CHICAGO -- With a tougher bar-pass rule being proposed for law schools, law school leaders are discussing the necessity of more difficult standards.
Felicia Epps, dean of the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) College of Law, said that under the current American Bar Association (ABA) Standard 316, a law school’s bar passage rate is sufficient if the school demonstrates that it meets the following tests:
Test No. 1: Within at least three to five most recently completed calendar years, 75 percent or more of graduates who sat for the bar passed their bar examination.
Test No 2: In three or more of the five most completed calendar years, the school’s annual first-time bar pass rate shall be no more than 15 points below the first-time bar pass rate of all ABA-approved law school graduates in the same jurisdiction.
“The proposed revision to ABA Standard 316 creates a sole test, which is to require at least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination to have passed a bar examination within two years of their date of graduation,” Epps told the Florida Record.
Epps noted that Test No. 1 of the current standard requires the bar-passage rate to be either 75 percent within five years, or 75 percent within three of those five years.
“Consequently, graduates do not have to take successive administrations of the exam,” she said. “If unsuccessful, or they experience financial or other difficulties, they could elect to skip an administration. A graduate’s decision to delay taking the exam or to sit out after an unsuccessful attempt would not put the law school at risk of not complying with the standard.”
Epps added that the current standard provides the alternative method of comparison to school in the same jurisdiction, based on first-time bar passage rates.
“This standard is also referred to as the ‘gap standard,’" Epps said. “The proposed standard would eliminate this current ‘gap standard.’”
Adoption of the proposed revisions to Standard 316 is being opposed by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities law school deans and have been presented to the ABA in a letter.
“The elimination of the ‘gap standard’ is deeply concerning considering, because this standard allows for a comparative measure of a law school’s bar passage rate,” the letter states. “A comparative measure is increasingly important considering that bar-passage rates have been declining in jurisdictions in recent years.”
Another danger to eliminating an alternative measure, such as the first-time bar passage test, can be illustrated by the FAMU College of Law’s success on the February 2016 Florida bar exam, according to Epps.
“Our pass rate for the February 2016 bar exam was 59.1 percent … We were fourth among the 11 Florida law schools. More importantly, the FAMU College of Law was not only within the 15 points required for compliance under the current standard, but also, the FAMU pass rate exceeded the overall state average of 58.4 percent. This exceptional performance might not measure up or matter under the proposed new standard.”
Epps is worried that changes to the bar-pass standard could threaten FAMU College of Laws’ accreditation.
“The college of law would be in compliance with the revised standard in place today, and thus, our accreditation would not be in jeopardy,” Epps said. “However, with the national decline in bar passage rates, and Florida experiencing some of its lowest rates in 30 years, the proposed change may impact the FAMU College of Law in the very near future.”