ABA changes law school accreditation standard because of COVID

Last month, the American Bar Association (ABA) council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted to change its accreditation standard, and it could be troublesome for some law schools. 

Standard 316 is the one causing headaches for law schools who were already on the verge of losing their accreditation. It requires 75 percent of law school graduates who took a bar exam to pass within two years of graduation. 

That percentage will remain in place; however, law schools may now use the pandemic as an excuse when reporting annual data to the ABA, according to the 2021 Bar Passage Questionnaire memo dated Nov. 11.

The ABA will take into consideration the pandemic’s effect on a law school’s bar exam results, it said in the memo. The schools need to share “specific information” when it comes to its impact. This includes if any law school that believes its bar exam passage rate dropped or remained under that 75 percent threshold because of the delay or unavailability that some graduates faced when trying to sit for the bar exam this year. 

Additionally, law schools will now also be required to provide data on the students who were admitted to practice law without taking the bar exam. Some jurisdictions, because of the pandemic, opted to go with diploma privilege, which means their grads didn’t take the bar. 

Law schools typically submit the annual Bar Passage Questionnaire each February, but as stated in the memo, schools could get an extension until April if they need additional time to collect accurate data. 

The changes will take effect for the upcoming 2021 Bar Passage, according to the memo.

Once a law school has sent this information to the ABA, it will then be able to provide two different bar passage rates for law schools. The first bar passage rate will include only graduates who took the bar exam. The second percentage will be cumulative of graduates who took the bar exam and those who were admitted to practice via diploma privilege.

A council member who is on the Questionnaire and Template Committee, Mary Lu Bilek, clarified to the ABA Journal that recent graduates admitted by diploma privilege will be viewed as having passed a bar exam.

“These recommendations were the result of a long discussion with many different viewpoints expressed. There was a consensus on the Committee that these recommendations balance several competing interests,” the memo concludes.