Bar Exam – All you should Know

Students writing Bar Exam.

What is Bar Exam?

Bar Exam is A written examination administered by a state or an established licensing authority to test knowledge and skills that every lawyer should have before becoming licensed to practice law.

The bar exam is the final hurdle toward becoming a licensed attorney in the United States. Every jurisdiction administers a bar exam to test a candidate’s ability to think like a lawyer and prove that they have the “minimum competency” to practice law in that state.

You should become familiar with your state’s judicial system, as you will likely become quite involved in it as a lawyer.

Bar exam timing

The bar exam is offered twice per year – once in February and once in July – in most jurisdictions.  It is generally a two-day examination, although it lasts three days in some jurisdictions. Next California Bar exam is scheduled for July 26-27, 2022, and the exam will be administered in person.

However, Bar examinations are administered at the end of February and July, because there will be more applicants taking the summer test and it falls after graduation from law school. Some boards offer or require law student registration at an earlier point in law school.

While the bar exam has a well-deserved reputation for being hard, it’s important to remember that it is a pass/fail, minimum competency exam. Passing the bar exam requires a completely different mindset and preparation approach. To pass the bar, you don’t have to be great in any one area. You want to build a base of knowledge that is wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep.

Here’s the deal. The bar exam is hard. There is no “easy” way to pass the bar, no shortcut to get out of the difficult work you must do to pass your bar exam.

The national conference of bar examiners (NCBE)

NCBE maintains a list of bar exam pass rates and bar admission statistics categorized by state. These statistics list is;

  • The number of first-time test takers each administration.
  • The percentage of first time test takers who passed
  • The overall passing percentage rate for an administration.

In the United States, In most jurisdictions, the examination is two days long and consists of multiple-choice questions, essay questions, and “performance tests” that model certain kinds of legal writing. The main exceptions are Louisiana and Puerto Rico, which follow civil law systems unlike other parts of the United States. Depending on requirement of the state applicants may take any of the NCBE exams.

The NCBE exams

•  Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)

•             Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)

•             Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)

•             Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

•             Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Subjects covered on National bar exams

Constitutional law


 Criminal law and procedure


 Real property


 Business associations

 Conflict of laws

 Family law

 Federal civil procedure

 State civil procedure

 Trusts and estates– Decedents’ Estates; Trusts and Future Interests

 Uniform Commercial Code– Article 9, Secured Transactions

 Professional responsibility

When you pass your state’s bar examination, you will be formally inducted into the state bar. This can be done privately, in judges’ chambers, but it is often conducted as a formal ceremony, in which you may choose to take the oath in front of family and friends.

Before the Bar Exam

Bar Exam Admission

Earning a degree from a law school (or, more rarely, apprenticeship in a law office) is a prerequisite for taking the bar exam. Most law school graduates studies vigorously (called “bar review”) between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar.

The process usually involves:

To clarify, the admission process may vary significantly from state to state. It involves the following steps:

•             Applying to sit for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and taking the MPRE;

•             Applying to sit for the bar exam and taking the bar exam; and

•             Completing your state’s character and fitness process and any additional admission prerequisites.

LL.M.(Masters in Law) students should make sure that they are eligible to take that state’s bar exam. Applicants should file the requisite evaluation request (such as the Online Foreign Evaluation required by the New York State Board of Law Examiners) and designated official documents sufficiently in advance of the applicable bar exam date.

Because procedures vary by state, you will not receive emails from HLS about upcoming deadlines, but there are a number of resources available to help you navigate the process.

It is important that you routinely check your state’s bar admission page, as deadlines and requirements may change throughout the year and state committees are not flexible about waiving requirements.

Each year the Dean of Students Office co-sponsors a number of information sessions on the bar exam that cover both the application process and character & fitness processes. Speakers generally include representatives from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and some of the major bar preparation companies.

Getting bar admission while still searching for job.

Generally, you should contact your employer to confirm the jurisdiction to which they would like you to be admitted.

So, if you haven’t secured a job by the time bar registration deadlines roll around, you should sign up for the bar in the jurisdiction in which you are focusing your job search. This is quite common for students seeking public interest positions, for which the job search can extend into the spring. Carefully monitor the bar deadlines of any state you are considering working in and meet with an OPIA or OCS advisor to discuss your unique situation.

Which state bar exam should I take?

Note that for LL.M. students, eligibility to sit for a particular bar exam varies by state.

How you should choose a state bar exam particularly if you’re currently still on the job hunt. Here are some considerations to help with your decision:

Location — when considering state bar exams, research and target where you would most like to live and work. Do you have the support you may need or want (nearby) to help in pursuing your goals?  Do you potentially want to go back to your hometown?

Legal industry — what does the legal job market look like in the states you are considering? Is the legal specialization of your choice available in that region of the country?

Professional network — what professional contacts have you made? Does your law school have an alumni network that would allow you to pursue your goals? Do you have access to mentors in that state?

Bar exam scoring & reciprocity — each jurisdiction independently determines their exam passing score and reciprocity or portability. Knowing the bar exam score required and where else you may be able to “waive in” with that score may help open many options by passing one exam.

Bar admission requirements — examine the state bar exam subjects tested, the exam’s format, CLE requirements and fees associated with maintaining good standing.

Eligibility — Are you eligible to sit for that state’s exam? Each jurisdiction independently decides who may sit for their bar exam and who may be ultimately admitted.


