In your search for the law school of your dreams, you come across many statistics, numbers, and data regarding the individual universities. Several numbers are thrown at you, without much context behind them. One major statistic that is crucial when looking at law schools is the bar passage rate. This number represents how many of its students have successfully passed the bar exam. These numbers, mixed with school accreditation can be confusing for someone who hasn’t even thought about the bar yet. Together with recent news of schools losing accreditation and bar passage slipping, what does this mean for incoming and current law students?
What are Bar Passage Rates and School Accreditation?
When you look at a school’s overall rating and standing, you will typically come across bar passage rates and if they are accredited. Bar passage rates are a percentage of graduating students who have successfully passed the bar exam. This is normally broken down into two categories: first time test-takers and repeat takers. Although this percentage may seem irrelevant for an incoming law student or a 1L/2L looking to transfer, it is actually an important statistic to evaluate before you make your decision. This number represents how the university’s program prepared the individual students for the bar exam. Along with bar passage, accreditation is important as well. Accreditation is done by the American Bar Association or ABA. This is an organization of professionals in the legal community, namely attorneys and law students. In order to become accredited, a law school must pass certain standards to get a “stamp of approval” from the ABA.
Does it Matter if the School is Accredited?
In short: yes. The ABA is recognized by the Department of Education to promulgate standards for universities to meet in order to be accredited. Basically, if a university is approved by the ABA, you will be more likely to pass the bar. The ABA approves and monitors schools to ensure that law students are receiving an adequate education that will allow them to be successful on the bar and in practice. Accreditation is a stamp of approval by the ABA, showing that this particular school is worthy of your attendance. A legal education is costly. Thus, it is important to know if your future school is accredited, to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck. Further, many universities have recently had lowering bar passage rates and are at risk of losing their accreditation. This is because their programs may not be rigorous enough to create a quality legal education. The bar exam is the most important exam you will take as it determines if you can become an attorney. Thus, if you attend (or are thinking about attending) a school at risk of losing its accreditation or has uncommonly low bar passage rates, you may want to re-think your decision or get extra assistance/preparation to pass the bar.
Conclusion: Check before you go
The decision to go to law school is a difficult one. The process is stressful, the program is difficult, and then you have to take a bar exam just to be able to practice. Recently, there has been an ongoing pattern of low pass rates, schools losing their accreditation, and graduates not able to find full-time employment in the legal field. This is a very stressful situation for incoming and current law students. Therefore, it is incredibly important and you are aware of what a law school’s qualifications are. Just as you are evaluated by the law school, you should also evaluate the law school. Although statistics are not everything, by keeping yourself informed, you will be better prepared for situations that arise.
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