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Council enacts new bar passage standard for law schools

The bar passage standard for the nation’s 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools is changing after several years of debate and controversy.

On May 17, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved a major change in the bar passage standard, known as 316, that would require 75 percent of a law school’s graduates who sit for the bar to pass it within two years. The change takes effect immediately although schools falling short of the standard would have at least two years to come into compliance.

Twice since 2017, the ABA policy-making House of Delegates has voted against the change, as some delegates feared it would have an adverse effect on law schools with significant minority enrollment. But under ABA rules and procedures, the Council, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the national accreditor of law schools, has the final say on accreditation matters.

“These revisions provide more straightforward and clear expectations for law schools and establish measures and process that are more appropriate for today’s environment,” Barry Currier, managing director of ABA law school accreditation, said after an hour-long discussion and a voice vote in favor of the change.

“Most students go to law school to become lawyers. Becoming a lawyer requires passing the bar exam. How well a school’s graduates perform on the bar exam is a very important accreditation tool to assess the school’s program of legal education,” he added.

The Council previously used a five-year measuring period to access compliance with Standard 316 that took into account a school’s variance from the state law school bar passage average, passage rates for first-time bar exam takers and ultimate passage scores. Advocates for the change say that formula was too complicated to administer and point out that no law school has been found out of compliance of Standard 316.

“The Council has long understood that this is a complex matter and appreciates the attention this proposal received in the past by the ABA House of Delegates and other stakeholders in the legal education community,” Currier said, adding the Council will monitor outcomes and will make changes if necessary.

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