Legal Ed icon  Law School applications and enrollment

In 2022, for the first time in the past five years, enrollment dipped slightly at the 196 U.S. law schools accredited by the American Bar Association.


The number of students pursuing juris doctor degrees in 2022 stood at 116,723 – a decline of 778 students, or 0.7%, from the previous year. This was caused mainly by a drop in the number of new students. Law schools reported that 38,020 students began JD studies in 2022, a drop of 4,698 students, or 11%, from the previous year.


The total number of JD students peaked in 2010 at 147,525, then dropped for several straight years before starting to rise again in 2018.


An additional 24,134 students in 2022 were in non-JD programs in U.S. law schools, pursuing masters of law and other degrees, as well as certificates. Participation in these non-JD programs has boomed in recent years, doubling since 2014, when there were 11,973 students.


The number of law school applicants dropped 12% in 2022 to 62,545, according to the Law School Admission Council. This countered a sharp 12% rise the year before, so the number of applicants in 2022 returned to levels in 2019 and 2020.


The peak year for law school applicants was 2004, when more than 100,000 people applied to ABA-accredited law schools.


Roughly two-thirds of all applicants (69.7%) were accepted to at least one law school. The acceptance rate rose a bit from 68.3% in 2021.

• The average law school applicant applies to nearly seven law schools – 6.9 per student, to be exact.
Legal Ed icon  Why law school?
• Asian and Black students were more likely to delay law school (73% and 71%) than Hispanic and white students (69% and 64%).

• Students with higher LSAT scores were more likely to delay law school (74%) than students with lower scores (58%).

More students pursue law degrees because of their interest in public service than for high salaries, according to a 2018 national survey, “Before the JD,” conducted by the Association of American Law Schools and co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

The survey evaluated responses from 22,189 undergraduates at 25 four-year institutions and from 2,727 first-year law students at 44 law schools.

The most commonly cited reasons for attending law school were as a path to careers in politics, government or public service (44%); a passion for that type of work (42%); an opportunity to be helpful (35%), and to advocate for social change (32%). About 1 in 3 students (31%) said they were motivated by access to high-paying jobs.

Most students did not enter law school immediately after college. Two-thirds (65%) delayed law school for a year or more, compared to 1 in 3 (35%) who enrolled directly after college. Of those who postponed law school, just over half (53%) waited three years or more after getting their undergraduate degree.

More than half (55%) of the law students reported that they first considered going to law school before their first year of college. Roughly one-third (35%) first considered pursuing law school before high school.  

When did student enroll in law school? 35%: immediately after undergraduate degree, 65%: took time off after undergraduate degree
Legal Ed icon  Law school demographics - gender

The gender gap at ABA-accredited law schools widened yet again in 2022. For the sixth straight year, most students pursuing a juris doctor degree were women – 55.7%.

The number of male students at the 196 ABA-accredited law schools has dropped every year for the past 12 years – from 78,516 in 2010 to 50,969 in 2022. Meanwhile, the number of female students has increased each of the past six years – from 55,766 in 2016 to 65,073 in 2022.


That means there were 14,000 more women than men in accredited law schools in 2022.

For decades, law school students were overwhelmingly white and male, but the gender gap began to narrow markedly after 1970. That year, 91% of all law students were men. The gap came close to vanishing in 2001 and 2002, when women were 49%.


In 2014, for the first time, there were more first-year female students than male students. Two years later, in 2016, women made up a majority of all law students at ABA-accredited schools for the first time. That year, 50.3% of all students pursuing JD degrees were female. 


For the 2022-23 academic year, 116,042 JD students identified as male or female. Another 358 said they were neither gender and 324 preferred not to identify their gender.

Legal Ed icon  Law school demographics - race and ethnicity

Law school classes have gradually become more diverse by race and ethnicity. In 2012, 27% of all law students classified themselves as students of color. A decade later, in 2022, one-third of all students pursuing a juris doctor degree (33%) were students of color.