Applications are now available in the Applicant portal, that is, the portal of the state bar which you seek admission..

How to apply:

1.            Log onto your Applicant Portal.

2.            From the menu options, click ‘View Forms.’

3.            Under the Examinations menu, select the relevant state bar, for instance, ‘California Bar Examination Application.’

4.            To begin the application process, click ‘Launch Application.’

Once all the application sections are completed, go to the Verification screen and click the ‘submit’ button. You will be prompted to sign a declaration form and submit payment. You will receive a confirmation email once you have successfully submitted the application.

Preparing for Bar Exam

Preparing for the exam may take month.

Character and Fitness

Bar examiners seek background information concerning each applicant that is relevant to the appropriateness of granting a professional credential. Decisions about who should be admitted to practice law are made carefully by bar examining boards, because law is a public profession and the degree of harm a lawyer, once licensed, can inflict is substantial. In addition to examinations, each applicant is required to produce evidence that they are a person of honest demeanor and good moral character, possessing the requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney at law.

While character and fitness disclosures vary by state, you should be prepared to list specifics of every place you have lived since you turned 18, every job you have held (with contacts to confirm employment), ‘every speeding ticket, any disciplinary action in school, and any arrest or criminal charge as well as full details of the incident. Please start assembling the documents months in advance of your application due date because the process can be time-consuming. If you are concerned about how to disclose a certain piece of information, you can contact the Dean of Students Office or Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers.

Moreover, in the case where a character & fitness application requires a certification from the Dean of the Law School, this form should be forwarded to the Registrar’s Office.

Many states require a set of fingerprints for the character & fitness review process.  The Harvard University Police Department will provide fingerprinting services.

The American Bar Association, ABA, compiled and maintains a list of state and local bar associations to which you might consider applying for membership. The list breaks down the MCLE requirements by state. It usually requires taking a certain number of courses and earning a certain number of credits each year.

The list consists of the following;

Specialty bar associations

The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification provides certification for specializations in security disability advocacy and civil trial law advocacy, as well as in criminal, civil and family law. This and other certification organizations that offer specialty certifications require that you have a minimum number of years of legal experience and pass an examination. Most certifications also require that you become re-certified after a period of time. 

Minority bar associations

The ABA compiled a list of minority bar associations throughout the United States. Other bar associations or lawyer associations may revolve around specializations including trial law, criminal law, criminal defense law, environmental law, intellectual property law, and bankruptcy law.


For a variety of reasons, some students choose to apply for bar admission to two different states immediately after graduation. Processes such as “bar reciprocity,” “waiving in,” or “admission on motion” refer to a state bar admitting an attorney under a more streamlined procedure based on their membership in another state’s bar. Some states, including California and Florida, do not allow such a procedure, and require practicing attorneys to sit for the bar exam in their state instead.

Some states allow you to transfer your bar exam score from one state to another, with some additional state-specific requirements.

However, Bar exam score transfer is commonly used by students and junior attorneys who have not practiced law for the number of years that a particular state requires for admission.

In addition, some state bar examiners will accept Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) scores from a concurrent exam. This means that applicants will sit for three consecutive days of exams: one day for the MBE, and one day for each of the two states.

For states that permit bar reciprocity or admission on motion, requirements for waiving into a particular jurisdiction vary widely but often include a requirement that an attorney should practice for a certain number of years.


Military spouse attorneys may be able to apply for a temporary permit to practice while in a state on military orders without needing to take an additional bar exam. Make sure to check with your employer about their expectations surrounding jurisdiction and timeline

Payment policies

The applicant’s fees for state Bar examination(s) is being paid directly to the administering agency. It’s usually the state’s law examiners or bar examiners. If your state does not require that you pass the MPRE, it may mandate that you take and pass a professionalism course.

Credit and debit card payments: 

For credit or debit card payments, a processing fee of 2.5 percent will be added to all charges. If your credit or debit card transaction is denied, you will not be able to submit your application until you provide another MasterCard, Visa, American Express, or Discover card.

ACH (e-check) Payment: 

You may also make payments by ACH. There are no processing fees associated with ACH payments. You will need your Bank Routing Number and Bank Account Number. It takes seven days for ACH payments to be processed by the bank processor. If within that seven days a payment is returned for insufficient funds or declined for any reason, your application will be considered incomplete until a replacement payment with any service charges are received.

All declined payments will incur a $20 service charge added to any late fees in effect. The application deadline is enforced when payment is not received within the deadlines given.

After the bar

What’s next after passing the Bar?

You’ve made it! You’re now a full-fledged, licensed attorney and member of your state’s bar! Congratulations! However, in order to maintain your law license and bar admission status, you must complete the following;

Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

Most state bars require licensed attorneys to complete yearly CLE credits in order to remain in good standing. CLE requirements vary greatly by state. So it is important to consult your state bar association to ensure that you successfully complete the mandatory coursework.

For example, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court requires that all attorneys licensed after September 1, 2013. complete a one-day Professionalism Course within 18 months of admission.

Changing Your Resume, LinkedIn, and Other Signatures or Accounts

Once you have graduated from the law school and submitted your application to the Bar, the proper resume designation for your Bar status is “Application Pending”. Once you have passed the exam and the character & fitness review or interview, your status may be designated “Admission Pending”. Previously, bar examiners requires that candidates should change the language on their resumes and LinkedIn accounts approving their application and admission to the Bar. Candor with employers, potential employers, and clients about your bar admission status is paramount.

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