chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
May 09, 2022 Legal Education

New ABA data breaks down bar pass rates by ethnicity, race

Law school graduates who are white are passing the bar exam both as first-time takers and within two years of graduation at a higher rate than graduates from other racial and ethnic categories, a new report from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar indicates.

A new report from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar includes data from 196 law schools.

A new report from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar includes data from 196 law schools.

Getty Images (Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision)

The report, issued for the second consecutive year, underscores the racial disparities in bar exam pass rates that have fueled ongoing debates over the fairness of rules that require a law school graduate to pass the bar to become a licensed attorney.

The good news is that the two-year pass rate, which is the most critical measure because it is part of bar-pass Standard 316, ticked up for nearly all categories. But first-time taker pass rates generally dropped for all categories, and the report shows that significant racial disparities remain.

The national pass rate, for example, for white J.D. graduates who took the bar exam for the first time in 2021 was 85% — 24 percentage points higher than the 61% first-time pass rate among law graduates who are Black — the data showed. Both showed improvement in the critical two-year pass rate: white students in the graduating class of 2019 passed at a 94% rate while Black graduates passed at an 81% rate.

Under 2019 revisions to Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass within two years of graduation or face being found out of compliance. Altogether, the information released on May 2 breaks down the data in nine different ethnicity categories and by gender for information collected in 2021 and 2022.

“This is the second consecutive year that the section is releasing this data in response to concerns about the lack of national data on bar passage rates by members of different racial and ethnic groups,” said Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education. “We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of Standard 316 need to be reviewed. We will continue to evaluate the data and consider any changes as appropriate.”

The data was reported to the ABA by the 196 law schools accepting new students in their ABA Standard 509 questionnaire, which covers about a dozen categories, including employment and bar passage outcomes. The council, or governing board of the section, is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the national accreditor of law schools and acts independently of the ABA in that capacity. The bar exam itself is coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is administered by state jurisdictions.

Related links: