More than 90% of law graduates pass the bar within two years

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For the third consecutive year, roughly 9 of 10 graduates of American Bar Association-approved law schools passed the bar within two years after graduation, new data shows.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar released its annual report on bar pass rates for 196 schools on April 26, indicating that 91.17% of 2019 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation. Including law school graduates who do not have to take the bar because they are licensed by states upon their graduation, known as diploma privilege, the pass rate was 91.27%,

The two-year success rate is slightly higher than the 90.10% comparable figure for 2018 graduates, which improved upon the 89.47% comparable figure for graduates a year earlier. The 2018 graduating class was the first that fell under new bar pass rules.

In 2019, the section’s council enacted over ABA House of Delegates (HOD) objections a straightforward minimum that 75% of a law school’s graduates who take the bar must pass it within two years. Under ABA rules, the HOD can object twice to a change in standards, but the final decision rests with the council.

The bar pass report, like the employment analysis released last month, is part of a comprehensive package of consumer information the section collects and releases through the authority of ABA Standard 509.

“These public reports provide important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” said Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education. “But this report is not a compliance report for ABA Standard 316, which establishes bar exam outcomes that a law school must achieve under the accreditation standards. That is a separate and distinct matter.”

Under the rules of the council, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the national accreditor of law schools and serves as an independent arm of the ABA in that capacity, schools not in compliance with a standard have two years to comply although they can be granted an extension for good cause. No school has been found out of compliance of Standard 316 beyond the two-year period.

For consumer guidance, the section also releases rates for first-time bar takers although that is not a consideration under Standard 316. This year’s data shows first-time takers in 2021 achieved an overall 79.86% pass rate (80.28% with diploma privilege), which was approximately a 3-percentage point decrease over the comparable 83.66% pass rate (with diploma privilege) for 2020.


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