ABA flunks law schools in D.C., Florida and Vermont over bar exam pass rates

REUTERS/Marko Djurica
  • The ABA found three law schools out of compliance with its bar pass rate minimum
  • The schools say they have seen recent improvements in their pass rates

Dec 15 - Three law schools have fallen below the bar pass rate minimum set by the American Bar Association, the organization said this week.

Vermont Law and Graduate School, Ave Maria School of Law, and the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law are each out of compliance with the accreditation standard that requires 75% of a school’s graduates to pass the bar within two years, according to public notices posted by the ABA on Tuesday.

The schools remain accredited but must provide written reports to the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar in February, demonstrating that they are back in compliance based on more recent bar exam results. If those letters prove insufficient, the schools will appear before the Council in May.

The University of the District of Columbia this year posted an “ultimate bar passage rate” of 67%, representing the percentage of 2019 graduates who passed within two years. Interim law dean Twinette Johnson said Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of the bar exam in 2020 was a factor in her school’s lower pass rate because some would-be repeat takers from the class of 2019 opted not to take the exam at that time.

The school was also found out of compliance with the bar pass standard for its 2017 graduates in May 2020, although it was deemed back in compliance two months later.

“We are going to be in compliance for 2020” graduates, Johnson said.

Vermont Law and Graduate School had an ultimate pass rate of 68% for its 2019 graduates, the ABA said. The school issued a statement calling that rate a “surprise” and noting that the class of 2018 had an 83% pass rate.

“Even though 2019 appeared to be an anomaly, we treated it as if it were not, and immediately implemented measures to assist graduates who were unsuccessful on the bar,” the South Royalton, Vermont, school said, citing curricular changes, bolstering its academic success program, and reviewing admissions policies and procedures.

Vermont said it expects that 2020 graduates will have an ultimate pass rate above 75% and that the school will come back into compliance.

Naples, Florida-based Ave Maria had an ultimate pass rate of 67% for 2019 graduates—a significant decline from its 84% pass rate among 2018 graduates.

Ave Maria said in a statement that officials are confident the school will be found to be back in compliance based on the ultimate pass rate of its 2020 graduates, which it put at 90%. The ABA will release official 2020 bar pass data in the spring.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com