ABA Rejects Tougher Bar-Passage Requirements for Law Schools

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 09, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you graduate from a law school, you should have a good shot at passing the bar, right? After all, you've had three years of school and you've got to pay back those loans. But many law school grads never pass the bar, and at a handful of schools less than two-thirds of J.D.s end up becoming esquires.

To address that problem, the ABA proposed tightening law school bar-passage standards. Under a controversial proposed rule, 75 percent of a school's graduates would have to pass the bar within two years, or the school could risk losing accreditation. But that rule was rejected by the ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Revising Standard 316

At issue is Resolution 110B, which would have put the House of Delegates' stamp of approval on proposed changes made by the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Those changes went to Standard 316, which governs "sufficient" bar-passage rates for law schools. Under the current standard, 75 percent of grads who sat for a bar in the past 5 years must have passed. Alternatively, a school can also be in compliance if its passage rate is no more than 15 points below the average first-time pass rates in the jurisdiction for three of the past five years.

No accredited law school has ever been out of compliance with Standard 316, the ABA Journal reports. But there has been a steady stream of criticism over schools that repeatedly graduate debt-ridden students who never pass the bar and of schools who dissuade their weakest students from even sitting for the bar.

The suggested amendments would put extra pressure on schools to make sure their students pass. Not only would the time frame be shorter, but the less stringent 3-out-of-5-years option would be eliminated.

Criticism of the Changes

The proposal received significant pushback, from both law school deans and minority student groups. The National Black Law Students Association, for example, criticized the proposal for failing to address racial inequalities. The changes to Standard 316 could lead schools to reject students who were at greater risk of not passing the bar, a disproportionate amount of them minority students.

The Association of American Law School's Law School Deans Steering Committee asked for the proposal to be withdrawn, citing concerns over falling bar-passage rates, different state bar standards, and diversity in the profession.

Under ABA rules, according to the ABA Journal, the house can reject the resolution twice, sending it back for review, but the legal education and admissions counsel has the final say on Standard 316's requirements.

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