Law Schools

Simpler, tougher bar passage accreditation standard to be considered by ABA committee

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An ABA committee has agreed in principle to a proposed new law school accreditation standard that would raise and simplify the current bar passage requirement.

Under the proposed new standard, a law school would be required to show that 80 percent of its graduates who sat for the bar exam in the two years after the year of their graduation passed the exam.

Under the current standards, a law school can meet the bar pass requirement by showing that 75 percent of its graduates who took the bar in at least three of the previous five years passed or by showing that its first-time bar passage rate was no more than 15 points below the average bar passage rate for ABA-approved law schools in states where its graduates took the bar.

The proposed new standard, which is still only in draft form, would also require law schools to account for all of their graduates, which some deans—including at least two members of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s standards review committee considering the proposal—contend would be an impossible task, given the difficulty they already have collecting data for 70 percent of their graduates under the current requirements.

They say bar admission agencies in different states have widely varying policies regarding what kind of information they are willing to release and to whom, creating a bureaucratic nightmare for schools that are trying to collect data for graduates who take the bar exam in different states. And even when a school receives a graduate’s test results, administrators can spend hours trying to confirming the accuracy of the data.

Committee member Kurt L. Schmoke, vice president and general counsel of Howard University, said he has to write a letter to bar admissions officials in practically every state every year to get bar exam results for his school’s graduates.

And committee member H. Reese Hansen, the retired dean of Brigham Young University’s law school, said what Schmoke and other law school deans are telling the committee about how difficult it is to collect such information is “absolutely true.”

In the end, the committee, which met Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C., agreed to do what it can to facilitate the collection of such data, including possibly enlisting the help of the Conference of Chief Justices, and to recommend a phased-in transition period if it decides to forward such a proposal to the section’s governing council, which must approve any changes to the standards.

At its meeting in Washington, the committee also discussed three proposed alternatives to the current standard governing job security for law school professors, including one that would keep a cleaned-up version of the current standard, which is widely understood to require tenure or a comparable form of security of position for all full-time faculty, except for clinical professors and legal writing instructors, and two that would extend some form of job security to all full-time faculty. But the committee directed the working group that came up with the three proposals to draft a fourth alternative for consideration at its next meeting in July that would eliminate any job security requirement altogether.

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