Legal Education

First-time bar pass rate for Black candidates below 58%, ABA data shows

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According to information released Tuesday by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Black candidates continue to have the lowest first-time test-taker pass rate, which was 57% in 2022, compared with 61% in 2021.

Out of 33,721 first-time bar examinees in 2022, 2,510 candidates were Black, according to ABA data, which parses out pass rates by race, ethnicity and gender.

Among other first-time test-takers:

    • The pass rate for Native Americans was 60% out of 183 candidates.
    • The pass rate for Hawaiians was 69% out of 45 candidates.
    • The pass rate for Hispanics was 69% out of 4,201 candidates.
    • The pass rate for people who were two or more races was 74% out of 1,186 candidates.
    • The pass rate for Asians was 75% out of 2,199 candidates.
    • The pass rate for whites was 83% out of 21,553 candidates.

Also, section data shows the 2022 first-time pass rate was 77% for women and 80% for men. For people with another gender identity, the first-time pass rate was 79%; and for those who did not disclose their gender, the pass rate was 63%.

Additionally, the data examined two-year bar-passage rates. Based on 2021 graduates, those pass rates were:

    • 51% for Hawaiian candidates.
    • 72% for Black candidates.
    • 79% for Native American candidates.
    • 81% for Hispanic candidates.
    • 85% for candidates who were two or more races.
    • 86% for Asian candidates.
    • 90% for white candidates.

To be in compliance with Standard 316, law schools should have a two-year bar passage rate of at least 75%. The standard was tightened up in 2019, and some feared the revision would harm diversity in the legal profession.

“Several years ago, we promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of Standard 316 needed to be reviewed in light of what we collected. We will continue to evaluate the annual data and consider any changes as appropriate,” Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said in a news release.

Marsha Griggs, the bar advocacy committee chair for the Association of Academic Support Educators, told the ABA Journal in an email that the first-time pass rates are probably more aligned with financial resources than anything unique to race or gender.

“The ability to spend months engaged in full-time, fully resourced bar study without working, meeting familial caretaking obligations, or worrying about basic human needs is a financial privilege that differentiates many first-time passers from those who are unsuccessful,” wrote Griggs, a Washburn University School of Law professor who directs its academic enrichment and bar passage program.

Aaron Taylor, the executive director of the AccessLex’s Center for Legal Education Excellence, noted that various jurisdictions are considering the impacts of their bar admission processes. When doing so, he told the Journal in an email, decision-makers should think about how passing a bar serves a consumer protection function.

“They should also consider how the process of studying for the exam, namely the 10 weeks of post-law school cramming, disadvantages people who lack easy access to financial resources, particularly those facing housing and food insecurity. Access to the profession should not be a function of privilege,” Taylor wrote.

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