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Under a new rule, the American Bar Association says at least 75 percent of a law school's graduates must pass the bar exam for the school to keep its accreditation.
The rule is virtually in effect now, and mandates that bar applicants pass the exam within two years of graduation. The pressure, however, is really on the law schools. Many lower-performing schools will be on the accreditation chopping block if they don't raise their bar-pass rates. Right now, many do not make the cut.
Accreditation Chopping Block
If the rule lumped all schools together in California, for example, they would all lose their accreditation following the latest bar results. For the February 2019 exam, the state bar reported that 31 percent of the test-takers passed. It was a slight improvement over last year, but the second-worst score in the past 30 years.
Fortunately for better law schools, the rule doesn't lump them together with lesser schools. The ABA's council on education says each school must stand -- or fall -- on its own. "The council will closely monitor bar outcomes under the new standard," said Barry Currier, the ABA's managing director of accreditation and legal education. "If further change is needed or would be desirable, the council can make those changes." In the past, most accredited schools have found a way to survive ABA standards. But as many law schools lowered admission standards over the past decade, bar pass rates went down. That prompted the revision of Standard 316.
William Patton, a professor emeritus at Whittier Law School, opposed it. Based on his research, he said nine ABA-accredited schools in California will fail the 75 percent standard.
As the Rule Comes Down
To be sure, there will be blood as the rule comes down. Even good schools, like the University of California, Davis, and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, are on the edge. Fortunately, they have a little wiggle room. The House of Delegate can send a proposed revision back to the council, but the council has the final decision on matters related to law school education. The rule has been back-and-forth twice already.
The first time law schools will be accountable under the revised standard is spring 2020, when they report final bar pass rates for 2017 graduates. Like the previous version of Standard 316, law schools will have two years to come into compliance if they fall below the 75 percent mark.