Cracking down on law schools with low bar-passage rates

This article from the National Law Journal contains more promising signs that the ABA is finally cracking down on predatory law schools. In August, the ABA issued a “finding of noncompliance” to Ave Maria School of Law, and now it has publicly censured Valparaiso and placed Charlotte Law School on probation. In all three cases, the ABA found that the schools failed to “maintain sound admissions policies” and failed to avoid admitting applicants who do not appear “capable of completing [the school’s] program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.” A few observations:

First, it’s tempting to say, “three down, twenty to go,” since there are so many law schools that charge absurdly high tuition and have low bar-passage rates and poor job-placement statistics. And you can’t really say “three down” because these three law schools are a long way from actually closing. But you have to give the ABA credit for trying to do something about this.

Second, by at least some measures, the ABA’s new focus on these issues is working, at least at Valparaiso. Valpo’s median LSAT has risen from 144 in 2013 to 147 in 2016. That doesn’t sound like much, and 147 is still awfully low, but clearly the school is trying to admit stronger students. Perhaps a more telling number is that first-year enrollment has fallen from 200 to 103. Some of that is attributable to market fluctuation, but it certainly suggests that Valpo is being more selective.

Third, the three schools the ABA has chosen to punish all deserve what they got, but I must say I do not really understand the ABA’s criteria. Charlotte’s bar-passage rates are in the 40s, which is abysmal, but Valpo and Ave Maria appear to be in the 60s. There are plenty of schools out there with passage rates below 60–Thomas Jefferson comes to mind–so it’s not clear to me why a school like Ave Maria, which posted a respectable 66.7 passage rate for the July 2016 Florida exam, is being punished.

Fourth, the blog Law Deans on Legal Education recently reported that Arizona Summit Law School has found a horrifying way of getting around ABA requirements that relate to bar passage. Arizona Summit apparently now requires students with low GPAs to pass a “mock bar exam” as a prerequisite to graduating. Students who don’t pass simply are not allowed to graduate, which in turn prevents them from taking the bar exam. The school keeps their $136,062 in tuition, and the students don’t drag down the school’s passage rate. A win-win! (Meaning two wins for the school, but zero for the students.)

Anyway, Above the Law has more on the “crackdown” here.