William E. Adams
Will we hold classes in-person, online, or in a hybrid mode? If students attend in-person, will or can we require students to be vaccinated? If we have such a requirement, what type of exceptions will we permit (e.g., for medical and religious reasons)? If we don’t/can’t require students to be vaccinated, who can be excused from attending in-person because they have underlying health conditions that increase the likelihood of death or serious harm, family members with such conditions, or concerns that the risks remain too serious regardless of the above? If we have some students meeting in-person, can or will we impose mask-wearing and social distancing? How do the above concerns and requirements apply to faculty and staff? When will we able to resume our international programs in-person? These are just a few of the questions that schools face as they try to plan for the fall. For some schools, the answer to some of these questions is further complicated by the fact that they are or may be prohibited from requiring some of these things by either their universities, the governmental authorities in their jurisdictions, or both. The question about international programs is dependent upon CDC and State Department travel advice. Although it appears that most schools will attempt to hold classes in person this fall, some latitude with current distance learning limits may be needed, at least for some individuals. The Council recognizes this and has continued to approve applications from schools who seek permission to provide online instruction as needed. As always, the office staff will advise schools as conditions change.
Although the Council and office continue to process applications and provide guidance related to the pandemic, both continue to conduct other accreditation business. The Council approved proposed changes to Standards 205, 206, 303, 507, and 508 at its May meeting, which are being sent out for Notice and Comment. It also approved the amendments to Rules 2 and 13 for submission to the ABA House of Delegates. Those proposals may be found on the Section’s website here.
The Council’s Nominating Committee has been working on filling the open officer and member-at-large positions on the Council for 2021-22. The slate will be announced in early June and will be posted on our website. I commend the Committee for making tough decisions amongst a deserving group of persons submitted for consideration. Election for the positions will be held at the Section’s Annual Business Meeting in August.
As everyone is aware, the office collects an extensive amount of data in order to assist the Council in fulfilling its accreditation function and to provide important consumer information. Pursuant to that duty, it recently released the employment outcome and bar pass data in April. The results were pleasantly surprising considering the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Regarding employment data for the class of 2020, the aggregated school data shows that 26,638 (77.4% of total graduates) of the 2020 graduates of the 197 law schools enrolling students and approved by the ABA to offer the J.D. degree were employed in full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required or J.D. Advantage jobs roughly 10 months after graduation. That compares to 27,352 (80.6% of total graduates) of the graduates reporting similar full-time, long-term jobs last year. The change in percentages likely reflects the pandemic’s impact on the legal market, cancelations, and delays to bar admission exam administrations, and an approximate 1.4% increase in the size of the graduating class. The actual number of full-time, long-term Bar Passage Required or J.D. Advantage jobs decreased by 714 (-2.6%) year-over-year, going from 27,352 in 2019 to 26,638 in 2020. Although the numbers indicate a decline, it is much smaller than many feared and what has been experienced in other parts of the economy. The national and school-specific employment outcomes data can be found here.
Regarding bar passage, the new data shows that in the aggregate, 89.99% of 2018 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation (90.10% with those being admitted under so-called “Diploma Privilege” options offered in a few jurisdictions). This two-year ultimate bar pass rate is slightly better than the 89.47% comparable figure for 2017 graduates. The 2018 ultimate bar pass data also reveals that 94.98% of all graduates sat for a bar exam within two years of graduation, and that schools were able to obtain bar passage information from 98.84% of 2018 graduates. First-time takers in 2020 achieved an aggregate 82.83% pass rate (83.66% with Diploma Privilege), which is a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable 79.64% pass rate for 2019. The Diploma Privilege category includes those waived into the practice of law without taking the bar because of special rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data statistics can be found at this link.
The office has also been collecting bar pass data by race, ethnicity, and gender for the past two years. It will be releasing the national figures on these categories in the near future.
The Council will also hold another in its series of roundtables this summer. The topic for this round will be race/ethnicity/gender data collection. Invitees will be asked to consider whether the data collected should include more categories and whether this type of data collection should be expanded to other categories relevant to legal education.
As should be evident from this column, office staff and the Council remain busy helping schools during the pandemic despite the many challenges faced.