The demographic change is more dramatic when considering first-year law students over the past four decades. In 1978, students of color occupied just 9% of all first-year law school seats. In 2022, that number was nearly four times larger: 35%.


Among all law students in 2022, 13.7% were Hispanic, 7.8% Black, 7% Asian American, 4% mixed race and 0.4% Native American. An additional 6.4% were classified as race unknown.

Legal Ed icon  Law school demographics - individual schools
Highest ratio of men to women: Univ of Idaho 57%, Highest ration of women to men: Northeastern 72%
Number of law schools where
women outnumber men


Northeastern, Howard, North Carolina Central, Florida A&M, American

Law schools* with the
highest percentage
of students of color:


Howard 97%
Texas Southern 88%
St. Thomas of Florida 79%


* Law schools outside of Puerto Rico
Law schools with the
smallest percentage
of students of color:


West Virginia 9%
Northern Kentucky 10%
Drake 13%

Number of law schools where
women outnumber men:


Number of law schools where
men outnumber women:


Number of law schools exactly
50-50 male-female:


159 men, 159 women, University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law
Legal Ed icon  Employment after graduation

Unemployment among new law school graduates remained at the lowest level in at least a decade in 2022, according to data compiled by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.


For the law school Class of 2022, unemployment 10 months after graduation remained at 5.3%, the same as the previous year. Since peaking at 11.2% in 2013, unemployment among new law school graduates has declined steadily, except for a one-year blip when unemployment rose to 8.3% for the Class of 2020. That was the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Meanwhile, the number of new graduates joining law firms right after graduation is higher than ever: 52% for the Class of 2022. That number has been climbing steadily over the past decade. For the Class of 2012, it was just 39%.


On the other hand, the number of new law graduates getting jobs in the business sector has been falling. For the Class of 2014, more than 15% worked in businesses soon after graduation. For the Class of 2022, it was just 9% – the lowest in at least a decade.


In almost every other sector, the numbers held roughly steady. For example, 1 in 10 graduates from the Class of 2022 (10%) took government jobs. It was the same a decade ago.


For several years, judicial clerkships have grown more popular as first jobs out of law school, but that number has recently declined somewhat. For the Class of 2022, 9% took clerkships, compared with 10% in 2019.


Meanwhile, the number of graduates who went into solo practice straight out of law school continued to decline. Just one-half of 1% of all 2022 grads (0.5%) took the solo route. A decade ago, 2.3% of the Class of 2012 practiced solo – a small number but four times the current rate.

Legal Ed icon  Bar passage rates

The national bar exam passage rate dipped for the second year in a row in 2022, after two straight years of increasing, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which develops the test and collects data from the states.

Among first-time test-takers, nearly 3 out of 4 (72%) passed the bar exam in 2022. The passage rate has been somewhat steady since 2014, fluctuating between a low of 69% in 2016 and 2018, and a high of 76% in 2020. The highest passage rate in recent years was 82% in 2008. 

The number of people taking the exam for the first time remained relatively stable in 2022, dipping less than 1% from the year before. In all, 44,771 took the exam for the first time in 2022. It was significantly higher – 50,016 – just a few years earlier, in 2016.

As usual, there was a large difference in passage rates between first-time test-takers and repeat test-takers in 2022. Among first-timers, 72% passed the bar exam. Among those repeating the exam, only 28% passed. In 2022, more than twice as many individuals took the test for the first-time as those repeating the exam (44,771 versus 18,180).

Passage rates also varied widely based on where test-takers learned the law. The passage rate for all test-takers from ABA-accredited schools – including those taking the test for the first time as those repeating it– was 64% in 2022. Just 20% of students who attended non-accredited law schools passed the bar.

There was also a significant difference in passage rates across the 50 states. In 2022, Utah had the highest passage rate among first-time test-takers at 89%. Rhode Island had the lowest passage rate at 58%.

