According to new data from the American Bar Association (ABA), the racial gap in bar exam pass rates worsened in 2021. The findings will likely intensify debates over the fairness of the attorney licensing test and louden calls for it to be reformed.
According to ABA, the national first-time pass rate for white JD graduates who sat the bar exam in 2021 was 85%. Meanwhile, the first-time pass rate for Black JD graduates was just 61%.
For other ethnic groups, the first-time pass rate was higher, though still notably below the first-time pass rate for white graduates. Hispanic law graduates had a first-time pass rate of 72%, Asian law graduates had a 79% first-time pass rate, and Native Americans had a 70% first-time pass rate.
A spokesperson for the National Conference of Bar Examiners said researchers need to look beyond the bar exam itself to fully understand the root cause of the first-time pass rate racial gap. The spokesperson said this could include examining other metrics, such as Law School Admission Test scores and law school grade-point averages to better “understand the complex interactions among racial identity, social capital, educational experiences, and performance on the bar exam.”