The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates recently rejected a resolution that would have required law schools to have a bar passage rate in excess of 75 percent or face the risk of losing accreditation. The resolution was defeated by a large margin.
The proponents of a new rule believe that it is unfair for law schools to admit students who are unlikely to pass their state bar exams. They noted that many student take out large amounts of debt in order to attend law school. If they don’t pass the bar, these students still have to pay back their loans but do not have the credential to practice law and earn the salaries necessary to pay back these loans and still enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Thus, they argue that it is unethical for law schools to take tuition fees from students who have a low chance of ever practicing law.
Opponents of the measure argue that the new rule would make it tough for law schools in California to meet the requirement because the bar examination in the state is particularly difficult. Also, the new rule would adversely affect law schools with a large percentage of students from underrepresented groups. According to a letter to the ABA from a group of diversity activists, there are 36 law schools in the United States that had bar passage rates of below 65 percent in both 2016 and 2017. Five of 36 law schools are at historically Black universities and many others with low bar passage rates have significant percentages of African Americans and other students of color. These experts warned that the passage of the resolution could have a significant negative impact on efforts to further diversify the law profession. This argument apparently held sway with the House of Delegates.
The ABA has not closed the door on the issue and will continue to study how to best deal with the prospect of rising student debt and lowering passage rates on state bar examinations.