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Leigh Jones
The National Law Journal
August 7, 2007




Particularly controversial is a move by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar that creates a quantitative standard regarding the responsibility of law schools to produce students who are capable of passing the bar exam.

In an 11th-hour decision, the executive committee of the council for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar decided to recommend that the council withdraw the matter for consideration by the House of Delegates until the ABA's February 2008 meeting.

Among other things, it would require a school to show that, in at least three of the past five years, first-time test takers passed the state bar at a rate no more than 10 percentage points below the average pass rate of test takers from other accredited schools in the same state.

Also, schools in which more than 20 percent of their graduates take the bar exam for the first time in another state would need to demonstrate that at least 70 percent passed during the two most recent bar exam periods.

As an alternative to the first criterion, schools would need to demonstrate that 80 percent of their graduates who took the exam anywhere in the country passed within three attempts, within three years of graduation.

Dozens of law deans have voiced their opposition to the proposal in letters to the ABA. William Rakes, chair of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said that the new rule was prompted by the ABA's bid with the U.S. Department of Education to renew the ABA's law school accrediting authority. Rakes is a partner at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, Va.

"The Department of Education feels that in order to ensure consistency in the application of standards, they need to have a precise, bright line," Rakes said in a July interview.

Another proposal pertains to individuals seeking admission to practice who have undergone past treatment for addiction or mental health. Proposition 117 would have all admissions authorities (generally individual states) implement conditional admission for otherwise eligible candidates who have received prior treatment for emotional difficulties or substance abuse.

"This isn't about getting shaky people admitted to the bar. It's about keeping people healthy and fruitful members of the bar," said Richard Soden, chairman of the ABA's Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and a partner at Goodwin Procter in Boston.