Keith B. Norman, J.
Proposed Changes to Law School Accreditation Address Lower Pass Rates
Two proposed changes to the American Bar Association (ABA) accreditation standards have been circulated for notice and comment. The changes are largely in response to concerns that have been expressed about the nationwide drop in bar passage rates over the last several years.
In Alabama, we have experienced these declines as well. For graduates of accredited schools taking the Alabama Bar Exam for the first time, the pass rate for February 2013 was 79 percent. The February 2016 pass rate for first-time takers was 65 percent. Similarly, the pass rate for the July 2013 administration for first-time takers was 91 percent. The pass rate for first-timers in July 2015 was 78 percent. The July 2016 results will be announced at the end of this month.
Under current ABA standards, a law school meets the bar-pass requirement in one of two ways. The law school can show that its pass rate for first-time takers is no more than 15 percentage points below the average bar-pass rate for ABA-approved schools in the state where their graduates take the bar exam. Or, the law school may show that 75 percent of its graduates who took the bar exam in three of the previous five years passed.
The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar has asked for comments for the proposals that were drafted by the Standards Review Committee. The first proposed change would eliminate the first option. The 75 percent pass rate requirement of the second option would be retained, but modified so that the time period to demonstrate compliance would be shortened to two years. Moreover, law schools would no longer be permitted to base pass-rate compliance on only 70 percent of its total number of graduates. Instead, a law school would have to account for as many of its graduates as possible.
The second of the two proposals being circulated would establish a rebuttable presumption that a law school attrition rate above 20 percent (not including transfers) is not in compliance with the...