American Bar Association publishes new data on minorities and bar pass rates

New data published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has suggested that White test-takers were more likely to pass the bar exam in 2020 than test-takers of other races and ethnicities.  Within the grouping of those who identified as White men and women, 88% passed the Bar examination the first time. By comparison, 66% of Black first-time test-takers passed, 76% of Hispanics, 78% of Hawaiians, 78% of Native Americans and 80% of Asians. The report, which was released on the 22nd of June, includes data from 2020 and 2021 aggregated from across all 197 ABA-accredited law schools, broken down into nine different ethnicity categories. 

Under ABA rules bar passage results influence the “ultimate” pass rate. This is a measure of success in the bar examinations over a two-year period. Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule known as Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass it within two years of graduation or face the potential of being found out of compliance.

The ultimate pass rate was higher for all ethnic categories than the rate for first-time takers. For 2019 graduates, for instance, white law graduates posted a 91% ultimate pass rate, and rates for other categories ranged upward from 75% based on 2020 and 2021 data.

Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said that “During discussions on changes to Standard 316 concerns were expressed over the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups. We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of the standard needed to be reconsidered in light of what we collected,” he said. “This report is consistent with that promise and will be further evaluated in the months to come.”

Read the full report here

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ABA President Patricia Lee Refo – “Lack of advancement is not a ‘woman’ problem, it’s a ‘profession’ problem”

In a new column for the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has called for a change in attitude towards the way in which gender is viewed in the profession. In the column, she describes how the lack of progression for women in the profession represents systemic issues in both the retention and promotion of female staff within the legal industry.

She goes on to describe some of the ABA’s work in the area, as well as calling for more to be done to increase the number of women working in the profession, as well as to assist those already employed within the profession. The article has been co-signed by the 9 other ABA presidents who were women.

Read the full article here. 

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Top jurists call for regulatory change to increase access to justice

During the 9th June ABA discussion on regulatory change, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer of the Arizona Supreme Court stated that despite decades of efforts to encourage practising lawyers to perform a minimum of 50 pro bono hours annually to increase access to justice, minimal results have been achieved.

Timmer is part of a growing list of top jurists calling for regulatory change to expand access to justice. Instead of relying on pro bono work to increase legal access, for instance, regulatory changes could lead to nonlawyers handling some routine legal matters. She and chief justices from Utah, Michigan and Texas discussed some of these changes in the inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series, which is intended to provide a forum to explore the legal profession’s regulatory changes underway and the challenges they face. Three ABA entities — the Center for Innovation, the Center for Professional Responsibility and the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services — have teamed up with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver and Legal Hackers to organize what is planned as a quarterly series.

The debut program, Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench — Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation, also featured Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, and showcased how supreme courts in Utah and Arizona have ushered in regulatory change to expand access to justice.

In Arizona, legal paraprofessionals can now practice in four distinct areas. The state Supreme Court also eliminated model rules that prohibit the sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers.

In Utah, 23 pilot programs have been approved in the state’s seven-year “sandbox” approach, Durrant said. They range from a solo practitioner giving his sole paralegal 10% ownership in the firm to law students at Brigham Young University providing counsel to domestic violence victims.

Hecht, who is also chair of the Conference of Chief Justices, said courts are rethinking their roles because jurists realize pro bono efforts are not sufficient to provide access to the courts for many Americans. McCormack added, “We are going to forge forward in Michigan because this is now the time in the process to try. And the big winner could be the public.”

Read more here.

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American Bar Association releases new report on the challenges faced by female lawyers

A newly released American Bar Association (ABA) report entitled, “In Their Own Words: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession,” aims to shed light on factors that affect career decision making amongst experienced female lawyers.  This includes information on why practitioners choose to remain in practice, move to a different job within the law or step out of the profession altogether after 15 or more years of practice.

The report was written by Joyce Sterling, a professor at the Sturm College of Law in Denver, and Linda Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas. The report includes analysis on the components that advance or impede long-term careers for female lawyers. The research was carried out via focus groups in six cities across the USA, as well as through individual interviews, with comments made during the interviews including:

“You give me the hardest problems to solve, but you tell me I am less important with the compensation you give me.”

“I don’t feel like I have anyone in a position of power who can personally relate to me.”

“[T]he power dynamic is very real. . . [P]eople are very uncomfortable when women lean into their power.”

