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California State Bar Activates New Guidelines for Law Schools

In December, the California State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners voted to adopt changes to the guidelines for accredited law schools. The guidelines specify that the law schools have to maintain a cumulative bar examination rate of 40 percent if they wish to keep their status. The guidelines went into effect on January 1, according to The California Bar Journal. Law schools will not be required to report their status until November.

The chair of the committee, Sean McCoy, said that this is a necessary change.

“Prior to this change, the version of the accreditation rules and guidelines stated that the cumulative success on the bar exam by graduates from a California accredited law school was a factor the committee considered in evaluating the quality of a school’s legal education program,” McCoy wrote in an email. “However, the guidelines did not establish a quantitative percentage or other definition of ‘cumulative success,’ or specify a time period that would be used to measure that ‘cumulative success.’”

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The bar passage rates for law schools will be tabulated each year under the new guidelines. Those rates will be part of a percentage based on the number of law school students who have graduated within the last five years and have passed one of 10 administrations of the bar. The number will then be divided by the amount of graduates over that five-year span who took the exams.

Law schools that do not meet the new requirement when they submit their reports at the end of the year will receive a letter of non-compliance. Law schools that do not meet the requirements will be placed on probation beginning in 2016. Those schools could wind up losing their accreditation if there continues to be non-compliance within one year.

Despite most California law schools meeting these new requirements already, the new guidelines have not been received well. A letter was written by Southern California Institute of Law Dean Stanislaus Pulle,  Loyola Law School professor Christopher May and retired California Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron. The letter said the following:

“To judge the value of a legal education based solely on whether a person one day becomes a member of the bar is deeply shortsighted. As those who have attended law school will attest to, a legal education teaches us to think differently, to view the world from multiple perspectives, to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and to become better attuned to the world around us.”

A law school graduate, Laurel Fielden, wrote: “Although the interest of consumer responsibility is a just cause, I think it fails to take into consideration the extensive variations in demographics and desires of graduates who attend [California-accredited law] schools.”

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