ABA Revisiting Minimum Bar Passage Standards for Law Schools

There’s a lot of discussion about proposals before the Standards Review Committee of the ABA Section on Legal Education to make use of the LSAT optional, or to change the requirements as to tenure (see, e.g., Masters Forum:  Legal Education over at the Glom). 

In The Standards Review Committee’s Comprehensive Review of Accreditation Policy Moves Forward (Syllabus,Winter 2011), Dean Donald J. Polden (Santa Clara), Chair of the Standards Review Committee, outlines the agenda of that committee’s upcoming meeting on April 2 & 3, 2011.  The last item Polden lists is:

Reconsidering the (relatively new) policy concerning minimum or threshold bar passage rates and addressing the perception that the thresholds established by the policy are too low.

(Emphasis added).  The committee has now posted a Report of Subcommittee on Bar Passage that proposes to amend Interpretation 301-6 of Standard 301(a).  Standard 301(a) provides:

A law school shall maintain an educational program that prepares its students for admission to the bar, and effective and responsible participation in the legal profession.

Interpretation 301-6 provides that a law school must meet minimum Bar-passage requirements to comply with Standard 301(a).  A school can meet the requirements based on either

  • overall first-time Bar passage rates no more than 15 percentage points below the blended average Bar passage rate for persons who graduated from ABA-accredited law schools, or
  • overall ultimate Bar passage rates (over several attempts) of at least 75%.

The Subcommittee on Bar Passage proposes to raise the minimum Bar-passage requirements to (i) no more than 10% below the average (first-time) or (ii) at least 80% (ultimate).  For a provisionally-accredited school seeking full approval, the subcommittee proposes a version of the current 15% below (first-time) or 75% (ultimate) minimums. 

When Interpretation 301-6 was originally proposed and adopted, it was widely criticized, including my own Benchmarking the Bar:  No Unity in Difference Scores (differences from state averages do not eliminate effect of differences in minimum passing scores) and Reports and Comments on Proposed ABA Interpretation 301-6.  In many ways, the sub-committee’s current proposal goes back to standards that were rejected in the initial adoption.  I’ll add more later.

posted by Gary Rosin


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