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Data Snapshot: A Look at the Falling Bar Passage Rates in Five U.S. States

The fact that bar exam pass rates have been in decline is not news to the legal industry. But the scale and reach of the trend—as well as its impact on graduating law students and the profession overall—is more challenging to measure.

In a new series that continues this week, legal education reporter Karen Sloan shines a light on the root causes of the falling exam passage rate, and what it means. To help paint a picture of what has been going on across the U.S., Law.com gathered exam passage rates for five states that are home to major legal markets: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas.



All of the states have seen significant drops in the passage rate for first-time takers of the July exam (typically when new law school graduates take the bar) over the past decade. Looking back to 2005, bar rates were actually on the rise in the years prior to the Great Recession and peaked around 2008-2009 for these fives states.

Since then, they have slid across the board, although some of these states—like Texas and Pennsylvania—have seen a tentative recovery. Nowhere has the slide been as pronounced as in California, where the passage rate for first-time takers of the July exam has dropped steadily from 75 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2018.

As Karen writes, there are a multitude of factors contributing to the trend, "but it’s clear that waning demand for a law degree has played a key role." For a deeper look at the numbers and what they mean, read the latest installment of the Big Fail series on Law.com.

The Big Fail