Law Schools

New bar passage rate requirement for accreditation prompts law school to sue Calif. bar officials

A California law school is suing state bar officials over a new bar passage rate requirement that it says could cost the school its accreditation.

The Southern California Institute of Law, which has campuses in Santa Barbara and Ventura, claims the new rules, which took effect Jan. 1, violate its free speech and due process rights, Courthouse News Service reports.

The suit names 22 members and former members of the Committee of Bar Examiners, individually and in their official capacity, as defendants. The CBE itself is not being sued.

At issue in the case is a new rule, adopted by the committee in December, requiring a law school to maintain an average bar passage rate of at least 40 percent over a five-year period to maintain its accreditation, the suit alleges. The previous rule did not impose a minimum bar passage rate, but instead said that the committee should consider 11 different factors when evaluating a law school’s performance.

“The new standard is a wooden test that fails to take into account the school’s mission, the nature of its student body, the quality of its faculty and academic program, its efforts to maximize students’ chances of success on the bar exam, or other factors considered historically during the reaccreditation process,” the suit says.

The suit also claims that the new standard is being applied retroactively, which is not explicitly allowed under the rules or under California’s Business & Professions Code. It also claims the new standard is arbitrary, and was adopted in violation of the committee’s own procedures.

The school, which was founded in 1986, offers an exclusively part-time evening program that is both flexible and affordable, the suit says. Its students are primarily working adults from low-to-moderate income groups, about a third of whom are members of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups.

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