Call for Action–Contact ABA Delegates to Oppose Bar Passage Standard Revision

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SALT asks that you immediately contact your state’s ABA Delegates and other ABA delegates you may know to urge rejection of a proposal that will come before the ABA House of Delegates as Resolution 110B on Monday, February 6 (sample email below).  If you are in the Miami area, we also encourage you to attend the House of Delegates Session and speak against Resolution 110B.

The proposal would revise ABA Standard 316, the bar passage accreditation standard, to impose a single nationwide standard on all law schools.  Specifically, the proposed standard would require that 75% of all members of a law school graduating class who sit for a bar exam must pass within two years of graduation.  The proposal is simplistic in failing to take into account dramatic variations in passing scores adopted by different states.  It is inequitable in posing a threat both to schools in states with low pass rates and to schools that serve historically disadvantaged students and communities.  The proposed change was approved by the ABA Council on Legal Education (the “Council”) with no study of possible adverse effects or meaningful discussion of serious reservations brought to its attention.

Numerous groups and individuals raised concerns about the proposal in written comments to the Council and in testimony at a Council hearing in San Francisco on August 6.  The only hearing testimony presented was in opposition to the proposed standard.  Despite the significance of the proposal, the Council spent less than an hour deliberating over its approval.  In that short discussion, the Council spent a scant few minutes on the concerns raised by opponents.

In its comments and testimony SALT identified important unanswered questions that need consideration to ensure the bar passage standard works appropriately and fairly.  Those include whether schools in states with consistently lower pass rates would meet the proposed single nationwide standard, what impact the proposal would have on the admission of students from diverse, economically disadvantaged, and non-traditional backgrounds and the overall diversity of the bench and bar, and the extent to which the standard could lead schools in states with low pass rates to focus on bar-type courses for their students, thereby limiting the growth of experiential and skills-oriented learning that recently adopted accreditation standards seek to encourage.

Other comments in opposition came from, among others:

CLEA (“We … urge that the Council: (1) conduct an evidence-based inquiry into the immediate impact of proposed Standard 316 on schools in states with low pass rates and on the diversity of law schools; and (2) consider more systematically whether the bar examination, as the exclusive means of assessing readiness to practice law, is too limited in the proficiencies it assesses for entry into the legal profession.” See also CLEA’s recent Call for Action urging its members join the growing concerted effort to make sure that the House of Delegates does not simply rubberstamp Resolution 110B.)

Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and University (“HBCU”) law schools (“We write out of concern and alarm that the proposed standard, if adopted, will be detrimental to meaningful access to justice for both potential lawyers of color and the communities greatly in need of their advocacy. … The entire profession should be deeply concerned at the potential adverse impact this standard change would have on law schools associated with HBCUS. … There has been no study conducted by the ABA to assess how the proposed standard will impact law schools with large percentages of minority law [students].”

ABA Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline (“The proposed changes to Standard 316 are contrary to ABA Goal III and presents significant impediments to increasing diversity in the legal profession.”)

Congressional Black Caucus (“We request that the American Bar Association forego adoption or implementation of the proposed standard pending a more inclusive dialogue and assessment on the standard’s impact on diversity in the legal profession.”)

New York State Bar Association (“Far too much is currently unknown and the facts needed for informed decision-making are lacking. For New York, there probably could not be a more inappropriate time to impose any new standards.”)

More recently, after the California bar pass rate for graduates from accredited California law schools was 62%, 90 law school deans signed a letter urging postponement of the Standard 316 proposal for one year for additional consideration and study. “Despite the diversity of opinion on this difficult issue, all the deans who have signed this letter believe that there should be an opportunity for further reflection, and perhaps more careful study and analysis, before a new standard is adopted, especially because this standard could well have serious, albeit unintended, consequences on the welfare of many law schools and students.”

Please join SALT in urging ABA delegates to reject the simplistic and inequitable 316 proposal.  Thank you!

Sample email to your state’s ABA delegates

For state-by-state list of delegates, click here. In the alternative, most state representatives for the ABA House of Delegates can be found on your state bar website.  You can also search on the internet for your state name and “ABA House of Delegates.”  If you are a member of the ABA, there is a delegate directory link on the main ABA website that is accessible to you.

Dear ABA Delegate:

I write to ask that you vote to send Resolution 110B back to the Council on Legal Education for further study and consideration.  Resolution 110B proposes a revision of Standard 316 that has not been adequately studied despite reasonable concern that it may have serious, detrimental unintended consequences.

The Council was understandably motivated to simplify current Standard 316, but in its haste to do so has not adequately studied the impact of the proposed change.  In fact, the Council passed the proposed Standard 316 after a short discussion that included virtually no consideration of the concerns expressed in numerous written comments and public testimony presented to the Council.   Serious concerns remain about the unintended impact of the proposal on schools in states with low bar pass rates, on efforts to diversify the profession, and on reform of legal education to teach the many skills needed for effective and ethical law practice.

I urge you and the other delegates of [insert name of your state] to reject Resolution 110B and send it back to Council for careful and comprehensive study of its likely impact.


[Your name here]