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.”