Demographics included in the breakdown distinguish between nine separate categories as well as accounting for gender. According to the ABA, the first-time passage rate for White test takers was down three percentage points between 2020 and 2021 while the rate for Black takers and Hispanic takers were down five and four percentage points, respectively. Overall, White takers passed more than Black and Hispanic takers by double-digit percentage points in both years measured.
Recently, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), which produces the licensing exams used in most jurisdictions, issued a statement indicating it is working to combat bias in the legal field, specifically at historically Black universities and colleges.
“NCBE takes seriously the need to work toward greater racial and gender equity in all it does as a testing organization and actively works to eliminate any aspects of its exams that could contribute to performance disparities among different groups,” writes the organization. “We maintain high standards in developing our test questions through the work of our diverse drafting committees, and engage in a robust process of external review, bias review, pretesting, and differential item functioning (DIF) analysis to ensure fairness.”
The ABA data comes from 196 law schools taking new students and was collected with its Standard 509 questionnaire. That survey covers several categories, including bar passage and employment information, according to the trade group.
“This is the second consecutive year that the section is releasing this data in response to concerns about the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups,” said Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, in a statement.
According to the Managing Director’s Office of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, law schools are required to have a 75% passage rate across the board for all takers within two years of graduation or else they could be deemed out of compliance with the 2019 revision to Standard 316.
“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,” Adams said.
"I didn’t pass the Bar the first time I took it. I was told I’d never be an attorney. Because of that, I abandoned my dream for almost 5 years. Today, I had my first trial as a Public Defender. I won. The Bar Exam doesn’t define whether or not you’re a good attorney."
The 2021 and 2020 breakdown of first-time takers' passage rates for the demographics measured are as follows:
- White: 85%
- Black: 61%
- Hispanic: 72%
- Asian: 79%
- Native American: 70%
- Hawaiian: 47%
- Non-Residents: 84%
- Race Unknown: 81%
- Two or more: 76%
- White: 88%
- Black: 66%
- Hispanic: 76%
- Asian: 80%
- Native American: 78%
- Hawaiian 78%
- Non-Residents: 86%
- Race Unknown: 84%
- Two or more: 82%
The total passage rate for the 34,217 first-time takers in 2021 was 80%, notes the data.
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