Students looking to enter law school this year will face a system of greater scrutiny due to the California Committee of Bar Examiners’ recent decision to increase accreditation standards for California law schools.
Although most of California’s 21 accredited law schools meet the new requirement, the decision, which is set to take effect later this year, could result in some of these schools losing state accreditation if a minimum 40 percent graduate bar examination passage rate is not met this year. UCSB ranks fourth statewide in its frequency as an undergraduate alma mater of active bar members, placing the campus behind USC but slightly ahead of Stanford in terms of graduates admitted to the bar, according to the state bar website.
UCSB Academic and Pre-Law Adviser Miguel Moran- Lanier said that with many students at UCSB hoping to attend law school in the future, the recent decision by the Bar Committee could factor into the educational content of pre-law students’ professional school choices.
“[Schools] are instituting a lot of creative programs. They’re now focusing more and more on training lawyers in the practice of law, so that they’re ready upon graduation,” Moran-Lanier said. “Previously the last part of your legal education happened when you were hired.”
According to Moran-Lanier, in addition to the increasing number of students attending law school, a shift in how the legal profession operates has created a need for academic programs to evolve. Industry changes like these potentially contribute to the willingness of organizations such as the California Bar and the American Bar Association to institute stricter accreditation guidelines via bar examination success rates.
“[Passing the bar is] incredibly important. If you don’t pass the bar, you can’t practice the law in California,” Moran-Lanier said. “Is that [the only] measure of quality of the school? No, but I think it’s one.”
This most recent regulation is the first State Bar Committee attempt to specifically quantify what the successful examination ratio must be for legal programs to receive accreditation. Dean of the Southern California Institute of Law in Santa Barbara Stanislaus Pulle criticized the decision, stating that passing or not passing the bar is not indicative of one’s quality of education.
“To judge the value of a legal education based solely on whether a person one day becomes a member of the bar is deeply shortsighted,” Pulle said in a public letter co-written with Loyola Law School professor Christopher May and retired California Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron.
He went on to state that the decision ignores certain extenuating circumstances causing schools to have lower exam pass rates due to common occurrences, such as student struggle to balance campus attendance and full- time jobs held to pay tuition.
Second-year political science and pre-law student Miles Anderson said law schools should not be judged on one single standard for accreditation when there are so many other factors at play.
“There’s a lot of variables there, like … if they’re working. I know [having a] job makes my classes a lot harder,” Anderson said. “People who are intending on going to lower-ranked schools are still going to be able to achieve what another lawyer could, but obviously people [who go to] places like Ivy leagues or UCLA are going to perform differently on the bar exam.”
While the recent change is an attempt to address educational quality on a state level, the California Bar Committee’s decision also mirrors a larger policy alteration proposed by the American Bar Association. The ABA has recently proposed similar policy changes, the most notable being a bar examination success threshold of 75 percent for ABA accreditation.
Second-year economics and pre-law student Samantha Kelly said the decision is misleading in that it fails to rec- ognize the myriad of other measures of educational quality.
“It seems like a good decision, provided you think the bar exam is an adequate device for measuring the quality of a law school,” Kelly said. “When you consider other factors — such as what a person intends to do with their law degree, or if they’re full- time students — then it may not seem such a cut-and-dry issue.”
Within the debate regarding the committee’s decision, one of the most conspicuous arguments has been whether success on the bar examination should be the ultimate educational goal of schools offering legal instruction. With an even greater emphasis now being placed on the students’ ability to successfully complete the bar exam, compliance with the new guidelines will force campuses to become more attentive toward adequately preparing students for the bar examination, according to Moran-Lanier.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 23rd, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.