You may have heard references to the bar exam and know on a basic level that it’s something you have to take to become an attorney, but there’s more to it than that. Understanding the bar exam in more detail can be useful if you’re considering pursuing a career in law or even if you want to learn more about their background before hiring a lawyer for any reason.
Becoming a Lawyer
When someone is going to become a lawyer, they first have to hold educational credentials from a law school that meets certain standards. Then, they have to get a passing score on the bar examination.
Even before you go to law school, you have to get your undergraduate degree. Law schools like to see students who are well-rounded. As an undergraduate, you’re usually not required to study anything in particular. What that means is that you don’t have to study pre-law to be accepted into a law school.
You might base your undergraduate studies around what type of lawyer you hope to become. For example, if you want to work in intellectual property, you might consider studying something technical as an undergraduate, like engineering or physics.
State bar associations won’t let students without a bachelor’s degree take the bar.
Once you complete your undergraduate studies, you take the Law School Admissions Test or LSAT. All law schools require the LSAD for admissions, and a lot of schools put a significant amount of weight on the results.
Based on your undergraduate GPA and your score on your LSAT, you’ll decide where you’ll apply to law school.
According to the American Bar Association, law students must complete no less than 83 credit hours to graduate, and at least 64 of the hours must be in courses requiring attendance in regular classroom sessions or the receipt of direct instruction from faculty.
You can’t take more than 84 months to complete your 83 credit hours.
Then, before you can practice law, you have to pass the bar exam in the state where you want to practice.
Basics of the Bar Examination
The Board of Bar Examiners administers the bar exam in the state where you’re applying.
The specifics of the test can vary depending on your state, but the most common setup for the test is a two-day bar exam.
In a two-day format, there is the Multistate Bar Examination or MBE. This is a six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice exam. The exam covers constitutional law, contracts, torts, criminal law and procedure, evidence and real property, and civil procedure.
Other components of the two-day exam include:
- Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)—This part of the bar exam has six essay-format questions that cover things like constitutional law, criminal law, family law, and real property, along with other topics.
- State-specific essays—In some states, when you take the bar exam, there are state-specific essays or multiple-choice questions you’ll need to complete.
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT)—In this area of the bar exam, there are two skills questions, each of which is 90 minutes. You have to do analysis, reasoning, problem-solving, and consider ethical dilemmas for a certain legal task that you’re assigned.
- Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MRPE)—The format of this is multiple-choice, and it focuses on ethics.
Part of the bar exam also includes looking at your character and fitness as an applicant seeking your law license. Bar examiners will look up background information about applicants relevant to whether or not they should receive a professional credential.
There is a degree of harm that a lawyer can inflict, so decisions about who can practice law are taken seriously and made carefully by the bar exam boards of the state.
The boards of bar examiners will often hear from candidates in their final year of law school. Then, the bar exam is administered either at the end of February or the end of July. More applicants take the bar exam in the summer than the February dates because it comes after graduation dates.
The entire objective of the bar exam is to assess how well candidates can think like a lawyer and prove they have the minimum level of competency to practice law in their state.
The different parts of the exam count for different portions of your score. The Multistate Performance Test is weighted at 20% of your overall score, while the Multistate Essay Exam is 30%. The Multistate Bar Exam is weighted at 50% of your score.
What is the UBE?
The Uniform Bar Exam is what we talked about above. The UBE is the two-day exam, and it’s administered and scored by individual states. When you take the UBE, you also get a score that you can transfer to other jurisdictions within limits.
Three states first adopted the UBE in 2011, but now most states use it.
Every jurisdiction has its own minimum passing score.
It’s possible to transfer a UBE score to a state that has a lower requirement even if you didn’t pass it in the state where you took it.
Which State Exam Should You Take?
If you aren’t sure where you’re going to live or work, you may not know which state is best for you to take the bar exam.
You want to consider where you’re most likely to live and work but also other factors. For example, what’s the job market like for legal professionals in the various places where you’re thinking about taking the exam?
Do you have any professional contacts in a certain area, or would you have access to a mentor?
You do want to think about how a jurisdiction scores the exam and determines what a passing score is.
Another consideration is whether or not you’re even eligible for a state exam. Every jurisdiction makes independent decisions about who can sit for their bar exam, so don’t make any formal decisions until you find that out.
When someone is choosing an attorney, they need someone licensed to practice in their state. This indicates the person is upholding the standards and values of a legal professional who’s practicing.