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Diploma Privilege Award Counts as Bar Passage, ABA Says

Dec. 23, 2020, 6:56 PM

The American Bar Association will count law school graduates with diploma privileges as having passed the bar and will relax some reporting requirements in evaluating law school accreditation to account for pandemic-related disruptions.

“This will be a fairly unique year because of the pandemic,” William E. Adams, managing director for the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, told Bloomberg Law in an interview.

The pandemic forced law schools and students to grapple with an almost overnight switch to online learning in the spring, as well as shifting bar exam dates, canceled bar exams, and tests that were administered online only.

Acknowledging these and other issues affecting students and legal education, the ABA will try to accommodate them while pressing forward with evaluating law schools using the same criteria it has in the past, Adams said.

Diploma Privilege, Bar Passage

The ABA intends on relaxing some reporting requirements for law schools. These include:

Diploma Privileges: The District of Columbia, Washington state, Oregon, Louisiana, and Utah admitted 2020 law school graduates to the bar without having passed the bar exam. They had to meet certain qualifications and will be counted as having passed, Adams said.

Bar Passage Standard: While the bar passage standard will remain at 75%, the ABA will gather information on reported problems with taking the bar and take them into consideration when determining a school’s compliance with the standard, Adams said.

Several states have reported bar exam results taken during the pandemic, and they appear to be all over the map. New York reported an almost 20% increase in the pass rate for the online test taken in October. Ohio and D.C. also reported increases.

Texas reported a 77% pass rate for those who took the in-person exam in September but a 60% pass rate for the online test in October.

Bar Passage Data: Because more than 20 jurisdictions administered bar exams in October, many of which still haven’t reported their pass rates, the ABA will delay reporting results, which are normally due Feb. 1. The new deadline isn’t final, Adams said.

Distance Education Credits: The ABA caps the number of these credits a student can have to graduate, but it won’t count courses that had to be switched to online delivery due to the pandemic towards this number, Adams said.

The group plans on reviewing the caps to see whether they should be modified to permanently allow more credits. Reasons include the reduced cost of distance learning, Adams noted.

Despite the effect the pandemic had on certain aspects of legal education, the fall enrollment figures went up, which was “a pleasant surprise,” Adams said.

Total enrollment was up 2.4% from 2019, and minority enrollment was up 1.6%. Last year saw a small decline in minority enrollment.

There was a concern that the pandemic would disproportionately affect minority students but that doesn’t appear to be the case, he said.

But data from this year come with “an asterisk,” because it wasn’t a normal year, Adams said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at