Thursday, January 24, 2019

The February 2019 Bar Exam: The ABA's Proposal to Tighten Bar Exam Pass Standards

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The ABA is once again trying to strengthen its bar pass requirements for law schools.  They will consider a proposal to bolster the existing rule, requiring at least 75% of a school’s graduates to pass the bar within 2 years of graduating or risk losing accreditation. The ABA rejected the same proposal in February 2017 amid concern from advocates who said it could imperil schools with a large percentage of minority students, especially at a time when pass rates across the country have plummeted.

Black and Hispanic students on average score lower on the bar exam. While 52% of white takers passed the July 2016 bar exam, that pass rate was 34% for Hispanics and 21% for African-American test takers, according to a 2017 state bar report.

The NCBE favors the proposal, stating that law students have the right to know what their chances are to pass the bar when looking at a particular school. 

The existing standard allows schools to meet the bar pass threshold in 2 ways. Schools are in compliance as long as at least 75% of graduates pass the bar exam within 5 years of leaving campus or if their 1st time pass rate is no lower than 15% of the statewide average.

The proposed change eliminates the first-time pass rate provision and shortens the time span to meet the 75% threshold from 5 to 2 years. Also, it requires schools to report bar pass rates on all graduates who take the exam. The existing rule mandates that schools report data for at least 70% of graduates.

A study on repeat test taker by the NCBE found that very few people take the bar exam more than 4 times, and the number of people who continue to take the test beyond the 2-year post-graduation point is negligible. Bar Professors disputes this claim, as most of our students have taken the bar exam more than 4 times.

Schools reported data on nearly 98% of 2015 graduates who sat for the bar and more than 88% passed within 2 years, according to a legal education council memo in support of the change. But results varied by school. In total, 19 of the 203 ABA-accredited law schools fell short of the 75% pass threshold over two years. 2 of those schools were in California and 2 were part of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The standard is based on the notion that law schools are supposed to admit people who are qualified and give them a program that allows them to graduate and pass the bar. The bar pass standard is the best measure of whether a school is doing that.

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