The latest proposed drafts of the American Bar Association’s law school accreditation standards are out, and they would change how schools report graduate employment information, impose tougher bar passage rate requirements and ease limits on the number credit hours students may take through distance education.

The drafts retain controversial changes that have prompted public debate thus far — namely, the removal of what many consider a requirement that law schools maintain a tenure system; elimination of the Law School Admission Test as a requirement in admissions decisions; and evaluation of schools based on how well they achieve stated learning goals.

The faculties of three law schools have passed resolutions opposing any changes involving tenure.

The accuracy of law graduate employment data has been a hot topic for the past year.

In a letter accompanying its draft proposal, the consumer information subcommittee of the ABA’s Standards Review Committee wrote that the existing requirement that schools publish “basic consumer information” and “placement rates” leaves much to interpretation.

“Not surprisingly, with such a vague standard, schools’ practices vary widely,” the subcommittee wrote. “Some schools provide detailed information; others provide a bare minimum.”

For example, the existing standards do not require schools to disclose the percentage of employed graduates working in part-time or non-legal jobs. Nor do they account for graduates whose employment status is unknown — the group most likely to be unemployed.

“Too much information is being presented in a potentially misleading fashion,” the subcommittee wrote.

Under its proposal, law schools would disclose the percentage of students whose employment status after nine months is unknown, as well as the percentage with law school-funded jobs. Additionally, schools would have to report the percentage of employed graduates who have jobs requiring bar passage and those in non-legal jobs. Schools would have to stipulate how many students are in part-time and full-time jobs, and would continue to disclose the number of graduates in business, government, judicial clerkships and academia.

The proposal was met with some concern from the leaders of Law School Transparency, a Tennessee-based nonprofit started last year by two Vanderbilt law students who want to wrest more detailed employment data from law schools.
Co-founder Kyle McEntee said the group would like to see salary information broken down by individual graduate rather than averaged out according to job description.
“Essentially, we’re a little concerned about the lack of connectivity between jobs and salary information,” he said. “This does some disaggregation of the current salary information, but it doesn’t go far enough.”
Robert Morse, director of research at U.S. News & World Report, said the magazine would incorporate the more detailed employment information into its law school rankings, should the proposal be adopted.

Job statistics aren’t the only new element in the latest proposals. The existing standards allow students to take no more than 12 credit hours through distance education courses. That limit would bump up to 20 credits, although students could not take online courses during their first year.

Bar passage rate requirements would also increase, from the current 75%. Under the proposed standard, 80% of the students who graduated within the past five years and sit for the bar must pass. That requirement must be met in three or more of any past five years. The existing standard requires that a school’s first-time bar passage rate be no more than 15% below that of other accredited law schools in the same jurisdiction. Under the new proposal, that percentage would be reduced to 10%.

The Standards Review Committee is scheduled to discuss these proposals during its next meeting on April 2 and 3 in Chicago. The committee will hold an open forum during the meeting when interested parties may comment on the proposals. Committee Chairman Donald Polden, dean of Santa Clara University School of Law, has urged other law school deans to offer input regarding the revised standards.

“In conducting the comprehensive review we have tried to provide law schools with more flexibility than the current standards permit, increase the transparency of accreditation decisions, consider ways to make accreditation review less complicated and costly, and improve the clarity of the policies and rules,” Polden wrote to the deans. “But, I think it is fair to say that everyone won’t like every change.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.