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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California State Bar Board of Trustees approve updated law school accreditation rules

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the California State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules will come into effect on January 1st, 2022, with law schools required to demonstrate compliance by January 1, 2024, and are designed to incorporate best practices and provide a framework to recognise law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors. As well as these rules aim to focus accreditation on its essential purpose, rather than creating extraneous requirements.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state. The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California is one of the few states in the USA that permits accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA), and offers more separate pathways into qualification as a lawyer than any other state. Currently, nearly two dozen law schools are directly accredited by  the California Bar, with the goal of offering accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

  1. Consumer protection and transparency;
  2. Student success;
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  4. Preparation for licensure and professionalism.

The approval of the rules, which comes as a culmination of two years of work by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools. The aim of the reforms is to create a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

Read more about the Board of Trustees meeting here, or read the new rules 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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Event: Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench—Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation

June; 9, 2021

Online

The access to affordable legal services and access to justice crises are growing, yet there remains a sizeable gap between what real-world data tells us and the expectations of and understanding of those in the legal profession. Moreover, new approaches and new technology offer some solutions, but they are not widely known within the legal profession.

To increase awareness, on June 9 from 11 a.m.–12 p.m. MDT, this inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series session will explore how judicial leadership can play a critical role in expanding access to legal services and access to justice. As the ultimate regulator and stewards of our justice system, state supreme courts, in partnership with their colleagues on the bench, have recognized they must lead and are in a prime position to do so. The panelists will explore the status of regulatory innovation, how courts and others are seeking to address the problems, and why state supreme courts and the organized bar must start forging solutions now instead of taking a “wait and see” approach.

This esteemed panel will feature Justice Ann Timmer of Arizona, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas, and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, whose conversation will be moderated by Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis of Colorado (Ret.).

Registration is free and open below. Approved for one hour of Colorado CLE credit. Universal certificate will be provided for attendees from other states for submission in their home states. Acceptance of universal certificates is determined by the attorney’s home state.

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Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys

Abstract

Rates of mental illness and heavy alcohol use are exceedingly high in the legal profession, while attrition among women has also been a longstanding problem. Work overcommitment, work-family conflict, permissiveness toward alcohol in the workplace, and the likelihood of promotion are all implicated but have yet to be systematically investigated. Data were collected from 2,863 lawyers randomly sampled from the California Lawyers Association and D.C. Bar to address this knowledge gap. Findings indicated that the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, stress, and risky/hazardous drinking were significantly higher among women. Further, one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns, compared to 17% of men. Logistic models were conducted to identify workplace factors predictive of stress, risky drinking, and contemplating leaving the profession. Overcommitment and permissiveness toward alcohol at work were associated with the highest likelihood of stress and risky drinking (relative to all other predictors) for both men and women. However, women and men differed with respect to predictors of leaving the profession due to stress or mental health. For women, work-family conflict was associated with the highest likelihood of leaving, while overcommitment was the number one predictor of leaving for men. Mental health and gender disparities are significant problems in the legal profession, clearly requiring considerable and sustained attention.

Anker J, Krill PR (2021) Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys. PLoS ONE 16(5): e0250563.

Available on PLOS ONE. 

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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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