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Less than 75 percent of people who took the bar for the first time in 2018 passed, a figure lower than in 2017, according to new figures from the American Bar Association.

Just 74.82 percent of first-time examinees made the cut last year, down from 77.34 percent in 2017, the ABA data shows. It’s the latest bit of bad news regarding the attorney licensing exam, which has generally seen falling pass rates since 2013.

But the declining cumulative pass rate for 2018 was not unexpected. The national average score on the Multistate Bar Examination—the multiple-choice half of the two-day exam—fell for both the February and July 2018 administrations. (The average MBE score for the most recent bar exam, in February of this year, ticked up for the first time since 2013, fueling hope of a turnaround.) And first-time pass rates in many of the largest jurisdictions also fell for the July 2018 exam, including California, New York, Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.


Law.com’s ongoing series The Big Fail examines why bar exam pass rates are in decline and what law schools are doing to help graduates make the cut.


In addition to reporting first-time pass rates broken down by law school, the ABA reported each school’s “ultimate pass rate” for the class of 2016—or the percentage of each school’s 2016 graduates who passed the exam within two years of leaving campus. Nationwide, 88.57 percent of 2016 law graduates passed the bar within two years, the ABA data shows. That’s nearly identical to the 88.46 percent ultimate bar pass rate for the class of 2015.

The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar began reporting the ultimate pass rate last year to illustrate how schools fare on the bar over time. That statistic is not used to determine compliance with the ABA’s bar passage standard, which requires at least 75 percent of graduates to pass the bar within five years, said managing director of accreditation Barry Currier. But it may be useful to prospective law students who are now making decisions about where to enroll.

“The public reports do provide important consumer information for students considering whether and where to attend law school and for others with an interest in legal education,” Currier said in a prepared statement.

According to the ABA data, New York University School of Law; Columbia Law School; Harvard Law School; and Liberty University School of Law had the four highest first-time pass rates in 2018. (The University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School posted 100 and 99-percent pass rates, respectively, because Wisconsin’s diploma privilege system allows graduates of its two law schools to bypass the bar exam.) For 2018, 50 law schools posted first-time pass rates of 85 or above. Another 19 schools had first-time pass rates below 50 percent.

The ultimate bar pass-rate figures for the class of 2016 look quite different. Three-quarters of all ABA-accredited law schools had 85 percent of more of 2016 graduates pass the exam within two years. The University of Chicago Law School; Concordia University School of Law; and Yale Law School each came out on top with 100-percent ultimate pass rates, as did the University of Wisconsin. And no schools had ultimate pass rates below the 50 percent mark.