The report includes recommendations designed to increase retention of female attorneys which include:

  • Assess the impact of firm policies and practices on female lawyers.
  • Take steps to ensure there is a critical mass of female partners on key firm committees.
  • Increase lateral hiring of female partners.
  • Provide resources to relieve pressures from family obligations.
  • Be flexible to support changing practices.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has said.“This report highlights the ongoing systemic barriers women still face in the legal profession. These women’s personal stories are eye-opening, and the recommendations illustrate the changes we need to make to support and advance all female lawyers.”

Read the full report here, or read more here.

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Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System releases guides to cut through bias in legal hiring and improve legal education outcomes

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), has released two new guides designed to explain innovative ways for legal educators and legal employers to implement data-driven, outcomes-based standards underpinned by IAALS’ Foundations for Practice research. The guides are based on  a survey of 24,000 lawyers and working sessions with 36 employers and 4 law schools and aim to provide law schools with a path to train better lawyers and employers a path to hire and retain the best lawyers.

Logan Cornett, IAALS Director of Research has said “The Foundations guides are a natural continuation of Foundations for Practice, launched in 2014. We conducted the largest study of its kind to identify the characteristics, competencies, and skills—what we call foundations—that new lawyers need to be successful. Now, as our country reckons with systemic racism, implicit bias, a shifting economy, and lack of access to justice, the Foundations data and tools provide new ways for the legal profession to rise to the occasion.”

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations aims to implement wholesale reform. The IAALS has identified what it sees as a cycle of tradition: teaching classes the way they always have been taught and hiring lawyers based on where they went to law school and their class rank. The empirical research of Foundations provides pathways for schools and law firms to evolve and better ensure the success for all new lawyers, but especially for those who are less advantaged because of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

The Foundations Instructional Design Guide is for educators who want to improve their curriculum by designing and implementing learning outcomes and standards-based assessments. Through close review of course objectives, defining desired learning outcomes from students, and assessments.

The Foundations Hiring Guide is for employers who want to improve their hiring practices—to improve quality, retention, and diversity. Through close review of hiring criteria, designing objective ways to assess candidates for hire, and creating accountability measures.

Read more about the guides here, or access the instructional design guide, or the hiring guide.

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American Bar Association data shows increase in bar passage scores during the pandemic

New bar score data from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, released on the 23rd of April 23, showed an increase in the scores compared to 2019 on both the ‘ultimate’ pass rate and for first-time takers, with the aggregate score of law graduates taking the exam for the first time rising by 3% to an 82.83% pass rate.

The data found that:

Students taking the bar exam for the first time in 2020 achieved an aggregate 82.83% pass rate (83.66% with Diploma Privilege), representing a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable 79.64% pass rate for 2019. Diploma Privilege considers those waived into the practice of law without taking the bar because of special rules during the pandemic.

And that 89.99% of 2018 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation (90.10% with Diploma Privilege). This two-year marker, referred to as the  “ultimate” rate is slightly better than the 89.47% comparable figure for 2017 graduates. The report noted that 94.98% of all graduates sat for a bar exam within two years of graduation, and that schools were able to obtain bar passage information from 98.84% of their 2018 graduates.

Under a rule change in 2019, the 197 ABA-approved law schools still accepting students are required to have at least 75% of graduates who sit for a bar exam pass within two years of graduation. Schools found out of compliance have at least two years to meet the rule, known as Standard 316.

“These reports over the years have provided important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director for ABA accreditation and legal education.

Read more about the data.

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First Alternative Business Structures approved in USA

The first two fully licenced alternative business structures (ABSs) have been approved by the state of Arizona. On the 17th March 2021, two businesses, Trajan Estate LLC and Gilbert and Payne Huebsch PLC received their ABS license after the State Supreme Court approved their bids. Trajan Estate is a legal service provider focused on estate planning while Payne Huebsch provides transactional legal services paired with tax and accounting advice.

Last year Arizona became the first state to fully allow alternative business structures and non-lawyer ownership in law firms,  revoking state professional conduct rule 5.4 which barred nonlawyers from fee-sharing and holding an interest in law firms. The change came into effect in January 2021, allowing business to begin the approval process.

The licenses follow the approval of the first non-lawyer owned law firm in Utah, as part of the state’s two-year regulatory sandbox. Law on Call opened at the beginning of March 2021, allowing consumers unlimited over the phone access to lawyers, in a business entirely owned by non-lawyers. The business will however be subject to license reviews, as per the conditions of the sandbox.

