ABA Renews Proposal to Raise Bar-Passage Standards

January 18, 2019

The American Bar Association’s accreditation arm plans later this month to make another push to raise the standards for bar-passage rates a law school must meet to retain its recognition.

The proposal would require that 75 percent of a law school’s graduates pass the bar exam in their state. The same proposal was rejected by the ABA’s general assembly two years ago. But the accrediting council has the authority to move ahead with the proposal even without broader support at ABA's Jan. 28 meeting.

“From the standpoint of protecting students, a school should be able to demonstrate it can get at least 75 percent of its students through a licensing exam that is the barrier to what they went and got their degree for,” said Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA’s section of legal education and admissions to the bar. “The goal here is to have a reasonable standard and have every school meet it.”

The proposal would also allow that a school could lose up to 20 percent of a class to attrition without failing ABA standards.

The number of students taking and passing the bar exam has been in decline for several years as the legal education market has contracted. At the same time, critics of legal education have put new scrutiny on programs of poor quality that produce students with serious debt and little chance of succeeding in the legal profession. And the ABA itself has recently cracked down on law programs, issuing more sanctions for programs with low admissions standards.

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