Ethics Implications Of The Bar Exam First-Time Test-Taker Demographic Pass Rates

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar released the 2022 ABA data on bar exam pass rates by race, ethnicity and gender. The DEI folks will NOT be happy.

There were 33,721 first-time bar exam hopefuls in 2022. 2,510 candidates were, and presumably still are, black. Their pass rate was 57% in 2022, down from 61% in 2021. Of all of the demographic groups, this was the worst rate. The rest:

  • Native Americans:  60% out of 183 candidates.
  • Hawaiians: 69% out of 45 candidates.
  • Mixed race:  74% out of 1,186 candidates.
  • Asians: 75% out of 2,199 candidates
  • Whites: 83% out of 21,553 candidates.

In the ever amusing gender categories, the breakdown was:

  • 80% for men
  • 79% for the, uh, creative gender identities
  • 77% for women 
  • 63% for those who did not disclose their gender.

The ABA standard for the minimum adequate law school pass rate for first time bar exam-takers is an average of 75% over two years.

Ethical implications:

1. Should there be any? It’s interesting, sort of. Otherwise, what difference does it make?

2. I am certain that the DEI lobby will not see it that way, and will immediately decide that it’s critical to “do something.” The objective, after all, on that planet where the grass is blood red, the sky is yellow and clouds are puse, is to make sure that all demographic groups do exactly as well as any other, with the possible exception of white men, who are the cause of all the trouble and if they tank the bar exam, screw ’em.

3. My guess is that the response, as it is in public schools across the country, will be to make the bar exam so easy and the pass score so low that only those who wandered into the exam by accident and brain-damaged law school grads won’t pass with flying colors. To be brutally frank, I felt that the bar exam I took was grueling, but that there was no excuse for anyone who deserved to have a degree to flunk the thing even once, and the exams are easier now than they were then.

4. Indeed, well in advance to this result, the progressive lobby in the legal profession has been challenging the need for bar exams at all. A law degree should be enough, they say. But law school, as every lawyer has discovered, has very little relevance to the practice of law. Basic skills, intelligence, deduction, short-term learning abilities and the ability to function under pressure do have relevance, and that is what the bar exam measures rather well.

5. One ethical implication of the statistics may be that affirmative action isn’t doing black Americans any favors, and there may be too many blacks studying law who would be more successful and happy doing something else. Nah, it can’t be that! The exams are obviously racist.

6. I have not seen the breakdown for 2022, but the “historically black” law schools—FAMU College of Law, Howard University School of Law, North Carolina Central University School of Law, Southern University Law Center, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, University of DC School of Law—individually and collectively usually fail to have their grads meet the 75% pass standard. The ABA, nothing if not a woke cabal, allows a law school to avoid penalties for graduating too many law students who can’t pass the bar if it is can show “efforts by the school to provide “efforts by the school to provide broader access to legal education.” Is it really responsible for schools to apply broader access to legal education for individuals who will not be very good lawyers?

18 thoughts on “Ethics Implications Of The Bar Exam First-Time Test-Taker Demographic Pass Rates

  1. There was a recent article in the local bar magazine that made the argument for diploma privilege.

    It was written by a local law professor.

    My thought was: maybe the bar exam is not racist—maybe the law schools are failing.

    I bet you could expand the quantity (and possibly quality) of lawyers from under-represented groups by allowing candidates to Read the Law like they did in the olden days. Work as an apprentice for a lawyer for a certain period of time and then take an exam. It would be cheaper than law school and very practical.

    The law schools would sure hate that.


    • I don’t think reading the law to get a license is a good idea, Jut. Great for the Abraham Lincolns of the world, but there aren’t many of him out there. Law school really does teach one to “think like a lawyer.” It’s a weird, difficult mindset.

      • Yes, it can.

        These days, stories involving law students give me doubts.

        At any rate, a good lawyer can instill that.

        In other words, law school is not the only way.


        • My concern would be that student who “read” the law would get boxed into very tiny specialties based on whatever firm happened to hire them. They’d get really good at certain tasks related to that position, but would utterly be ignorant to critical legal theory that would let them access other positions. They’d essentially become paralegals (which is itself a critical position), but not have the general skill set to be a lawyer.

          • That is a fair concern. I am a generalist, so I may have that bias.

            Some form of general competency would need to be required. How to do that? Some licensing exam?

            I currently have a paralegal who is an attorney in Mexico. He is looking to get his JD here. He is very excited about learning all he can through his exposure at work.


  2. My husband (in the early 1980s) and my son (in 2017) both did BARBRI (a bar exam prep course, offered during the summer between one’s law school graduation and the date of the bar exam), and it was very helpful to both of them. I highly recommend it to anyone preparing for their state’s bar exam. (And the BARBRI fee for my son was heavily discounted, since he paid for it during his 1L year.)
    I totally agree with your reaction to the report on the 2022 bar exam pass rates. (I think one reason why Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s law school gave such a generous scholarship to my son, was because they had been having trouble meeting that 75% bar exam pass rate, so they were eager to accept anyone with a high undergrad GPA and an above-average LSAT score.)

    • I took BARBRI! It was great: I lay out on a beach lounger slathered with tanning oil as the lecturer was heard through a speaker installed out in the parking lot! Then at night, I reviewed the materials whil listening to the Boston Red Sox on the way to the AL pennant!

        • Yeah, I reckon it was pretty awesome — he’d get to see Babe Ruth on the ESPN highlights.

          Do you think the Black Sox affair is what motivated him to go into ethics? I wonder what kind of tweets Shoeless Joe was putting out.

      • I’ve never heard of PMBR, and neither my husband nor my son has ever mentioned it; maybe it’s not a thing at Illinois law schools? Could you explain what PMBR is, please?

  3. I’m violently opposed to giving licenses to law school graduates without their passing a bar exam. Bar members are granted a state sponsored license to charge people for their services. Jeeze, I’m pretty sure barbers and beauticians and dog groomers have to pass an exam to be able to charge members of the public for their services. Bar exams are largely a rite of passage. Bars are self-policing guilds. Practicing law is a really hard job. If you can’t prepare for and pass a bar exam, you can’t handle a trial or a closing. And in years past, passing the bar in New York or California was harder than in other states. So be it. If you want to practice law in the really big leagues, cowboy up.

    • It still is harder in those states.

      Wisconsin does have diploma privilege though.

      Good benefit if you plan to stay in Wisconsin

      But, it kind of handicaps you if you don’t take the Multi-state exam.


      • Only from Wisconsin schools? Does the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or whoever supervises the bar get involved in curricula in the Wisconsin law schools? Are there distribution requirements? Can you skip Contracts of UCC or Evidence or Civil Procedure?

        • Yes, just Wisconsin schools, UW and Marquette, I believe.

          I was accepted to UW, before the U of M. So, at least I knew I was going to law school.

          But, diploma privilege May kind of handicap students. A great number of people in my class took the bar and went elsewhere to practice.

          But, if you planned to stay in state, as I did with Minnesota, diploma privilege would have been fine.


  4. I suspect that quite a few attorneys in Wisconsin’s border counties with other states (such as Kenosha County, where my mom lives) take the bar exam, and subsequently also take the bar exam of the neighboring state (which would be Illinois for Kenosha County attorneys), so they can appear in courts on both sides of the border.

  5. Another interesting thing is that woman outnumber men in every category/group, and for some (notably blacks and hispanics) only a 1/3rd of students/passers are men, yet I hear no one complaining or saying a word about it. It’s as if the left and its mouthpiece are selective in their inclusion inspired outrage?!

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