Harvard, NYU Law are tops for first-time bar exam pass rates

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Banners for Harvard Law School fly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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  • Most law schools with the best bar passage rates last year are in the so-called T-14
  • Law schools at University of Kansas, Brigham Young and the University of Minnesota also had high pass rates

(Reuters) - Harvard Law School posted the highest first-time bar exam passage rate in 2021, at 99.4%. All but three of the school’s 540 J.D. graduates who took the attorney licensing test for the first time last year passed, according to new figures released this week by the American Bar Association.

New York University School of Law was not far behind with a first-time pass rate of 98.7%. Yale Law School had the third-highest pass rate at 98.14%. The University of Chicago Law School was next at 97.75% and Duke Law School rounded out the top five with a 97.21% first-time pass rate.

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The ABA releases detailed information on national bar exam results and pass rates at individual schools every spring. The first-time pass rate across all schools fell more than three percentage points from the previous year to 80% in 2021.

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Eight of the 15 schools with the highest first-time bar pass rates last year are among the so-called T-14 — the law schools ranked in the top 14 by U.S. News & World Report. One outlier was the University of Kansas School of Law, ranked No. 67 by U.S. News, which posted the 11th-highest first-time pass rate, at 95.92%. It had a first-time pass rate of 91% in 2020, according to the ABA.

Kansas law professor Lumen Mulligan attributed graduates' 2021 performance to the school’s revamped bar prep program, which emerged from an extensive 2015 review of its bar exam results and programming. He said the school developed a series of new approaches that it fully implemented by 2019, making the Class of 2021 the first to graduate with the overhauled program in place.

The program includes a diagnostic exam at the end of a student’s first year to gauge their knowledge of core subjects and continues after graduation with a free commercial bar exam review course. Mulligan said Kansas is one of a handful of law schools that cover the price of commercial bar prep — which can cost students thousands of dollars. Kansas law students may also take a bar exam preparation course for credit during the spring of their third year.

“I don’t know that every year we will hit 96%, but we sure hope to be in the 90s every year,” Mulligan said.

Read more:

Bar exam pass rate dropped last year for first-time testers

Does the bar exam cost too much? These law profs think so

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Reporting by Karen Sloan

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com