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How Hard Is The Bar Exam: State By State Analysis of Bar Exam Pass Rate

November 21, 2016
Posted by Jeff Kerr

For many law school grads around the United States, prepping for the Bar Exam is a long and arduous process that can lead to anxiety and stress. After three years of law school, there is no greater fear than failing the Bar. And yet, this examination is one of the most difficult tests its takers will ever encounter. On top of the stress over the difficulty of the Bar, prospective lawyers also have to decide in which state they ultimately want to practice law.

To ensure that all lawyers are prepared to practice law in their chosen jurisdiction, each state offers a separate exam to test competency and ability to succeed. While California’s exam has a reputation for being one of the toughest in the country, that doesn’t dissuade law school grads from sitting for the test. We looked at Bar Exam pass/fail rates across the country to identify trends. The CaseFleet team discovered some interesting findings about the states that produce the most lawyers each year, areas with the highest failure rates, and the parts of the country where the fewest number of residents are interested in practicing law.

Check out our findings below.


State with the Highest Bar Exam Pass Rate Each Year (2006-2015):

State with the Highest Bar Exam Pass Rate Each Year (2006-2015)

  • 2006 Montana 91%
  • 2007 Montana / Wisconsin tie 89%
  • 2008 Montana 91%
  • 2009 Wisconsin 89%
  • 2010 South dakota 94%
  • 2011 South dakota 94%
  • 2012 Montana 91%
  • 2013 Iowa 88%
  • 2014 Missouri 84%
  • 2015 Missouri 83%


Top 10 States with the Highest Bar Exam Pass Rate (2015):

States with the Highest Bar Exam Pass Rate (2015)

Insight: More prospective lawyers passed the bar exam in Missouri in 2015 than any other state in the country. With a pass rate of 83% Missourian bar exam takers squeaked by exam takers in Iowa by one percentage point.


Hardest Bar Exams: States with the Lowest Bar Exam Pass Rate (2015):

States with the Lowest Bar Exam Pass Rate (2015)

Insight: The Washington DC Bar Exam clobbered prospective lawyers in 2015. With a pass rate of just 42%, it was the lowest in the United States.


States with the Most Test Takers Per Capita (2015):

Most Test Takers per Capita.jpg

Insight: Considering how difficult the DC Bar Exam seems to be, a significantly large percentage of the total population elected to sit for the test in 2015. 0.08% of the 672K person region took the DC exam, though less than half of them passed.


States with the Fewest Test Takers Per Capita (2015):

States with the Fewest Test Takers Per Capita (2015)

Insight: Wisconsin and Kansas had the fewest residents interested in becoming lawyers in the state last year. Less than 0.01% of the Cheeseheads sat for the Bar Exam in 2015.


States that Produce the Most New Lawyers:

States that Produce the Most New Lawyers:

Insight: New York produced more newly minted lawyers than any other state last year. While this may not seem out of the ordinary considering there are 19 million people living in the state, California has double the population and yet produced 2,400 fewer lawyers in 2015.


States with the Greatest Number of Bar Exam Failures:

States with the Greatest Number of Bar Exam Failures:

Insight: In 2015, more than 7,300 prospective lawyers in California flunked the Bar Exam. Interestingly, the number of people who failed the Bar Exam in California was nearly identical to the number of test takers who successfully passed in NY.

No matter which state a law school grad opts to take the Bar Exam in, there is no denying it will be a difficult experience. However, based on stats alone, those who choose to sit for the exam in Washington, DC may feel slightly more daunted by the success rate than those who are taking the exam in Missouri.

Sitting for the bar in California may feel ominous due to the state’s high number of exam failures, but the important thing to remember is that it’s all relative. As long as you score above the curve and rank higher than a percentage of your peers, you’ll be a practicing lawyer in your region. Don’t let these stats dissuade you from practicing law where you most desire. Buckle down, study hard, and do your very best when you sit for the upcoming test. Learn more about how CaseFleet has helped lawyers from all over the nation with our legal case management software and visual timeline tool.