Posted on May 6, 2022

The Racial Gap in Bar Exam Pass Rates Got Worse in 2021

Karen Sloan, Reuters, May 3, 2022

New data from the American Bar Association highlighting racial disparities in bar exam pass rates could add fuel to ongoing debates over the fairness of the attorney licensing test and whether it should be reformed.

The national first-time pass rate for white J.D. graduates who took the bar exam in 2021 was 85%—24 percentage points higher than the 61% first-time pass rate among Black law graduates, according to ABA figures released Monday.

Hispanic law grads posted a first-time pass rate of 72%; Asian law grads had a 79% pass rate; and 70% of Native Americans passed on the first try last year. The first-time pass rate for all bar exam takers was 80%, a three-percentage point decline from 2020.

The first-time pass rate gap between white and Black bar takers increased two percentage points between 2020 and 2021, the data show. Last year was the first time the ABA provided bar exam results broken down by race and gender — a change ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education William Adams attributed to public concern over differing pass rates and a lack of data detailing that trend.