The American Bar Association recently passed a new standard for accreditation for law schools, mandating that to maintain accreditation, at least 75% of graduates of a law school must pass the bar within two years. If they don’t, it doesn’t mean immediate loss of accreditation but the ABA will presumably monitor steps law schools take to fix the problem.
There is an excellent analysis of the ABA standard by Steven Chung in Above the Law. I won’t repeat his analysis, with which I mostly agree. It is well worth reading. I am, however, less inclined to give credit to the critics of the ABA’s action.
I start from a fundamental premise. Law students are paying a ton, both in money and time, for a career. I understand that some people just want a kind of cool education, but the vast bulk of law school students want—and need—a decent job after graduation.
As a law school, if you can’t get 75% of your students in a position to meet one of the necessary requirements of getting a legal job, you’re either a pretty poor law school or you’re admitting people you know aren’t likely to pass the bar, or both. Either way, it’s hard to see why you should stay in business. Those who can and do pass the bar from those schools can find other schools; it’s not like the USA is short of law schools.
I even wonder—as I frequently wonder about ABA monitoring—whether the standard is high enough. Chung points out that very few law schools are likely going to be affected even by this standard. But why not an additional standard—one that sets a requirement that within 3 years, a certain percentage of graduates must have a job that requires a legal education?
Certainly, a small fraction of law school students don’t want a job as a lawyer, and are going into policy or investment banking or some other field, but believe that a J.D. will be useful for those careers as well. That is, however, a small fraction (like those who just want a legal education); most of the poor employment numbers at most law schools are because people want but can’t find a legal job. Most people are going to law school so they can be lawyers, it’s as simple as that.
There has to be some reasonable linkage between the cost of law school and the career opportunities it provides. The majority of law schools meet that standard but some do not. Maybe it’s time to cull those schools more firmly, so that law students as a group can get a better return on their investment.