Posted on July 20, 2016

Law Schools Worry Bar-Passage Standard Will Undermine Diversity

Amber Athey, Campus Reform, July 19, 2016

The American Bar Association is considering a new bar-passage standard that some law school deans believe contradicts an existing clause on diversity and inclusion.

According to the TaxProf Blog, the ABA will make a final decision in February on Standard 316, which requires all law schools “to prove that at least 75 percent of students in each class have passed a bar examination within two years of graduation.” Opponents of the proposed policy, however, argue that it conflicts with Standard 206, which states that accredited law schools must “demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

The Deans of several historically black law schools claim that the 75 percent bar passage standard threatens their very existence because “minority law graduates, whether at predominantly white law schools or [historically black colleges and universities], tend to have a lower bar passage rate than their white counterparts.” As such, they say, the new standard effectively punishes HBCUs, which have a higher concentration of minority students.

However, Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law, says that the lower passage rate of minority graduates is due to the relaxing of admission standards for some minority applicants.

“The ABA saw the weaknesses of the old standard very much recently when law schools had been admitting students with academic credentials below what they used to, thus the bar passage rate was lower,” Steinbuch told Campus Reform.


“Deans of HBCUs are saying that in order to fill their seats at school, they relax, for some students, the academic standards,” he clarified. “So, if we’re talking about a significant relaxation of academic standards to achieve the diversity standard, then it makes the bar passage standard much more difficult.”

The relaxation of admittance standards ultimately harms minority students, Steinbuch added, because they pay massive amounts of tuition and may still emerge with no ability to practice law.