Interpretation 301-6 imposes minimum Bar passage standards. Law schools must meet either the first-time or cumulative Bar passage standards (ABA Standards and Bar Passage Rates). The current first-time standard is a combined passage rate, across jurisdictions, that is no more than 15% below the combined Bar passage rate for all graduates of ABA-approved law schools. Schools can meet the standard based on its first-time Bar passage rates for the five most recent calendar years, either overall, or for at least three of those five years, individually. The Bar Passage Subcommittee of the ABA Standards Review Committee proposes to raise the first-time minimum to 10% below.
We know that Bar passage rates fall as LSAT scores fall, and as state Bar exam cut scores rise. See The LSAT-free Illusion and Interpretation 301-6: Low and High “Cut Scores”. We also know that minorities tend to have lower LSAT scores, and that law-school minority LSAT scores fall as overall law-school LSAT falls. So we can predict that the law schools most at risk under Interpretation 301-6 are law schools with lower LSAT scores, especially
- law schools with high minority enrollment ("Down Market" Diversity and Bar Passage), especially Historically Black Law Schools ("HBLS") (Historically Black Law Schools and the ABA), and
- law schools located in high cut-score states, such as California.
A methodological note: because the ABA Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools has published "average" first-time Bar passage rates for only two years--2007 (2010 edition) and 2008 (2011 edition)--the effect of the proposed change cannot be determined based on average Bar passage rates. But the ABA Official Guides have published data on first-time Bar passage rates in each school's "predominant" Bar exam jurisdiction--the one where the largest numbers of its graduates took the Bar. For about half of all law schools, the published average rates are the same as the predominant rates, while about a quarter each are either higher or lower than the predominant rates. One advantage of using predominant Bar passage rates is that some states make Bar passage rates for all in-state schools, as well as for all graduates of ABA-approved law schools, available on the Bar's website. In such states, law-school relative in-state Bar passage rates can be determined for the 2009 and 2010 calendar years.
The following table shows the number of years (out of five) in which each school met the relevant standard (15% or 10% below). For schools in California, Florida and Georgia, the publicly available data for Bar exams in 2009 and in 2010 supplements the data from the ABA Official Guides for 2006 through 2008. For other schools, the table uses only data from the ABA Official Guide (2007 through 2011 editions) (generally, the 2004 through 2008 Bar exams).
|Law Schools at Risk
Number of Years School Met Standard for
|School||15% Below||10% Below||HBLS||State|
|District of Columbia||2||1||Yes||MD|
|Atlanta's John Marshall||3||2||GA|
|Western New England||4||2||MA|
|*The ABA Official Guide (2011) reports no Bar passage rates for
Southern. The table entries assume that the rates for 2008 would
have been more than 15% below the ABA average.
Based on relative predominant Bar passage rates, if the minimum standard for first-time Bar passage rates were raised from 15% below to 10% below, the number of schools that would not meet that standard would rise form seven to eleven. Almost half of the affected schools--five out of eleven--are Historically Black Law Schools.
The six remaining law schools all have recent LSAT 75th percentiles in the lowest quintile of mainland law schools other than the HBLSs. Four out of six are located in California, which uses the second-highest cut score (145 on a 200-point scale). Four of the have relatively high proportions of minorities in their Fall 2009 entering classes:
|Proportion of Minorities
Fall 2009 Entering Class
|Atlanta's John Marshall||31.3%|
|Western New England||08.8%|
As noted by bold entries in the "10% Below" column, for three of the seven law schools already at risk under the 15% below standard, the school met the 10% below standard for fewer years. For example, Texas Southern had slowly increased its "difference score"--the difference between its rate and the "ABA" rate--every year, until it had raised its difference score to about -13.8% for 2010.
Again, the data is based only on difference scores on each school's predominant Bar exam, not on its average difference score across jurisdictions, so these are at best estimates of 301-6 risk.
For each these law schools, not meeting the first-time standard does not mean that the school does not satisfy Interpretation 301-6 based on cumulative Bar passage rates of at least 75% or 80% (proposed). But the ABA has not made any information on cumulative rates publicly available.