar exam is a very important accreditation tool to assess a law school’s program of legal education. The council appreciates the attention this proposal received by the House of Delegates and will consider a report on the concerns of the House of Delegates before making any final decision."