New data indicates minorities are lagging in bar passage rates

White test-takers were more likely to pass the bar exam in 2020 than test-takers of other races and ethnicities, according to first-time statistics released by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of graduates who take the bar exam pass within two years.

Among white men and women taking the bar exam for the first time, 88% passed. By comparison, 66% of Black first-time test-takers passed, 76% of Hispanics, 78% of Hawaiians, 78% of Native Americans and 80% of Asians.

The “ultimate” pass rate, which measures success with the bar over a two-year period, was higher for all categories than the rate for first-time takers. For 2019 graduates, for instance, white law graduates posted a 91% ultimate pass rate, and rates for other categories ranged upward from 75% based on 2020 and 2021 data.

Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule known as Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass it within two years of graduation or face the potential of being found out of compliance.

The new report, released June 22, includes aggregate data in nine different ethnicity categories for information collected in 2020 and 2021, which is broken down by gender and reported to the ABA by the 197 law schools accepting new students.

Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said that during discussions on changes to Standard 316 concerns were expressed over the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups.

“We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of the standard needed to be reconsidered in light of what we collected,” he said.

“This report is consistent with that promise and will be further evaluated in the months to come.”

The report comes as the bar exam, the primary tool used nationwide to determine who gets to practice law, is under intense scrutiny.

The bar exam is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, while licensing of lawyers is typically regulated by the states, which set different pass scores.


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