There are several steps in each U.S. jurisdiction’s bar admissions process

Before you can practice law in any U.S state or jurisdiction, you must go through that state’s admissions process and pass that state’s bar exam. The bar admissions process is lengthy with several steps. We recommend that you start the state bar admissions process at least a year or more in advance of your anticipated bar exam date. Use this bar exam checklist to get started.

While each jurisdiction has its own admissions process and requirements, and we always recommend consulting your jurisdiction’s bar admission agency directly for the most current, specific information, here are the high-level steps to expect. You can also access the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.

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Take and pass the MPRE

The MPRE is the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, AKA the ethics exam. A passing MPRE score is required for admission to the bars of all but two U.S. jurisdictions — Wisconsin and Puerto Rico*.

Depending on your state or jurisdiction, you will be required to achieve a passing score on the MPRE within a specified time either prior to sitting or after passing the bar exam.

*Note: Connecticut and New Jersey will accept the successful completion of a professional responsibility law school course in lieu of a passing MPRE score.

Create a NCBE account

Your NCBE account comes with a unique NCBE number that you will need to take the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam). The MBE is a component of every state’s bar exam except Louisiana. Most create an NCBE account when registering for the MPRE. Here’s where to register with the NCBE.

Apply for the bar exam

You must complete an application to sit for your state’s bar exam. Each jurisdiction independently decides who may sit for their bar exam and who may be ultimately admitted. Several states also have other specific application requirements, and may also require an additional state law course or exam.

Pay attention to filing fees and deadlines. There’s typically a bar exam fee, on-motion application fee, character and fitness fee, laptop/software fee and more. Each jurisdiction is different.

The great news is that we compile all of the information that you need to know about the dates, format, subjects tested, deadlines, fees and more — for each U.S. jurisdiction — in the free BARBRI Bar Exam Digest that you can download here.

Complete the Character and Fitness Application

You will be required to submit the Character and Fitness Application. This is the ultimate background check to make sure you are morally fit for the practice of law. Some states require that you submit this application before you can take the bar exam and other states allow you to submit it afterward.

You will be asked to disclose details about your academic, work and financial history, as well as include references, any criminal record and civil proceedings. Candor is key. It can be an extensive process, so give yourself enough time to gather the required information. If you have previously submitted a Character and Fitness application, you may need to submit an update depending on your state’s requirements.

Submit notarized authorization and release (A&R) form

A notarized A&R provides character and fitness analysts the authority to perform a full background check on you. You’ll need to print this form and sign it in the presence of a notary. Depending on your state/jurisdiction, you can upload the A&R to your online account or mail it postmarked no later than the filing deadline for the bar exam. Your bar exam application will not be accepted without a signed and notarized A&R form.

Pass the bar exam

Finally, you’ll take and pass your state’s bar exam.

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Want a printable version of this list?

Click this button to get a handy printable version of these high-level bar admissions requirements for U.S. jurisdictions.

Foreign law graduates and lawyers 

For many U.S. states, you must have graduated with a J.D. degree from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school in the United States to sit for their exam; however, some states like New York and California operate a relatively open policy in permitting foreign law graduates or lawyers to sit their bar examination and do not impose restrictions to admission on grounds of nationality or residence.

Learn more here about the primary admissions requirements and steps for non-U.S. J.D. law graduates and lawyers.

Next steps

About the bar exam

Learn everything you need to know about the bar exam. 

About the MPRE

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam dates, scores and more.

Study for the bar exam

Bar exam learning strategies from BARBRI, the bar prep experts.

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