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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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A Loose Standard

So why do we accredit law schools?

I thought it had something to do with how good they were or what their standards were or how well their students did, but now I'm not sure.

Consider this partial sentence from a lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles: "there is no rational basis for linking a law school's bar examination pass rates to the quality of the school's academic program ..."

Apparently, not passing an exam has nothing to do with whether you learned anything.

Maybe it's just me, but I was kind of surprised by this. I always thought the whole point of going to law school was to prepare for the bar exam. It's not as if law school prepares you for practicing law or anything.

In case you're wondering, the suit was filed on behalf of Southern California Institute of Law, an institution that may be in danger of losing its state accreditation because its bar pass rate may have dipped below 40 percent.

I don't know how far below 40 percent - the suit doesn't say. But the school is upset about a new rule from the Committee of Bar Examiners that requires the school to stay above that 40 percent level to be accredited.

I should note here, in case you're not familiar with the rules in California, that this may be more important to the school than to the students. You don't have to go to an accredited school to be admitted to the bar in California. In fact, you don't have to go to a law school at all. Hanging out in a judge's chambers will do the trick.

But it's nice to say you're accredited if you're a law school. It doesn't mean that much, but it's good marketing. So you can see why an institution like the SCIL might object to having its seal of approval removed just because some percentage north of 60 percent of its grads aren't passing the bar exam.

Of course, that isn't exactly the way the school's lawsuit portrays things.

According to the lawsuit: "SCIL has through its dedicated administration and faculty sought to broaden access to legal education by maintaining low tuition rates. ... SCIL's students are primarily working adults from low-to-moderate income groups, with approximately one-third of SCIL's student body consisting of underrepresented ethnic and racial groups."

And those hard-working, deserving students can finish a four-year education for a total tuition cost of less than $35,000.

After which 40 percent or less might pass the bar exam and go on to become licensed, unemployed lawyers.

It's a heartwarming, American bootstraps kind of story.

By the way, there's no mention of the pass rate on the school's website. I did, however, enjoy the description of admission requirements to get into the school.

For example, you don't have to take the LSAT if you have a bachelor's degree. But you can get in if you passed half the classes you need for a degree and you do take the LSAT.

But don't worry too much about the LSAT: "The score is to be used only for statistical purpose (sic) and not for purpose of admission. Aim for at least a 50 percentile score."

Just aim. I'm thinking maybe less than a 40th percentile will do.

Outliers? A press release from FindLaw.com gave me pause last week. What follows is the first paragraph. See if you can spot the mystery:

"Less than one in three Americans - 32 percent - have a living will, spelling out whether they want life-sustaining medical care in case they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate their medical treatment preferences, according to a new survey by FindLaw.com, the most popular legal information website. This means the vast majority of Americans - 61 percent - could potentially be leaving legal problems for family members if they are unable to communicate their health care wishes due to illness or loss of consciousness."

I'm thinking the other 7 percent are dying in spontaneous combustion.

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