Winter 2019 Gavel Gavel Winter 2019 - Page 24

LEGAL EDUCATION: DEAL OR NO DEAL D A N T R AY N O R ABA Delegate The American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates considered a full slate of resolutions at the midyear meeting in Las Vegas, including proposals to change the bar passage rate standard for law graduates and another to oppose arming non-security personnel in the nation’s schools. In a significant change, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar asked delegates to concur with a change meant to simplify the bar passage standard. The recommendation would amend Standard 316 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. The current standard has been criticized as “overly complicated,” providing different options for demonstrating compliance, including an “ultimate” bar passage rate of 75 percent over five years. The revisions simplify the standard to require at least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within two years of their date of graduation. The delegates rejected a similar change in 2017. The impetus for this change is concern for students’ consumer protection. Law students sometimes incur mountains of debt to obtain a legal education. The licensure that may be needed to repay the debt cannot be obtained without passing a bar exam. 24 THE GAVEL Opponents suggest the change may adversely affect diversity. The simplified and arguably more rigorous standard may adversely affect law schools with diverse enrollments because black and Hispanic students from lower- income households have historically had more difficulty passing the bar exam. The new standard may impact the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Law where the 2015 two-year average showed a 73 percent pass rate. According to information provided by UND’s law school, diversity may play some role in North Dakota’s lower score. Anecdotal evidence suggests national origin and race may tend to cause UND’s rate to be lower with Canadian students and those interested in practicing in tribal jurisdictions sitting for at least one bar exam without the essential motivation or exam preparation. A state bar license is generally not required to practice in tribal jurisdictions and is not needed in Canada. The loudest opposition to the revised standard comes from California, with one of the highest “cut scores” in the country. The “cut score” is the minimum score needed to pass the bar exam. In California, the passing rate for the July 2018 exam plunged to 40.7 percent. While California’s Chief Justice characterized the low number as “frightening,” the California Supreme Court said in a letter to the State Bar of California it was “not persuaded” to lower the passing score without further study. Unlike California’s unique test, North Dakota uses the Uniform Bar Exam, which is employed in a majority of states. We also have one of the lowest “cut scores” in the country. Revision of the ABA standard will likely result in UND’s law school implementing strategies to identify and tutor students who may be at risk of failing the bar exam. It may also extend a student’s final year of law school to include bar preparation. In 2017, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved a higher fee of $400 per semester for bar preparation. After three years (and six semesters) the $2,400 collected would pay for a BARBRI Bar Review course. Students could receive a refund if they decide to opt out of the BARBRI course or select a different approach. Most delegates welcomed a resolution to oppose the idea of arming school personnel with firearms. While no successful proposal has been enacted in North Dakota, State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler suggested the sensible idea of allowing rural schools to provide law enforcement officers with space to complete reports while not on patrol. The random presence of law enforcement is meant to bolster school safety. ABA Days in Washington ABA Days, the association’s annual grassroots lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., is scheduled for April 9-11. North Dakota’s delegation has been very generous in meeting with SBAND representatives. American Law Institute Meeting in Washington The American Law Institute (ALI) Annual Meeting is scheduled for May 20-22. The ALI agenda is not available at this time.