John G. Browning 2016-12-20 18:03:56
Last year was a tumultuous time for legal education in Texas, filled with ups and downs. The state continued to offer a stronger employment market for law school graduates, even as the most recent American Bar Association statistics show that, nationally, only 59.2 percent of law school graduates in the class of 2015 have found longterm, full-time employment for which bar admission was required. And in a year in which bar passage rates across the country continued to decline, the Lone Star State provided one of the few bright spots. The passage rate for first-time Texas law school graduate test takers of the February 2016 Texas Bar Exam was 69 percent, while 82 percent of the first-time takers of the July 2016 passed. That was an improvement over the 76 percent passing rate for the July 2015 exam. Among the Texas law schools with the highest first-timer passage rates for the most recent bar exam, the University of Texas School of Law led the way with a 93.9 percent pass rate, with Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law not far behind with 91.1 percent. Baylor Law School posted an 86.9 percent passage rate, with the University of Houston Law Center and Texas Tech University School of Law close behind at 86 percent and 85.7 percent, respectively, followed by Texas A&M University School of Law (77.4 percent), St. Mary’s University School of Law (73.6 percent), South Texas College of Law Houston (72.6 percent), and Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law (66.1 percent). Despite a rising bar passage rate statewide, the news was bleak for Texas’ newest law school, UNT Dallas College of Law. In August, the fledgling yet innovative law school suffered a serious setback when the ABA Accreditation Committee recommended in a 21-page report that the school not receive provisional accreditation. The committee members stated in the report that they believed the school wasn’t complying with ABA admissions standards of enrolling enough students who are capable of completing the requirements for a J.D. degree and passing the bar exam and expressed concern over the school’s heavy dependence on tuition and the teaching quality of some of its adjunct faculty members. The law school responded in writing and with a presentation at an October hearing before the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which remanded the accreditation decision to the committee for further review. While a decision is not expected until some time during the spring law school semester in 2017, UNT College of Law Dean Royal Furgeson remained upbeat about the school’s prospects, saying in August “there’s a giant need for affordable law schools like us, and we’re going to meet that need.” Despite the ABA’s decision, UNT petitioned the Texas Supreme Court and received permission for its first graduates to sit for the July 2017 Texas Bar Exam. Another Texas law school made national news over the controversy surrounding the change of its name. Early in the year, unranked South Texas College of Law changed its name to Houston College of Law and adopted a red and white color scheme similar to that of nationally-ranked University of Houston Law Center, which responded by filing a trademark infringement lawsuit, claiming the renaming was “nothing more than an improper shortcut to take advantage of the success UH has achieved.” In October, U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison granted the University of Houston’s request for a preliminary injunction, barring Houston College of Law from using the name and agreeing that prospective law students would be likely to assume a connection between Houston College of Law and the University of Houston. Dean Donald J. Guter recently announced that the school will now operate as South Texas College of Law Houston. JOHN G. BROWNING is a partner in Passman & Jones in Dallas, where he handles commercial litigation, employment, health care, and personal injury defense matters in state and federal courts. He is an award-winning legal journalist for his syndicated column, “Legally Speaking,” and the author of the Social Media and Litigation Practice Guide and a forthcoming casebook on social media and the law. He is an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
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