Racial Inequality in Bar Exam Scores Reaches an All-Time High in 2022

Racial Inequality in Bar Exam Scores Reaches an All-Time High in 2022

New data from the American Bar Association has shown that the gap in bar pass rates between white and minority law graduates has widened for the second year. The data showed that 83% of white test takers passed their bar exam on their first attempt, compared to 57% of Black examinees – a difference of 26 percentage points. This gap increased from 24 percentage points in 2021. The disparity also held for Hispanic and Asian test takers, with 69% and 75% first-time pass rates, respectively. The gap with white examinees grew from 13 percentage points to 14 for Hispanic test takers and six percentage points to 8 for Asian test takers.

While white first-time bar examinees’ performance declined from an 85% pass rate in 2021 to 83% in 2022, the decline was smaller than the dip among Black, Hispanic and Asian examinees. The national first-time pass rate fell to 78% in 2022 from 80% the previous year.

Critics of the bar exam have long pointed to racial gaps in results as evidence that the attorney licensing exam is biased against minority test takers. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has consistently refuted these claims. The conference is currently designing a new bar exam due to being released in 2026, and several states are considering changes to how they license new lawyers.

A spokesperson for the national conference called the differing pass rates “troubling” on Wednesday while noting that these disparities are not new and are the result of many factors. They cited the significant disruption to education caused by the pandemic, significantly worse for Black Americans and other historically marginalized communities, often exacerbating existing disparities.

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In 2020, the ABA began releasing bar passage data broken down by race amid calls for greater transparency about exam results. One concern was that an updated rule requiring a minimum of 75% of a school’s graduates to pass the bar exam within two years would disproportionately hurt law schools with high minority enrollment.

Racial disparities have also persisted in “ultimate bar pass rates,” which measure pass rates over two years. In 2021, the ultimate pass rate for white bar examinees was 90%, compared to 86% among Asians, 81% among Hispanics, and 72% among Black test takers, according to the new ABA figures.

These latest findings highlight the ongoing issue of racial disparities in the legal profession and the need for continued efforts to address these disparities. While the pandemic has undoubtedly impacted education and exam results, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure that the bar exam is fair and equitable for all test takers, regardless of their race or background. The upcoming changes to the bar exam and licensing requirements may provide an opportunity to address these issues and promote greater diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.

Rachel E: