Will Higher Standards for Bar Passage Rates for Graduates of U.S. Law Schools Lead to a Lower Level of Racial Diversity in the Legal Profession?

In 2007 the American Bar Association, which has been authorized by the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting agency for U.S. law schools, adopted a requirement that for a law school to remain in good standing, at least 75 percent of the graduates of the law school must pass the bar examination in the state where the school is located in at least three of the past five years. Since the difficulty of bar exams varies from state to state, law schools can maintain good standing if their first-time bar passage rate is not more than 15 percentage points lower than other law schools in that state.

Now the ABA is considering a new proposal that would call for an 80 percent bar passage rate or a rate that is no more than 10 percentage points below that of other law schools in the state.

The new standards are of particular concern to the dean of law schools at historically black universities, many of which would have difficulty meeting the new standards. LeRoy Pernell, dean of College of Law at historically black Florida A&M University told the National Law Journal that “When the statistics tell you that virtually every black college will be in noncompliance, it’s a matter of grave concern.”

It is feared that many law schools, including those at historically black universities, will be reluctant to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds who tend to score lower on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This could result in a lower level of diversity in the legal profession.

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