Ten Law Schools Are Threatened by Poor Bar Passage Rates

Ten law schools were put on notice by The American Bar Association for failing to meet the new bar standard which requires that at least 75% of a law school’ graduates from the class of 2017 pass the Bar within two years.

The council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which met remotely May 15, found “significant noncompliance” with Standard 316 for the following schools.

Law School2017 Ultimate Bar PassageMinority Percentage
Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School                             67.32%                           41%
Charleston School of Law                             72.12%                           20%
University of District Columbia                             64.06%                           67%
Florida A&M                             70.83%                           71%
Florida Coastal                             67.29%                         36%
Intra American Puerto Rico                             64.49%                         100%
Mississippi College of Law                             64.15%                         20%
Pontifica Catholic Puerto Rico                             70.87%                       100%
University of South Dakota                             67.21%                       8.80%
Western Michigan Cooley                             66.01%                         43%

This is the first year ABA determined compliance based on two-year bar passage rates.

Many critics opposed the new standard as one of the more controversial moves by the ABA, arguing it would affect schools with larger minority student bodies.

The ABA defended its move by stating the threshold is meant to protect prospective students from enrolling in a law school that failed to meet such a key metric, noting that the bar exam is the main prerequisite to practice law.

Each law school has to submit a report by Feb. 1, 2021, and if it fails to demonstrate compliance with the standard, the school will be asked to appear before the council when it meets in May 2021.

ABA revised the Standard 316 in 2019 to state that at least 75% of law school’s grads who took the bar exam must pass one within two years of graduation. Before, the council allowed all kinds of exceptions- including a 75% pass rate for all graduates over the five most recent calendar years.

Critics argue that the revised standard would cause a decline of students of color in law schools, leading to the less diverse legal profession.

Kendall Kerew, president of the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA)  told the National Jurist there were 12 groups that opposed the new standard and asked that the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education to not take such a drastic step without more input and study.

The revised standard has been scrutinized by a number of organizations including SALT and CLEA,  urging ABA to suspend it for the obvious reason, and that would be COVID-19.

The pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to this year’s bar exam, with many jurisdictions changing the date and format of the exam every month.

“The challenges of bar success will unquestionably become greater in light of the chaotic times we are living in,” said Renée McDonald Hutchins, dean of The University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, one of the schools not in compliance.

The civil unrest that erupted after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers is another significant factor.

“These are times like no other,” she said. “And I hope the ABA will consider the multiple and unprecedented stressors weighing upon graduates as it assesses compliance.”

Kerew noted how students of color not only face virus-related disruptions to their bar prep, they “face disproportionate levels of illness and death” from COVID-19.

“These challenges most likely will negatively impact future bar passage rates for students of color,” she said.

When it comes to the new standard, ABA said in a press release, for the Class of 2018 and beyond, the availability and timing of bar exams because of the pandemic will be a factor to be considered

Alex Andonovska: