New bar passage rules await law schools in 2013
By Amy Yarbrough
Law schools wishing to maintain their California accreditation
no doubt have a resolution this year: keeping up and improving their graduates’
bar passage rates.
Last month, the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners voted
to adopt changes to its guidelines for accredited law schools to specify that they
must maintain a cumulative bar examination rate of at least 40 percent in order
to keep their status. The new guidelines became effective Jan. 1, although law
schools won’t have to report whether they meet the requirement until November
when annual compliance reports are due.
Sean McCoy, chair of the
committee, said the change was necessary to help clarify some of the standards used
to judge law schools’ curriculum.
“Prior to this change, the
version of the accreditation rules and guidelines stated that the cumulative
success on the bar exam by graduates from a California accredited law school
was a factor the committee considered in evaluating the quality of a school's
legal education program,” McCoy wrote in an email. “However, the guidelines did
not establish a quantitative percentage or other definition of ‘cumulative
success,’ or specify a time period that would be used to measure that ‘cumulative
Under the new guidelines, law schools’ bar passage rates
will be tabulated yearly as a percentage based on the number of students who
have graduated within the past five years and have taken and passed one of 10
administrations of the bar exam. That figure will then be divided by the number
of graduates during that five-year period who have taken any of those exams.
Schools that do not meet the requirement when they file
their reports later this year will receive a notice of non-compliance. Beginning
in 2016, those that fall below the minimum cumulative bar passage rate will be
placed on probation and could ultimately lose their accreditation if they don’t
comply with the requirements by the end of the following year.
Although most California-accredited
law schools currently meet the 40-percent mandate, the new accreditation
standard and guidelines haven’t been entirely well-received.
During the most recent public
comment period before the committee approved the change, Southern California
Institute of Law Dean Stanislaus Pulle called it “draconian.” In a letter co-written
with Loyola Law School professor Christopher May and retired California Court
of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron, Pulle said it unfairly penalizes California
accredited schools. These students tend to work while enrolled and can’t afford
to take time off to study for the bar exam, they wrote, unlike those who attend
higher-tier schools accredited by the American Bar Association.
“To judge the value of a legal
education based solely on whether a person one day becomes a member of the bar
is deeply shortsighted,” the letter read. “As those who have attended law
school will attest to, a legal education teaches us to think differently, to
view the world from multiple perspectives, to put ourselves in other people’s
shoes, and to become better attuned to the world around us.”
Laurel Fielden, a law school
graduate, offered similar sentiments, calling the change” excessive.”
“Although the interest of
consumer responsibility is a just cause, I think it fails to take into
consideration the extensive variations in demographics and desires of graduates
who attend [California-accredited law] schools,” she wrote.
But McCoy said the new rules will
make it easier to gauge the quality of legal education programs, noting that as
the guidelines were written, they “simply did not provide the schools with
adequate notice of any meaningful standard.
“The new guideline remedies that
problem,” he wrote.