How The New ABA Standard Affects Legal Education

A stricter bar exam passage standard by the ABA may make things more complicated for law schools and prospective students.

The ABA’s new standard, adopted in May, requires that at least 75% of a law school’s graduates sitting for the bar exam pass the exam within two years of graduating. Daniel Waldman, a contributor at US News and admissions consultant at Stratus Admissions Consulting, believes that the new standard is cause for concern among prospective law students.

STATE BASIS

Waldman says the new standard doesn’t make exceptions for states with lower pass rates.

“The ABA pointed out that several states have decided to lower the pass score of the Multistate Bar Examination, or MBE,” Waldman writes. “This basically punts the issue to the states themselves, implying that if a state bar is concerned with its school’s accreditation, it should make passing the bar exam easier.”

The new standard may be difficult for infamously lower pass rate states, like California, where only 31.4% of test takers passed February 2019 bar exam, the second-lowest pass rate in 35 years, according to Law.com.

DIVERSITY & MINORITY ACCESS

Critics of the new ABA standard argue that it will make legal education even more inaccessible to minorities.

“The revised standard will have the greatest impact on schools with the mission of admitting students with lower predictors of success, often students from under-served communities,” the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) wrote in a letter to the ABA House of Delegates in January.

THE IMPACT

While the new ABA standard is worrying many, experts say, it is unlikely to impact many law schools in the foreseeable future.

“First, with California specifically in mind, the ABA compiled data showing that only two of the state’s 21 ABA-accredited schools failed to meet the new standard,” Waldman writes. “Second, it appears that while the standard was met, even the ABA itself is far from unified in its acceptance, with the association’s House of Delegates voting the new standard down twice before being overruled by the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.”

For applicants, Waldman says, it will be helpful to keep an eye on their target school’s bar passage rate and see how it’s either growing or dropping.

“If it’s been declining consistently, a day might come in the next couple of years when the ABA will set its sights on the school, and you likely don’t want to be a part of it when that happens,” Waldman writes.

Sources: US News, Law.com, National Jurist

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