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After N.Y. bar exam results disappoint, focus turns to California

New York released the results of its July bar exam late last week, leaving California as the last major jurisdiction with test takers still awaiting their scores.

The Golden State—which traditionally has the second-largest number of bar examinees behind New York—is not expected to report results until Nov. 12.

Bar exam results are important not only to individual law graduates, but to law schools and legal employers. Low pass rates among a school’s graduates can threaten its American Bar Association accreditation, while higher pass rates mean a larger pool of candidates from which legal employers can hire.

New York’s results were a mixed bag. The overall 63% pass rate for 2021 was far lower than the overall 84% pass rate for those who took the exam in October 2020, after it was delayed from July and moved online due to COVID-19.

But the New York State Board of Law Examiners cautioned that those two tests are not comparable.

Both were administered remotely, but the October 2020 exam was shortened while the July 2021 was a full-length Uniform Bar Exam. Moreover, far fewer people sat for the exam in October 2020 than normal. The July 2021 cohort was larger and included more repeat test takers and foreign-educated lawyers—both groups that traditionally pass at lower rates.

New York’s latest results are more in line with 2019, when the overall pass rate was 65%. The July 2021 first-time pass rate among graduates of American Bar Association-accredited law schools ticked up one percentage point over 2019, to 87%.

Most jurisdictions have reported declines in year-over-year pass rates, though larger jurisdictions have fared better this cycle. Florida’s first-time pass rate ticked down just 0.1 percentage point to 71.6% this July. And Texas’ overall July 2021 pass rate of 68% falls in between the results of the two exams it gave last year—a full-length, in person exam in September that yielded a nearly 77% overall pass rate and a shortened remote exam in October that had a 60% pass rate.

Jurisdictions are returning to in-person testing for the February 2022 bar exam, as the National Conference of Bar Examiners is not giving states the choice between a remote and on-site exam.


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