Read more about the Arizona licences here, or the Utah licences here.

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Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success

Abstract

Structural problems, such as institutional racism and bias, require structural solutions. White people in the legal academy are only now reckoning with the reality of systemic racism within our hallowed halls, an insidiousness that many People of Color in the legal academy have always known. Yes, racism and bias are pervasive in our teaching, learning, service, and leadership environments.

This article is one of three interdependent articles authored by Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff. These articles are meant to be read together to chart the vision and implementation for building an Antiracist law school and providing a template for an Antiracist legal academy and legal profession. The other two articles in the trilogy are: Amy Gaudion, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: an Administrator’s View on Adopting an Antiracist Curriculum;” and Dermot Groome, “Exploring Race and Racism in the Law School Curriculum: Educating Antiracist Lawyers.”

This reckoning is the result of the intersecting crises of a global pandemic, which is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown people; a full-throated social movement demanding racial equality following 2020’s cascade of murders of, among others, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd; and a presidential election in which voter suppression was on full display, and a then sitting president’s apocryphal untruths regarding the election process sped up the need to address systemic inequities hampering the legal academy’s ability to transform legal education to truly deliver on its vision to promote the rule of law and equal justice for all.

During these cataclysmic events, the faculty and staff of Penn State Dickinson Law exercised leadership by leaning into the hydra-headed economic, social, and political storm of 2020 to declare unanimously their intention to act and implement Antiracist teaching and learning methods at the law school. Faculty and Staff did not anticipate the resonance that these actions would have on colleagues—including students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni—in the legal academy.

Our positions as faculty and staff in the legal academy and as attorneys in the legal profession are inherently ones requiring us to exercise leadership. In the legal profession, the defining aspects of leadership are heightened by duty, accountability, and a sworn obligation to act equitably, transparently, and with integrity. It was integrity that motivated Penn State Dickinson Law faculty and staff to take such an unprecedented, yet necessary position against systemic racism and bias, not just for the institution but for the academy and for the profession.

Penn State Dickinson Law acknowledged its obligation to embrace leadership that promotes equality and justice for all as well as the special obligation to train the next generation of leaders to do more and to do better. In service to the ongoing commitment to eradicate racism and bias, Penn State Dickinson Law is immersed in the work of constructing an Antiracist law school.

Conway, Danielle M. and Saidman-Krauss, Bekah and Schreiber, Rebecca, Building an Antiracist Law School: Inclusivity in Admissions and Retention of Diverse Students—Leadership Determines DEI Success (March 13, 2021). Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Forthcoming.

Read the full article on SSRN.

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Event: There is More Than One Way: Re-Imagining the Pathway Post Secondary Education

July; 30, 2021

Online

The goal of pipeline programs is to ultimately increase diversity within the legal profession. But is it time to re-evaluate the path toward that goal. This program will feature presentations from the California Community College Pathway to Law Initiative and Indiana University McKinney School of Law who will discuss their innovative programs for increasing post-secondary interest in, and preparation for, law school.

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American Bar Association Recognised Law School requirements relaxed due to COVID

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has announced that they will consider individual law school circumstances due to COVID-19 if bar passage rates fall below 75%. During the announcement at it’s November 20th public meeting, the council said law schools failing to meet Standard 316, sometimes called ‘the Bar Passage Standard’, could submit pandemic-related information that demonstrates negative opportunities for their graduates to sit for the bar exam or for the school to meet compliance with ‘the Standard’. This is particularly salient as rules adopted in 2019 mean that a law school faces a finding of noncompliance and loss of accreditation if it does not meet Standard 316 for two years.

Outside parties had asked for the suspension of Standard 316 during the COVID-19 period because of the bar exam’s changing schedule and the rule’s potential discriminatory effect on schools with strong minority enrollment. But the council’s Questionnaire and Template Committee said its “recommendations balance several competing interests.”

The committee’s report has said “There is a need to collect outcomes data required by the U.S. Department of Education but also the understanding that any data on the bar exam passage rates during the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be abnormal and need to have an ‘asterisk’ accompany it. The pandemic wreaked havoc with planning for in-person bar exams, and subsequently many states this year held bar exams in October instead of July. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, five jurisdictions also granted emergency diploma privileges or approval for some law school graduates to practice without passing the bar.”

Read more on the ABA’s website.

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