US Law School Pass Rates To Become Tougher

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us law schools
ABA Committee Erica Moeser

The pass rate requirements for US law schools may become tougher if American Bar Association changes are made.

It appears certain that the ABA committee that is responsible for supervising law school accreditation stardards will endorse a rule that requires a minimum 80 per cent of graduates to pass the bar examination within two years of graduation, which is a significant increase over the 75 per cent figure passing within five years that is the current standard.

Committee members now believe the existing standard is too confusing, according to member Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

The National Law Journal reports that the details might yet change, but there is widespread support for clarifying and strengthening the standard, said committee chairman Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. “I think it’s fair to say that there is consensus that the current interpretation is meaningless and empty, and thus very misleading,” he said.

Law schools, he continued, bear a fiduciary responsibility to prepare students to pass the bar exam.

The ABA’s bar passage standard has long been a source of controversy, partly due to concerns that tighter standards would dissuade law schools from accepting students with lower academic credentials, which might disproportionately shut out minority and low-income applicants.

Before 2008, the ABA spelled out no specific bar-passage minimum. Instead, it enforced what was called the “70/10 Rule”: At least 70 percent of a school’s first-time bar takers had to pass the exam in the school’s home state. Alternatively, the first-time bar-pass rate could be no more than 10 percent below the average for other ABA-accredited schools in that state.

But the U.S. Department of Education—which authorizes the ABA to accredit law schools—requested a clearer rule. After much discussion, the ABA in 2008 began requiring that at least 75 percent of a school’s graduates pass the bar exam in at least three of the past five years. Schools can meet the standard if their first-time bar-passage rate is no more than 15 percent below other ABA schools in the same state during three of the past five years. The 15 percent requirement is intended to level the playing field across states, given that passage rates vary widely, depending on jurisdiction.

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