New data show bar passage scores increased during pandemic

Despite challenges generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the aggregate scores of law graduates who took the bar exam for the first time during the past year went up about 3 percentage points from the previous year.

Those taking the bar exam for the first time in 2020 achieved an 82.83% pass rate, a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable rate in 2019.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar released bar scores on April 23 for American Bar Association-approved law schools, and overall the report showed gains from 2019 for both the “ultimate” pass rate and for first-time takers.

Those taking the bar exam for the first time in 2020 achieved an aggregate 82.83% pass rate (83.66% with Diploma Privilege), which is a 3-percentage point increase over the comparable 79.64% pass rate for 2019. Diploma Privilege considers those waived into the practice of law without taking the bar because of special rules during the pandemic.

Also, 89.99% of 2018 law graduates who sat for a bar exam passed it within two years of graduation (90.10% with Diploma Privilege). The two-year “ultimate” rate is slightly better than the 89.47% comparable figure for 2017 graduates. The report noted that 94.98% of all graduates sat for a bar exam within two years of graduation, and that schools were able to obtain bar passage information from 98.84% of their 2018 graduates.

The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 disrupted schedules for bar exams beginning with the July 2020 test, generated health concerns for in-person exams and produced some software problems with remote testing. Typically, the bar exam is administered by state licensing agencies in February and July.

Under a rule change in 2019, the 197 ABA-approved law schools still accepting students are required to have at least 75% of graduates who sit for a bar exam pass within two years of graduation. Schools found out of compliance have at least two years to meet the rule, known as Standard 316.

 “These reports over the years have provided 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 for ABA accreditation and legal education.



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