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What is the Bar Exam?

When domestic or international lawyers want to practice law in a US state, they have to pass that state's Bar Exam. Each US state has a particular courts system and set of rules regarding Bar Exams, therefore the process can vary depending on where a lawyer wishes to practice. Once a lawyer passes the exam they are considered to be members of that state’s bar. Generally the evaluation is only valid in one state; there are reciprocal arrangements whereby attorneys can move between states, but this is regulated in different ways across the US.

US Bar Exam

Do I need to take the Bar Exam?

If you want to prove you have the aptitude and competence to practice law in the US, then it’s vital to take the Bar Exam. Your professional fitness will be confirmed and you’ll have the opportunity to further your career significantly. Indeed, many US attorneys choose to take Bar Exams in multiple states to broaden their client base, or work across nearby borders.

What does taking the Bar Exam involve?

In the majority of states, taking a Bar Exam is a five-step process.

1. Firstly you have to register as a law student and get a registration number, you’ll need to use it in all further contact with the Bar of your choice. Each state’s Bar has an individual website which will have all the relevant information to help with your application.

2. Step number two is probably the most complex of all. The Moral Character application will require information about your secondary or high school performance and a number of more recent references. Known as the Moral Character and Fitness application, this should be completed around 10 months before you intend to start practicing law. During this stage, your current or previous employers and friends will be called upon to vouch for your good character in a confidential questionnaire, and your law school will be asked for certificates of good standing to support you. Some states also request fingerprint and driver’s record clearances.

3. Third is the Bar Exam Application which should be filed online through the bar website. In most states once this is received the Bar will confirm you are eligible for entry, then send a Law School Certificate to their Office of the Registrar for it to be verified. Once you have been confirmed as a JD degree applicant, the next part of the process can begin. However, you can only become certified when your grades have all been confirmed for your final semester.

4. Fourthly, 56 jurisdictions in the US require their Bar Exam candidates to take a Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam or MPRE. Created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and first introduced in 1980, this short, 20 minute exam, consists of 60 multiple-choice questions, designed to test the professional conduct of a lawyer. The MPRE is usually held three times a year and eligible students can take it in their second or third year of university.

5. Finally, students take the actual Bar Exam, which is divided up, into three parts by most states. The Multistate Bar Examination section covers Torts, Contracts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Real Property, Criminal law and Procedure, Constitutional law, and Federal Rules of Evidence – seven of the principle elements of law. Students have three hours to complete the first 100 questions and then are given a break, after this they complete the final 100 questions in the same time frame. Secondly, students pick three essay titles from a choice of nine to demonstrate their analytical and communication skills. The subjects can range from Family Law, to Estates and Probate, or Business Law. In the final test, candidates are given a set of case notes and are called upon to prepare a memo or briefing in the style of a professional lawyer.

How does the Bar Exam vary between states?

Many states have evolved different methods of administering the Bar Exam and its various elements. For example, in New Jersey and Connecticut, the MPRE is not required if a student gained a C or higher in Professional Ethics at law school. California has its own registered law schools and the student’s first year examination is called the Baby Bar, after which they continue with their JD program. Furthermore, the eligibility of LLM and international students to sit a Bar Exam is different in each jurisdiction, so check with the state you hope to pursue a career in before applying.

Can an LLM help you pass the Bar Exam?

In some states, an LLM in addition to your international undergraduate law degree is enough to be eligible to sit the Bar Exam. These states are California, New York, Washington, Wisconsin and Georgia and they each have different additional requirements. The best place to start the process of researching to sit the Bar Exam in a specific state in the US is the National Conference of the Bar Examiners. Their website will keep you informed of the deadlines as they come up for different parts of the application and will also keep you informed on new legal issues as they arise in the US.

LLMs with specific Bar-preparation tracks

The states that allow in international lawyers to sit the Bar Exam usually require them to complete at least another qualification such as a certificate in English Common Law or legal practice in the US. Some LLM programs in the US include Bar Exam preparation tracks to get you ready to pass the Bar Exam in that state. These often involve extra study and classes during the summer after you have completed the LLM, such as the University of Chicago's LLM program. Their LLM program includes topics such as Ethics for Transactional Lawyers, Modern Professional Responsibility, and Professional Responsibility and the Legal Profession.

Some states do not accept foreign-trained lawyers

Several US states do not accept any form of foreign-trained lawyer to sit the Bar Exam. If you wish to work in a state that has such a regulation, then you will need to undertake the undergraduate JD degree instead which takes three years to complete


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