What comes next for ABA-accredited law schools with two-year pass rates below 75%?
Under the old version of Standard 316, which sets bar passage requirements for ABA-accredited law schools, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar entertained all sorts of exceptions—including having a 75% pass rate for all graduates over the five most recent calendar years, or at least three of those five years. It’s been said no law school has ever been out of compliance with it.
The 2019 revision to Standard 316 cut out various exceptions and got straight to the point: At least 75% of an ABA-accredited law school’s graduates who took a bar exam must pass one within two years of graduation. This year, compliance is based on 2017 graduates.
But the new standard may not be as rigid as once thought. There’s the potential for schools to get a time extension, according to a June 2019 managing director’s guidance memo. For instance, factors that could demonstrate good cause for a time extension include a trend of improvement for subsequent test-takers, showing that the school has a meaningful academic support program and temporary circumstances the school can’t control, such as a natural disaster.
When the Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar released class of 2017 pass rates on Feb. 18, Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, wrote in a statement that the data, which he described as “consumer information,” was a different matter than actions related to accreditation matters.
The June 2019 memo stated that legal education section staff planned to have bar passage data ready for council review when it met in February, and if a school appeared to not meet the standard’s 75% requirement, the council would seek a response as to why. It also stated the council would likely review the responses at its May meeting.
Currier told the ABA Journal in an email he could not confirm if the council reviewed bar data at its February meeting, or if it would review responses when it meets in May, because accreditation matters at the early stages are confidential.
Based on ABA data, it appears that 11 law schools have class of 2017 pass rates below 75 percent. Those schools are:
- Charleston School of Law (72.12%)
- Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico School of Law (70.87%)
- Florida A&M University College of Law (70.83%)
- Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School (67.32%)
- Florida Coastal School of Law (67.29%)
- University of South Dakota School of Law (67.21%)
- Western Michigan University Cooley Law School (66.01%)
- Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Faculty of Law (64.49%)
- Mississippi College School of Law (64.15%)
- University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (64.06%)
- Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law (62.50%)
Out of the law school deans who responded to ABA Journal interview requests, two said they have not received compliance communication from the council. A list of all ABA-accredited law schools’ 2017 bar passage rates, ranked from highest to lowest, can be seen at the end of this story.
“I won’t speculate on what the council will or won’t do. Our goal is to be in compliance with the standard, and our work to invest in support for students is already paying off,” says Neil Fulton, dean of the University of South Dakota School of Law. On Feb. 28, he told the ABA Journal that he had not received any compliance communication regarding Standard 316.
Fulton, who joined the law school in 2019, said the school’s first-time test-taker pass rate for 2019 was 76.6%, and the school now has a bar prep faculty member. Another recent offering is providing free BarBri courses for graduates.
If a law school is ultimately found to be out of compliance with Standard 316, public notice would be posted, and the school has two years to come into compliance, the June 2019 memo states. If the school is again noncompliant with Standard 316 the following year, it will be required to appear at an administrative hearing, and the council will determine whether it should withdraw the school’s accreditation or grant a time extension based on good cause, according to the memo.
“I would expect that any school found out of compliance with Standard 316 for not meeting its requirements for 2017 graduates would be given two years to demonstrate that it has come back into compliance,” Currier told the ABA Journal in an email.
The change to Standard 316 has been a long time coming—and controversial. The ABA’s House of Delegates sent the proposed revision back to the council two times, in February 2017 and January 2019. The council has the final decision on matters related to law school education, and the body voted to adopt the proposed revision in May 2019.
Arguments against changing the standard mostly centered on concerns it could hurt diversity in the profession, because some law schools with many students of color have lower than average bar passage rates. Concerns were also expressed about law schools in California, which has a high bar exam cut score.
When the section released the ultimate bar passage data in February, no California law schools that remain ABA accredited missed the 75% requirement. However among the 11 schools that didn’t meet the pass rate are Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico School of Law and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico Faculty of Law.
Florida A&M University College of Law and the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, both of which are associated with historically black colleges, also have ultimate bar passage rates below 75%.
Renée McDonald Hutchins, the dean of UDC Law, told the ABA Journal her school is committed to providing access for people traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession, and she supports ABA measures to improve student outcomes. But she thinks Standard 316 compliance should start with current classes, rather than looking back to 2017 graduates.
“Imposing punitive rules on institutions retroactively at a point when they no longer have any ability to effect outcomes is anathema to basic notions of due process and prohibitions on ex post facto sanctions,” she wrote in an email to the ABA Journal.
In August 2019, the council found that UDC Law was not in compliance with Standard 501(b), which requires that schools only admit applicants who appear capable of completing the program and being admitted to a bar. The council also found the law school is not in compliance with 501-1, which lists factors to consider when determining compliance with the standard, including academic attrition and bar passage rates.
The lowest ultimate bar passage rate was 62.50%, at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law.
Charles B. Campbell, the Alabama law school’s interim dean, told the ABA Journal in an email that the number was “an anomaly,” and lower than prior years. According to him, the law school’s class of 2015 pass rate was 82.76%, and its class of 2016 pass rate was 80%. And he says that the class of 2018, which will be used to determine compliance with Standard 316 next year, currently has a 75.6% pass rate.
