Law School Deans Oppose ABA’S Tougher Bar Exam Rule

An article outlining this proposal appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal on Tuesday, August 9, 2016. The proposal tightens the bar exam passage rule with which ABA-accredited institutions must now comply in order to maintain their accreditation. The rule currently requires that ABA-accredited law schools establish a 75% passage rate within five years for their bar exam takers.

During a public hearing on Saturday, August 6, 2016, the proposal was debated. Two CA law school deans stood out as major critics of the proposal. Gilbert A. Holmes, dean of the ABA-accredited University of La Verne College of Law in Ontario, characterized the proposed new bar passage standard as ”fundamentally unfair” to CA schools. Quoting from the article, “Dean Holmes highlighted how in recent years the average first-time pass rate on the notoriously difficult CA exam for graduates of ABA schools in the state dipped below 75 percent.” Dean Holmes went on to state, “Schools in other jurisdictions don’t have to have that burden to make up the difference between the first-time pass rate and the ultimate bar pass rate.”

Susan Westerberg Prager, dean and CEO of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, also criticized the proposal, urging the ABA to reject the amended 75 percent bar passage standard. Dean Prager pointed out that the bar exam changes that will be made to the bar exam in July, 2017 would make it “even more challenging for some ABA schools in the state to meet the new standard.”

In July, 2017, the bar exam in CA will go from a 3-day exam to a 2-day exam. The written portion of the exam, which currently amounts to 65 percent of the overall test score, will be reduced to 50 percent of the overall score. The multiple-choice portion of the exam, which currently amounts to 35 percent of the overall test score, will be increased to 50 percent of the overall score. Students who do best on the performance and essay writing sections of the test will be adversely affected by the decreased scoring on writing skills and the increased scoring on multiple choice testing. As a consequence, the pass rates at schools like Southwestern Law School and the University of La Verne College of Law will also be adversely affected.

According to the Daily Journal article, the advocacy group Law School Transparency, headed by Kyle McEntee, is a leading proponent of the revised standard. Quoting from the article, “The group wrote in its comments to the ABA that the current rule has failed to prevent schools from matriculating large numbers of students with very poor prospects for passing the bar.”

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is expected to consider whether to adopt the proposed change at its upcoming meeting in October, 2016.

To access the full Daily Journal article, please go to the Los Angeles Daily Journal VOL. 129 NO. 153 or contact Lyle Moran, daily Journal staff writer, at