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ABA to Consider 'Good Cause Exceptions' for Missed Performance Standards

As law school professors and deans called for changes in the way the American Bar Association (ABA) collects and synthesizes student performance data, the trade group has decided not to make any wholesale changes to the way it assesses academic performance standards, according to the group.

ABAThe ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has decided to reaffirm a Monday, March 15 reporting deadline for law school employment data as it pertains to last year’s graduates. So too has the ABA section also reaffirmed accreditation standards related to the bar exam.

The move comes after deans in New York, New Jersey and California penned a letter seeking a delay in reporting the data as COVID-19 has substantially impacted the legal education industry. “ … states like New York, New Jersey, and California, experienced lengthy economic shut-downs and physical lockdowns—significantly reducing hiring, the accessibility of the courts, and the overall provision of legal services, beginning in early spring 2020 when many 3Ls in these jurisdictions would have typically secured opportunities prior to graduation. New York announced lockdown on March 22, New Jersey on March 21, and California announced lockdown on March 19,” reads the letter posted on TaxProf.

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a national accreditor of law schools. “In both instances, however, the Council… indicated it would be flexible in handling concerns that result from the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors affecting recent law grads’ ability to get jobs or pass the bar,” according to the announcement.

The law deans were hoping to have data reporting deadlines extended from mid-March to June. However, Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education said doing so would not be prudent. “We should not try to mask some of the problems caused by the pandemic,” he said.

FROM TWITTER

Mark C. Palmer @palmerlaw Feb 25

"DATA: We are now 60% of the way through Fall 2021 law school admissions season. The number of #lawschool applicants reported by LSAC is up 21.2% compared to last year at this time #lawtwitter #lawstudents https://bit.ly/3skYXMD"

According to the ABA, jobs data for approved schools—there are 197 of them included—is usually made public in April. This is strategically done to give law school students an opportunity to use that data to make decisions about where they would like to attend law school. Adams argues that keeping the deadlines consistent will provide better information for consumers.

The professors asked last summer for a “suspension of bar passage standards” as the pandemic wreaked havoc on nearly every facet of education, notes the ABA. The standards require that, for each school, 75% of law school graduates who take the bar must pass the exam within two years in order for that school to maintain compliance.

The Council said it will consider “good cause exception” as requested by individual schools. The Council has also asked for input related to changing its rules to permit approved schools an extra three years to regain lost compliance if it can show “good cause” for dereliction.

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