First-Time Bar Pass Rates Show Decline According to Recent Legal Education Data

The American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar recently released data on the pass rates of first-time bar exam takers for 2021 and 2022. The figures show that in 2021, the pass rate was 80.28% for first-time test takers, including those admitted through diploma privilege, while in 2022, the pass rate dropped to 78.33% for the same group. However, when excluding diploma privilege admits, the pass rate for first-time test takers in 2022 was 73.87%.

The data also includes two-year bar passage rates of 91.27% for 2019 graduates and 91.44% for 2020 graduates. Law schools are expected to maintain a bar passage rate of at least 75% within two years, as Standard 316 of the ABA stipulated. However, Bill Adams, managing director of ABA accreditation and legal education, noted that the data release is for consumer information and “is not a compliance report for ABA Standard 316.”

Standard 316 was revised in May 2019 and received criticism from various stakeholders. A guidance memo was published the same year to clarify that a school may request a time extension beyond two years if it can demonstrate “good cause” for doing so. This could include temporary circumstances beyond the school’s control, academic transfers, and a school’s effort to provide wider access to legal education while maintaining academic rigor.

The pass rates for first-time bar exam takers are important indicators of law school quality and the readiness of graduates to practice law. They are also a significant factor in the ranking of law schools. While the pass rates for 2021 and 2022 have decreased, they remain above the 75% threshold mandated by Standard 316.

The ABA’s release of bar exam pass rate data is a valuable resource for prospective law students, as it provides insight into the

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