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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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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California Bar Exploring Opportunities To Deploy AI

The agency is examining how artificial intelligence could help it review misconduct complaints and administer the bar exam.


The State Bar of California has started wading into the artificial intelligence waters.

The agency is exploring ways AI could help bolster the efficiency of its attorney discipline system and assist with administering the bar exam.

The bar recently entered into a contract with the MITRE Corporation to help it develop and evaluate algorithmic processes for identifying whether aattorney misconduct complaint could be closed without investigation.

State Bar Executive Director Leah T. Wilson said if an AI tool can be crafted to help the bar more speedily review whether to close or investigate complaints, it would reduce the administrative burden on staff. That in turn would allow the bar to shift its “human resources to other parts of the case processing continuum,” Wilson said.

Freeing up staff to assist with serious allegations of lawyer misconduct could be beneficial in light of the state auditor’s recent recommendation that the State Bar not hire as many new employees for its discipline unit as desired.

Wilson said an AI tool could also assist in ensuring a level of consistency and standardization in the bar’s review of the roughly 16,000 attorney misconduct complaints it receives annuallyThe technology could be especially helpful amid a nearly 60 percent increase in complaints made to the bar in recent months, a bump that has come amid the agency starting to accept online complaints.  

It was the transition last fall to permitting online complaints that allowed the bar to even contemplate an AI tool for reviewing such filings, according to Wilson.

She stressed that the MITRE project is in the early stages, and the bar will closely examine the effectiveness of the tool developed.

“If it’s not reliable to a very high degree of statistical significance, we couldn’t implement it,” Wilson said.

The bar’s $90,000 contract with MITRE, which was signed last month, calls for the company to complete its work on the project by mid-October.

Meanwhile, the State Bar is planning to use AI to help it administer the First-Year Law Students’ Examination, known as the “Baby Bar.” Law students completing their first year of law study at an unaccredited law school or through the Law Office Study Program are among those who must take the test.

At two of the sites where the Baby Bar will be given next month, the bar will be piloting the use of AI proctors for the essay portion of the exam that is taken on computers, Wilson said.

Live proctors will be there as well to ensure things go smoothly and to respond if the AI software alerts them to any patterns of eye movement or gestures out of the norm for test takers.

“If all goes well, it is our intention to deploy AI proctoring for the July bar exam,” Wilson said.

The bar began exploring AI proctoring because it struggled last year to attract enough proctors to administer the exams it gives to prospective lawyers.

Wilson said there will still need to be some human proctors present at future exams for security purposes and to help with any issues that arise, according to Wilson. But she said a successful pilot of AI proctoring would reduce the overall need for human proctors moving forward. 

On both the bar exam and attorney discipline fronts, Wilson said the bar is seeking to strike the right balance between being forward-leaning while protecting against the risks that arise with the deployment of new technologies.

I think it is the responsibility of good government everywhere to figure out how we can take advantage of technology to improve the services that we provide to the public,” she said.

Separate from the initiatives mentioned above, a bar task force is actively working to identify regulatory changes that would provide members of the public with greater access to legal services through technology, such as AI. The next meeting of the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services is Monday, May 13.


*This article first appeared on Evolve the Law. 

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Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program yields analytical insights

Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel started developing its lawyer self-assessment program more than two years ago, immediately after a seminal workshop on proactive, risk-based regulation at the 41st ABA National Conference of Professional Responsibility in May 2015. The new resource is a leading facet of a larger shift toward proactive management-based regulation, which aims to help lawyers practice ethically and soundly in the first place, rather than just reactively imposing discipline after lawyers make mistakes.

The new system provides the regulatory team with real time stats on lawyer engagement and self-assessed professional performance. It highlights the professional objectives scoring the highest and lowest across all respondents, providing the team with evidence to support further educational program development. The platform also has the ability to create customized lists of continuing legal education (CLE) resources based on each respondent’s own personal benchmarks and areas of need. These lists make yearly CLE planning fast and easy for lawyers, and keeps them focused on the most effective resources for their needs.

Jon White, staff attorney at the regulator, writes “The practice of law will always be challenging. The “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” approach of the proactive practice program seeks to reduce some of that stress. The self-assessments give lawyers the blueprint to build an ethical infrastructure. Lawyers, in turn, benefit from enhanced peace of mind. Clients benefit from exceptional service. It is a win-win for all.” The insights generated by the program’s data is informing the regulator where practitioners need more assistance, and where there may be weaker points in the sector as a whole. Staying ahead of this issues protects the public and strengthens the jurisdiction as a whole.

Read more about Colorado’s Lawyer Self-Assessment Program Here

 

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Sending the Message: Using Technology to Support Judicial Reporting of Lawyer Misconduct to State Disciplinary Agencies

Despite the strong public interest in effectively regulating lawyers, neither state nor federal courts have developed adequate policies and practices to ensure that lawyers’ misconduct during litigation proceedings is consistently reported to state disciplinary agencies. The reasons for this inconsistency—and the extent to which it should be considered an actual inadequacy and a problem calling for a rule-based solution—have been the subject of active scholarly discussion and debate. In practical terms, however, one contributing factor may be the inherent inefficiencies involved with the current reporting system. These inefficiencies in the judicial reporting process can be substantially mitigated—and regular reporting thereby supported—through the effective use of electronic database technology. For many years now, courts throughout the United States have been using computer and electronic technology, with its continually accelerating capabilities, to improve their processes for receiving, storing and transmitting judicial filings and records. This so-far successful experience with electronic filing and records creates an opportunity for courts to extend these technological breakthroughs to provide logistical support to a much improved system for judicial reporting of lawyermisconduct.

To accomplish this objective, this Article proposes that state and federal court systems create electronic databases, accompanied and supported by uniform court procedural rules and policies, to receive and store judicial reports of litigation-related lawyer misconduct. These databases should be accessible to and searchable by state disciplinary agencies using universal licensing numbers assigned to individual lawyers. To set the stage for this proposal, Part I will examine the history and scope of the ethical code of conduct obligations of state and federal judges to report lawyer misconduct to an appropriate disciplinary authority, as well as reporting pursuant to procedural rules governing civil litigation. Part II will critique the adequacy of the judicial response to these existing reporting provisions, and consider the adverse potential consequences that underreporting may pose to the public interest and to the traditional judicial prerogatives in regulating the practice of law.

Turning to the specifics of the proposed reforms, Part III will recommend how state and federal electronic databases accessible to and searchable by state disciplinary agencies should be organized and structured, and explain the criteria courts should use in deciding when a report is appropriate and how it should be categorized within the databases. Finally, Part IV will offer responses to several procedural questions relating to the implementation of these new reporting systems and databases.

Read the Full Article Here

Michael S. McGinniss, University of North Dakota School of Law

 

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An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne
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California continues to debate division of regulation and representation functions

The California State Bar has been investigating the potential division of regulation and representation functions over the past five years. The Governance in the Public Interest Task Force concluded in 2017, launching a five-year strategic plan to “successfully transition to the ‘new State Bar’ — an agency focused exclusively on public protection through regulating the legal profession and promoting access to justice”.

Under the new system, the California State Bar will be a purely regulatory body. All representative functions will be transferred from the Bar to the  California Lawyers Association, a new professional entity.

Proponents and critics of the new system alike question how this new transition will impact the already uncertain financial footing of the Bar. However, the new strategy will strive to “Improve the fiscal and operational management of the State Bar, emphasizing integrity, transparency, accountability, and excellence.”

Read California’s new Five Year Strategy 

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