“Our faculty, staff, students, and graduates have worked very hard to improve our bar passage rates, and those efforts are bearing fruit,” Campbell wrote in an email to the ABA Journal.
At Florida Coastal School of Law, the school as of March 3 had not received communication from the council regarding Standard 316, says Peter Goplerud, Florida Coastal’s president and dean.
“I honestly don’t know what sort of process they will follow,” Goplerud said when asked what he thought missing the 75% requirement would mean for the law school.
In October 2017, the council found that Florida Coastal was out of compliance with Standard 301(a), which deals with programs; Standard 309(c), which addresses academic support; and Standard 501, which centers on admissions policies. The law school is part of the for-profit InfiLaw, and it filed a lawsuit against the ABA in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in May 2018, arguing the accreditation finding violated the school’s due process rights.
In February 2019 Florida Coastal asked the court to dismiss the action, and in May 2019 the council found the law school had come into compliance with those standards. A subsequent council finding, in November 2019, stated the law school was out of compliance with Standard 202, which addresses law school finances. After reviewing materials submitted by Florida Coastal, the council in February 2020 determined the school demonstrated compliance with the standard.
Regarding the law school’s class of 2017 ultimate bar passage rate, Goplerud told the ABA Journal the law school already has been sanctioned for that, with the council’s 2017 finding regarding Standard 501.
He added that the law school’s Florida bar passage rate for the July 2019 exam was 71%. According to ABA data, the law school’s 2019 first-time bar passage rate, which takes into account results from various jurisdictions, is 61.76%.
“We are confident that our subsequent cohorts will be in compliance, and we will be in compliance with all of the standards,” Goplerud said.
|Law School||Class of ‘17|
Bar Pass Rate
|CONCORDIA LAW SCHOOL||100.00%|
|WISCONSIN, UNIVERSITY OF||100.00%|
|VIRGINIA, UNIVERSITY OF||99.66%|
|PENNSYLVANIA, UNIVERSITY OF||99.59%|
|CHICAGO, UNIVERSITY OF||99.52%|
|WASHINGTON, UNIVERSITY OF||99.39%|
|NEBRASKA, UNIVERSITY OF||98.90%|
|NEW YORK UNIVERSITY||98.32%|
|SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY||97.96%|
|TULSA, UNIVERSITY OF||97.47%|
|OKLAHOMA, UNIVERSITY OF||97.37%|
|CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY, UNIVERSITY OF||97.32%|
|ILLINOIS, UNIVERSITY OF||97.06%|
|COLORADO, UNIVERSITY OF||96.93%|
|TEXAS AT AUSTIN, UNIVERSITY OF||96.78%|
|GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY||96.59%|
|KANSAS, UNIVERSITY OF||96.55%|
|NORTH CAROLINA, UNIVERSITY OF||96.26%|
|MIAMI, UNIVERSITY OF||96.20%|
|ST. JOHN’S UNIVERSITY||96.17%|
|FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY||96.10%|
|WILLIAM AND MARY LAW SCHOOL||96.04%|
|ALABAMA, UNIVERSITY OF||96.03%|
|MICHIGAN, UNIVERSITY OF||95.99%|
|NOTRE DAME, UNIVERSITY OF||95.54%|
|GEORGIA, UNIVERSITY OF||95.48%|
|CALIFORNIA-LOS ANGELES, UNIVERSITY OF||95.40%|
|SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, UNIVERSITY OF||95.15%|
|GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY||94.96%|
|GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY||94.93%|
|WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY||94.90%|
|CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW||94.81%|
|SOUTH CAROLINA, UNIVERSITY OF||94.79%|
|CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK||94.62%|
|SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY||94.61%|
|PENNSYLVANIA STATE - PENN STATE LAW||94.50%|
|LOUISVILLE, UNIVERSITY OF||94.12%|
|SETON HALL UNIVERSITY||93.90%|
|CALIFORNIA-IRVINE, UNIVERSITY OF||93.55%|
|MONTANA, UNIVERSITY OF||93.51%|
|WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY||93.46%|
|NEW HAMPSHIRE UNIVERSITY OF||93.44%|
|UTAH, UNIVERSITY OF||93.40%|
|INDIANA UNIVERSITY - BLOOMINGTON||93.25%|
|FLORIDA, UNIVERSITY OF||93.08%|
|IOWA, UNIVERSITY OF||93.08%|
|OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY||93.04%|
|LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY||93.02%|
|MINNESOTA, UNIVERSITY OF||93.00%|
|WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY||92.98%|
|FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY||92.95%|
|BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY||92.86%|
|LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY-LOS ANGELES||92.66%|
|TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY||92.55%|
|KENTUCKY, UNIVERSITY OF||92.52%|
|CALIFORNIA-DAVIS, UNIVERSITY OF||92.50%|
|CINCINNATI, UNIVERSITY OF||92.42%|
|TENNESSEE, UNIVERSITY OF||92.39%|
|ARKANSAS, FAYETTEVILLE, UNIVERSITY OF||92.17%|
|CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA||91.67%|
|OREGON, UNIVERSITY OF||91.67%|
|CONNECTICUT, UNIVERSITY OF||91.61%|
|CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY||91.60%|
|LOYOLA UNIVERSITY-NEW ORLEANS||91.34%|
|WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY||91.07%|
|BROOKLYN LAW SCHOOL||90.88%|
|ST. THOMAS, UNIVERSITY OF (MINNESOTA)||90.76%|
|ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY||90.69%|
|MISSOURI-KANSAS CITY, UNIVERSITY OF||90.51%|
|PITTSBURGH, UNIVERSITY OF||90.51%|
|LEWIS AND CLARK COLLEGE||90.48%|
|NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY||90.28%|
|MEMPHIS, UNIVERSITY OF||90.20%|
|CHICAGO-KENT COLLEGE OF LAW-IIT||90.16%|
|DETROIT MERCY, UNIVERSITY OF||90.00%|
|PENNSYLVANIA STATE - DICKINSON LAW||89.83%|
|UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS DARTMOUTH||89.80%|
|WYOMING, UNIVERSITY OF||89.55%|
|RICHMOND, UNIVERSITY OF||89.51%|
|LINCOLN MEMORIAL UNIVERSITY||89.47%|
|TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY||89.47%|
|DENVER, UNIVERSITY OF||89.30%|
|SAN DIEGO, UNIVERSITY OF||89.18%|
|ARKANSAS, LITTLE ROCK, UNIVERSITY OF||88.89%|
|JOHN MARSHALL LAW SCHOOL||88.62%|
|SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY||88.55%|
|MISSOURI, UNIVERSITY OF||88.54%|
|NEVADA - LAS VEGAS, UNIVERSITY OF||88.52%|
|HOUSTON, UNIVERSITY OF||88.50%|
|ARIZONA, UNIVERSITY OF||88.43%|
|MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY||88.07%|
|UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO-SUNY||87.59%|
|NEW MEXICO, UNIVERSITY OF||87.50%|
|UNT DALLAS COLLEGE OF LAW||87.18%|
|NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY||86.57%|
|TOLEDO, UNIVERSITY OF||86.36%|
|INDIANA UNIVERSITY - INDIANAPOLIS||85.59%|
|BALTIMORE, UNIVERSITY OF||85.51%|
|SOUTH TEXAS COLLEGE OF LAW HOUSTON||85.50%|
|HAWAII, UNIVERSITY OF||85.34%|
|MAINE, UNIVERSITY OF||85.14%|
|MARYLAND, UNIVERSITY OF||84.27%|
|IDAHO, UNIVERSITY OF||83.95%|
|ST. MARY’S UNIVERSITY||83.90%|
|CALIFORNIA-HASTINGS, UNIVERSITY OF||83.70%|
|AKRON, UNIVERSITY OF||83.02%|
|CALIFORNIA WESTERN SCHOOL OF LAW||81.15%|
|MCGEORGE SCHOOL OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC||81.10%|
|CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY||81.03%|
|NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL UNIVERSITY||80.86%|
|ALBANY LAW SCHOOL OF UNION UNIVERSITY||80.70%|
|ST. THOMAS UNIVERSITY (FLORIDA)||80.57%|
|OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY||80.43%|
|DAYTON, UNIVERSITY OF||80.22%|
|OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY||80.17%|
|NEW ENGLAND LAW | BOSTON||80.00%|
|SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY-CARBONDALE||79.80%|
|TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY||79.69%|
|MISSISSIPPI, UNIVERSITY OF||79.25%|
|PUERTO RICO, UNIVERSITY OF||78.47%|
|NORTH DAKOTA, UNIVERSITY OF||78.33%|
|WESTERN STATE COLLEGE OF LAW||77.63%|
|NORTHERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY||77.36%|
|NEW YORK LAW SCHOOL||77.29%|
|APPALACHIAN SCHOOL OF LAW||77.27%|
|SOUTHWESTERN LAW SCHOOL||77.27%|
|SAN FRANCISCO, UNIVERSITY OF||76.82%|
|ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY||75.61%|
|VERMONT LAW SCHOOL||75.61%|
|AVE MARIA SCHOOL OF LAW||75.36%|
|WESTERN NEW ENGLAND UNIVERSITY||75.26%|
|GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY||75.00%|
|CHARLESTON SCHOOL OF LAW||72.12%|
|PONTIFICAL CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF P.R.||70.87%|
|FLORIDA A&M UNIVERSITY||70.83%|
|ATLANTA’S JOHN MARSHALL LAW SCHOOL||67.32%|
|FLORIDA COASTAL SCHOOL OF LAW||67.29%|
|SOUTH DAKOTA, UNIVERSITY OF||67.21%|
|WESTERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY||66.01%|
|INTER AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF PUERTO RICO||64.49%|
|DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA||64.06%|