The Bar Exam and Bar Application—How to Figure It Out!


    As if law school isn’t hard enough, you also have to decide which bar exam to take and which state(s) to apply to for bar admission.  How do you begin the process?  A great starting point is the National Conference of Bar Examiners site.  This lists different multistate bar tests that states may require, and also has links to state bar authorities.  In most states a court sets bar admissions rules, so look for applicable court rules in addition to rules set by boards of bar examiners (the latter typically administer the bar exam). 

The bar application process and bar exam requirements are complicated–every state has its own rules for bar admission and requirements.  One size does not fit all!  And state rules often change.  The big take-away is to check the rules for the states that you are interested in early, and frequently.

 Some basic points to start the process:

  • Bar applications take time to fill out; they require a lot of detailed information: e.g., they may ask you to list every employer you have had, and every address at which you have lived.  You’ll also likely need recommendations to file with your application.  Start early in gathering information!  If the application for the bar you wish to apply to is unavailable, check the state bar examiners’ website to see if they have a prior version of the application to give you some idea what might be involved.  BUT NOTE that applications can change, so don’t rely on prior applications staying the same!!
  • Most states require the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a day-long multiple choice test. 
  • Most states have a day-long essay test in addition to the MBE.
  • Some states require additional tests, which can make the overall bar exam three days.
  • Most states also require a passing score on yet another multiple choice test, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Each state that requires this sets its own passing score.  NOTE that some states, including Massachusetts, require a passing score on the MPRE when you apply for bar admission (which happens during your third year of law school).  For those states, you need to allow enough time to receive the MPRE score, so you will need to take the MPRE during law school.
  • No matter which bar you apply to, both you and the law school must answer questions related to character and fitness.  These can be very detailed.  It is CRUCIAL to be forthcoming and honest in disclosing any issues related to character and fitness. 
  • State bars often have course, credit, and additional requirements related to your  law school study and/or non-law school study requirements.   For example, currently New York requires that applicants perform 50 hours of pro bono services before applying for admission to practice. Applicants seeking admission to practice in New York after January 1, 2015, must demonstrate compliance with this requirement.  Another example is a new Massachusetts bar requirement applicable to all persons newly licensed to practice law in Massachusetts on or after September 1, 2013.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court adopted Rule 3:16, which requires completion of a one-day Practicing with Professionalism Course” within 18 months of the date of your admission.  Thus, you may need to take specific courses/credits in law school, or complete outside programs, to meet state bar requirements.  Again, check and re-check the requirements for the states to which you are thinking of applying for bar admission!
  • Increasingly, bar authorities request a copy of your law school application to compare what you disclose to the bar with what you disclosed on your law school application related to disciplinary and criminal matters.  This can hold up your bar application if there is a discrepancy between the two (though note that some states, including Massachusetts, limit what schools can ask a law school applicant to disclose regarding criminal matters).
  • Some states’ rules make it possible for an applicant to take two bar exams during the same time period (e.g., Massachusetts and New York, currently).  Think carefully about whether to do this—it is intense and requires travel in a short time period. 
  • We strongly encourage you to take a commercial bar review course to prepare for the bar exam.  Please see our Law Financial Aid Office (13th floor) to discuss options for financing the bar application, bar exam, and bar review costs.

 What if you don’t know where you will practice?  Should you skip taking the bar exam? 
NO!  Employers  like to see that a candidate plans to take or has taken a bar exam, even if it is not the bar for that employer’s jurisdiction; that communicates a candidate’s commitment to practicing. Even if you aren’t sure you will practice, you don’t know what you will do down the road, so it’s better to be safe than regret later that you didn’t take a bar exam.  **Please consult with one of our CDO counselors, who can help you figure out which bar exam to take based on your plans and interests.**

What if I need disability accommodations for the bar exam and/or MPRE?
-State bar exams:
Every state has its own procedures and strict deadlines for requesting accomodations on the bar exam due to a disability.  Please check the requirements of the states in which you are interested in, and pay close attention to deadlines.  If you received accommodations while in law school, that does not guarantee accommodations on the bar exam!  If the bar requires a form or letter verifying accommodations received in law school, contact the Law Student Affairs’ Office.  (Note that for Massachusetts, BU Disability Services will need to complete part of the form because only that office knows the diagnosis, medical documentation supporting the accommodations, etc.).  

-MPRE:  Click here for accommodation information.

 For more detailed bar application/bar exam information, our office has planned two programs that we hope you’ll attend:

  • Tuesday, January 28, 4 p.m, Law Auditorium: A program on the bar exam, bar application process, character and fitness, and the MPRE.  CDO will discuss how to determine which bar to take when you’re not sure of your job plans; financial aid will discuss financing bar-related expenses.  (Aimed at 1Ls and 2Ls but open to all JDs).
  • Tuesday, February 11, 1-2 pm, Barristers Hall: Representatives from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners will be here to discuss the Massachusetts bar application and admissions process, and how to handle possible character and fitness disclosure issues.  (Aimed at 3Ls but open to other JDs).

 Also check out bar information on our website.

Feel free to seek out Dean Marx, Jill Collins and Brenda Hernandez with any questions.

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