In Down-Market Diversity and Bar Passage, I discussed how minority students, particularly Black/African-American, generally have lower LSAT scores than do White/Caucasian students. I also discussed how law schools near the bottom of the market of law students tend to enroll minorities with LSAT scores than more elite law schools. This is particularly true for Historically Black Law Schools. Based on the average LSAT 25th percentiles for the Fall 2006 through Fall 2009 entering classes of mainland law schools, the bottom four schools were Florida A&M (142.50), Southern (142.75), North Carolina Central (143.50) and Texas Southern (145.00), while District of Columbia (148.75) and Howard (149.25) were grouped around the 15th percentile.
If the ABA is serious about increasing the diversity of the legal profession, especially in increasing the number Black/African American lawyers, it needs Historically Black Law Schools ("HBLS"). For Fall 2005 through Fall 2009 combined, even though students at the six Hal's represented only 2.0% of entering classes, those students represented 16.3% of Black/African-American entering students. Within the jurisdictions in which they are located, students at HBLSs represented a much greater proportion of Black/African-American entering students—from 25.9% to 63.6%.
As I discussed in The LSAT-free Illusion, students with lower LSAT scores are at greater risk of failing the Bar. Thus, you would expect the Historically Black Law Schools to have low Bar passage rates, depending on the states in which their graduates take the Bar (Interpretation 301-6: Low LSATs and High Cut Scores”). You would also expect HBLSs to be at much greater risk from the proposed increases in minimum Bar passage rates.
As I discussed in ABA Standards and Bar Passage Rates, the Subcommittee on Bar Passage of the ABA Standards Review Committeeproposes to raise the minimum first-time and cumulative Bar passage rates for law schools. The minimum acceptable first-time Bar passage rate would rise from 15% below the state Bar passage rate for graduates from ABA-approved law schools to 10% below. The minimum acceptable cumulative Bar passage rate would rise from 75% to 80%. The justification for the proposed increases in the Interpretation 301-6 is that the current benchmarks are “inadequate” and “not rigorous enough” (Donald J. Polden, The Standards Review Committee's Comprehensive Review of Accreditation Policy Moves Forward, SYLLABUS, Vol. 42, Issue 4, at 5 (Winter 2011).
As I discuss in my April 2011 comments to the ABA, Endangered: Historically Black Law Schools (revised version, dated May 24, 2010), a 10% below first-time Bar passage rate was the measure used by the ABA before the adoption of Interpretation 301–6. Efforts by the Historically Black Law Schools (“HBLS”) to meet the “10% below” minimum by increasing the LSATs of entering students are associated with decreases in the enrollment of Black/African-American students at HBLSs.
The best example is The University of the District of Columbia--David A. Clarke School of Law ("UDC"), the successor to District of Columbia Law School, which was provisionally accredited by the ABA in 1991. After the law school merged with the University of the District of Columbia, it reapplied for ABA provisional accreditation in 1998. In 1999, UDC received an ABA Action Letter asking it “to examine the relationships of LSAT scores and UGPAs to performance in the law school’s academic program and to the first time bar performance.” Derek Alphran, Tanya Washington & Vincent Eagan, PhD., Yes We Can Pass the Bar. University of the District of Columbia, David A Clarke School of Law Bar Passage Initiatives and Bar Pass Rates—From the Titanic to the Queen Mary, 14 UDC/DCSL L. REV. 9 at 16 n.42 (2011). After the resulting study, UDC changed in its admissions policies” in 2000, id. at 16, and again in 2002, id. at 13 n.24. Its rationale was “the steady increase in statistical profiles of th/e entering class would lead to higher bar passage rates.” Id.at 14 & nn.30-31.
As shown in the following chart, from 1998 through 2005, the LSAT 25th percentile of UDC’s entering classes rose from a low of 138 to 149. At the same time, the proportion of entering students that were Black/African-American fell from almost 70% to a low of about 25% (it has since recovered to about 30%).
More strikingly, as shown in the following table, Black/African-American students are no longer even a plurality of entering students at UDC:
|Average Ethnic Distribution by School
Fall 2007 through 2009 Entering Classes (Combined)
|Univ. of D.C.||5.9%||30.2%||11.7%||44.8%|
|N. C. Central||2.5%||50.6%||2.6%||39.7%|
While the changes in the ethnic composition of entering classes are most dramatic at UDC, the ethnic composition of recent entering classes at the other Historically Black Law Schools are also notable. Over the three most recent academic years for which information has been published in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, at Florida A&M, North Carolina Central, and Texas Southern, Black/African-American students constituted at least a plurality of entering students, with the last two hovering near 50% of the class. Only Howard and Southern remain strongly Black/African American institutions. At four of the schools, White/Caucasian students had a substantial representation—at least 35%. At Texas Southern, the second-largest component of entering classes was Hispanic students. Only Howard had no strong representation of students from other racial or ethnic groups.
First-time Bar passage rates for at least half of the HBLSs have generally fallen below the 15%-below minimum, much less the proposed 10%-below minimum. If those HBLSs are going to satisfy 301-6, it will have to be on the basis of cumulative Bar passage rates. Again, the ABA does not publish information regarding cumulative Bar passage rates. But an 80% standard will be harder to meet than the current 75% standard.