State size doesn’t seem to have any relation to passage rates. New York, with more than 9,000 first-time bar exam takers, the most in the country, had a passage rate of 73% -- nearly equal to the national rate of 72%. But California, second in the nation with more than 6,000 first-time test-takers, had one of the lowest passage rates at 64%.



• The vast majority of all test-takers in 2022 (84%) went to ABA-accredited law schools.

• Fifty-eight people who took the bar exam in 2022 skipped law school and studied at law offices, which is allowed in a few states. Most of them (40) were from Washington state. Nationwide, just 38% of those who studied in law offices passed the exam. (California did not report data in this category.)
States with highest and lowest passing rates among first-time test-takers: 2022


Legal Ed icon  Bar passage rates - race, ethnicity and gender

To comply with ABA standards, a law school must show that three-quarters of its graduating class passes the bar exam within two years of graduation. In the most recent study, white test-takers in 2022 were more likely to pass than test-takers of other races and ethnicities, according to the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Among white graduates taking the exam for the first time, 83% passed in 2022. By comparison, 75% of Asian first-time test-takers passed, 69% of Hispanics, 60% of Native Americans and 57% of Blacks. Among all first-time test-takers of color, the passage rate was 68%.

The gap narrows over time. For the Class of 2020, 94% of white test-takers ultimately passed the exam within two years of graduation, as did 81% of Blacks, 88% of Hispanics, 89% of Asians and 80% of Native Americans.

There was a small difference in bar passage rates between men and women in 2022: 79.6% of men passed the exam on the first try, as did 77.1% of women.

Legal Ed icon  Law school debt

Many new lawyers postpone major life decisions like marriage, having children and buying houses, or reject them outright, because they carry huge student loan debts. Those debts make many young lawyers anxious, depressed and regretful.

Those are the conclusions of a 2021 survey by the ABA Young Lawyers Division and AccessLex. The survey of more than 1,300 new lawyers – most in their 20s and 30s – showed that student loan debt forces the newest generation of lawyers to make major financial, personal and career sacrifices. 

Nearly all law school graduates are affected. More than 90% of the lawyers surveyed took out law school loans. Their average total education debt upon graduation – money owed from law school, undergraduate school and other education expenses – was $120,000. 

For many young lawyers, student debt actually increases over time. More than a quarter (27%) said they have more debt now than when they graduated from law school. The median current debt at the time of the survey was $100,000.


Participants said heavy student loan debt affected virtually every aspect of their lives, including:

Having children: More than one-third (39%) said they postponed or decided not to have children because of their debts. That was especially true for Asian lawyers (48%) and white lawyers (42%).

Getting married: More than 1 in 4 (27%) said they postponed or decided not to get married because of their debts. That was especially true for white and Asian lawyers (both 39%).

Housing: More than half (52%) said they postponed or decided not to buy a house because of their debts. That was especially true for Asian lawyers (64%) and Black lawyers (60%).

Transportation: Nearly one-third (31%) said they postponed or decided not to buy a car because of their debt. That was especially true for Hispanic lawyers (35%).

Career: More than half (55%) said salary factored more heavily in their job selection than they anticipated when they began law school. One-third (33%) said they took a job that is less focused on public service or doing good than they intended when they began law school because of debt.


The survey also found that student loan debt is hurting the mental health of young lawyers. Among the survey’s findings:

• Nearly two-thirds (65%) said student loan debts made them feel anxious or stressed in the last month.

• More than half (53%) felt regretful or guilty.

• Nearly half (44%) felt depressed or hopeless.

•Nearly two-thirds (65%) said they felt overwhelming or high stress about their personal finances in general.


In spite of the findings, a strong majority (61%) said they would still get a J.D. degree knowing what they know now, and most (55%) said they would attend the same law school. However, less than half (47%) agreed with the statement “My law school education was worth the cost.” And only 1 in 5 (22%) said they were happy with the loan counseling they received before graduation.

Download the ABA Profile of the Legal Profession in .pdf format