ABA rejects stricter bar passage rule

The American Bar Association (ABA) voted against a proposal that would have tightened bar passage requirements.

The proposal, which would have required accredited law schools to have 75 percent of their students who sit for bar exams pass within two years of graduation, was overwhelmingly opposed by the ABA House of Delegates at its February meeting.

Currently, Standard 316 offers several paths for schools to meet requirements:

  • 75 percent of graduates from the five most recent calendar years have passed a bar exam;
  • A school has a 75 percent pass rate for three of five years;
  • 70 percent of graduates pass the bar at a rate within 15 percentage points of the average first-time bar pass rate for graduates of ABA-approved law schools in the same jurisdiction for three out of the five past calendar years.

No school has ever been out of compliance with the current standard.

Advocates of schools with diverse populations said the proposed standard would have hurt diversity in the legal profession.

The National Black Law Students Association wrote in a letter that the proposal “fails to address the systemic racial inequities in the law school admission process and in legal education, it disproportionately adversely impacts law students of color and communities of color, and it does nothing to remedy the holistic challenges that face law schools that seek to serve underrepresented communities.”

William Patton, a professor emeritus at Whittier Law School, wrote in reports that five ABA-accredited law schools in California that would have been most at risk of violating the proposed requirement enroll 30 percent of the state’s Hispanic law students and 33 percent of the state’s black students.