Bar Exam Options

[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

Do you know what your bar exam options are? As 3L’s, the bar exam is an unfortunate reality that we’re going to have to face relatively soon. That means it’s time to get informed on what your options are when it comes to the bar.

Though you’ve likely already heard the buzz about prep courses, there are more bar exam options than just that one factor. So let’s walk through it together!

Bar Registration Requirements

Before you can consider writing the bar exam you need to satisfy certain requirements, varying by state, to become eligible to sit for the bar.

Generally, states require applicants to hold an accredited JD or comparable LLM degree; a passing score on the MPRE; completion of a designated number of pro-bono hours; and a passing character and fitness test.

If you anticipate having problems in any of these areas you need to meet with a counselor at your school immediately to ensure you’ll be able to write your desired bar exam.

Bar Offerings

In the United States, the bar exam is offered twice a year, once in February and once in July. The exams themselves last for between two and three days, with the format varying according to the state and exam type.

The majority of law students take the July bar exam, allowing them to begin work in the Fall. However, if working as an attorney right away is not of pressing concern to you, then you can extend your study time by registering for the February bar exam.

Notably, individuals who fail the July bar exam will generally be permitted to remain with their employer while studying for the February bar exam. Many bar prep courses also allow you to take the course for free again if you fail the bar exam. But let’s not think too much about failing, because we’re all going to pass!

Single-State vs. Multi-State Bar Exams

We title it the “bar exam” when really there are a number of different exams available to you.

The most obvious choice you’ll need to make is what state(s) you want to be qualified within. If you, and your employer, are focused on a single state, then you can register for that state’s bar exam and no others.

However, if you’re unsure where you’ll be working, or plan to set up office in two or more states, you’ll need to register for multiple state bar exams. This, of course, means you’ll need to do extra studying to learn the local laws of each state.

State Bar vs. Universal Bar Exam (UBE)

One way to cut down your study load if you’re interested in sitting for multiple state bar exams is to take advantage of the UBE.

Though the name says it’s universal, there are some states who’ve yet to adopt the UBE. You’ll need to check to see if the UBE covers the states that you’re interested in.

If you find yourself interested in the UBE then you should set a reminder to read my upcoming blog post on November 6th, where I’ll discuss the UBE in more depth.

Reciprocity & Challenging the Bar

Many states have reciprocity with each other, meaning you may be able to qualify in more states than the just the one whose bar you sat for. With the UBE reciprocity is generally immediate, provided your score meets the eligibility guidelines. Without the UBE, you often have to practice for a certain amount of time before challenging the target state’s bar exam.

This reciprocity/challenge capacity also applies towards certain foreign bar exams, like Canada’s for example.

International Bar Exams

Speaking of foreign bar exams, just because you’re studying in the United States doesn’t necessarily mean you’re planning, or able to work in the States. If this is the case for you, then you’ll need to start considering what foreign bar exams you want to, and are eligible to sit for, and what their requirements are.

As noted above, passing a United States bar and/or practicing in the United States for a period of time may qualify you to challenge certain foreign bar exams. This can be especially beneficial if you’re planning to work in the United States, but want to have a practice in your home country, or want to benefit a firm with international offices.

The Curve & Bar Prep Courses

If you’re planning to sit for the United States bar, including the UBE, then it’s important that you realize the bar is curved – let the 1L flashbacks proceed. Passing the bar exam requires both knowledge and tactic. You can’t ace every section, instead you need to focus on acing the sections you’re strongest at, and those that are worth the most, to keep yourself at, or above, the average.

With the curve factor, it’s imperative that you study hard and efficiently, which means you need to choose the best bar prep course for you. You may have been able to study for the LSAT on your own and pass, but it’s incredibly difficult to do the same with the bar exam. Nearly all law students across the country register in a prep course to maximize their chances of success.

There are a number of bar courses available, and you should carefully choose which one will be best for you – your success likely depends on it. With that said, BARBRI’s bar prep course offers a high passing rate (with 9/10 students passing the bar) and is an immensely popular choice amongst firms and law students across the country.

Unlike many prep courses, BARBRI offers a unique pass predictor. They apply a curve of sorts to predict where you’ll fall based on your practice test scores. BARBRI also uses ISAAC, a system that adjusts to you as the course develops so you can get the most out of your studying sessions. This may sound daunting, but it is useful considering the reality of the curve on the actual bar exam.

Finally, if you register for BARBRI’s prep course before November 1st you’ll not only receive access to the 2L and 3L mastery packages, but you’ll also receive a $100 Amazon gift card (use Promo Code: OCT100) if you’re paying for yourself, or a $500 Amazon gift card if your firm is footing the bill.

Payment Options

Once you’ve settled on a bar prep course, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to pay for it. Likewise, you’ll want to determine how you’re paying for all other bar exam-related expenses.

For those headed to law firms, it’s common for firms to cover both the bar prep course and bar related expenses. If you’re uncertain whether your employer offers this, reach out early to ask.

If your firm is footing the bill, you still need to find out what their process is. For instance, some firms auto-enroll you in a bar course; others allow you to choose but pay for it themselves; and still, others reimburse you for your bar course when they reimburse you for your other bar-related expenses.

If your employer doesn’t cover bar-related expenses then you’ll have to cover them yourself. If money is an issue, look into payment plans for your bar prep course, and scholarship programs that provide funding for bar prep courses. Your school likely has information on these programs.

Studying Options

With your bar course paid for and at your disposal, it’s time to consider how, and where you’re going to study. The most pressing issue at this point is likely the where.

Many students remain in their law school apartments throughout the summer so they can study near campus. Others seek the comfort of home and move back into their childhood bedrooms. Still, others decide they want to settle into their new lives and immediately move to the city where they’ll be working.

You’ll want to decide what option is best for you early so you can arrange to extend, terminate or handover your lease, and/or find accommodations elsewhere.

One thing you may want to consider when determining where you want to live is how you plan to study. For instance, if you plan to partially study in a group then you’ll want to live near your group members.

The main takeaway is that the bar exam is more than just what prep course you take. There’s a lot you need to consider to ensure you succeed.

Ultimately, what’s best for someone else may not be the best thing for you. Make sure you make your bar related choices based on your own personality and needs, and not what everyone around you is doing. After all, passing the bar is the last hurdle before we can officially call ourselves lawyers!