Does the Bar Exam Protect the Public?

79 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2020 Last revised: 20 Sep 2021

Date Written: August 22, 2021


I study the effects of requiring lawyers to pass the bar exam on whether they are later publicly disciplined for misconduct. In the 1980s, four states began to require graduates from all law schools to pass the bar exam by abolishing what is known as a diploma privilege. My research design exploits these events to estimate the effect of the bar passage requirement on the share of lawyers who receive public sanctions by state discipline bodies. I find that lawyers licensed without a bar passage requirement receive public sanctions at similar rates to lawyers licensed after passing a bar exam for the first decade of their careers, but small differences begin to emerge after a decade, and larger but modest differences emerge after two decades.

Keywords: Occupational Licensing, Legal Profession, Professional Discipline, Bar Exam

JEL Classification: J44, K42, J48, K23, M53

Suggested Citation

Rozema, Kyle, Does the Bar Exam Protect the Public? (August 22, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Kyle Rozema (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States


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