Bar Pass Rates Up Overall, but Not Everywhere

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 27, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel for law school graduates, as a new report shows the first-time bar pass rate inched up three percent nationwide last year.

The American Bar Association released the report, which shows bar pass rates by law school, and explained that is designed to help students decide "whether and where to attend law school."

Overall, it is a bright spot in the law school landscape with the best schools continuing to produce the best bar pass rates. For students at some schools, however, that light at the end of the tunnel may be a train.

Best and Brightest

U.S. News & World Report is the go-to resource for law school rankings each year, and the top law schools on the podium overall this year are Yale, Stanford, and Harvard. Chicago and Columbia round-out the top five in the nation, based on the U.S. News criteria.

But when it comes bar pass rates, the ABA says the winners are:

  • Chicago
  • Yale
  • Duke

The difference in pass rates among the top three -- each with pass rates hovering around 98 percent -- is less than one percentage point. Followed by New York University and Harvard, it really is more about bragging rights.

Of course, the report wouldn't be as interesting without a public display of the worse bar pass rates. As Above the Law put it, "Yikes!"

Worst and Dimmest

The future does not look so bright for graduates leaving some law schools. Law jobs are hard enough to find, even if you do pass the bar exam.

Unfortunately, that's not happening right now for most of the students at the bottom schools:

  • Whittier
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Arizona Summit

Whittier, which saw plummeting performances, became the first ABA-accredited law school to close. But Thomas Jefferson and Arizona Summit apparently will continue to take in students and then send them out with less than a 30 percent chance of passing the bar. (Twenty-six percent, Arizona Summit, really?)

University of the District of Columbia and Florida Coastal also made worst-bar-pass list. Infilaw, a for-profit organization, runs both Arizona Summit and Florida Coastal.

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