You need to understand bar exam requirements before committing to become a lawyer. Just because you have graduated from law school and obtained your juris doctorate degree does not mean that you can immediately start practicing law. The summer after graduation from law school you will be preparing for the bar exam.
To explain bar exam requirements and lawyer licensing as simply as possible; every state in the United States has certain licensing requirements for attorneys in their respective state. If you do not meet the requirements for a certain state you will not be allowed to practice law in that state.
Here are the top seven things you should know about bar exam requirements and licensing of lawyers in the United States.
1) Application – You will be required to submit an application to each state you are seeking admittance. The application covers comprehensive information of your back ground including but not limited to basic information, where you have lived throughout your entire life, and information/contact information for every past employer. Generally you can only apply to a maximum of two states at once for reasons I will explain below.
2) Recommendations – Similarly to applying to law school, you will most likely be required to produce recommendations from people who know you, or employers who can verify your high character and the fact that you would be an upstanding lawyer.
3) Bar exam – The term “Bar Exam” and "Bar Exam Requirements" are really all-encompassing terms for all of the written tests you will have to take for admittance to a state bar. Generally, all states require that you take the Multistate Bar Exam (“MBE”) which is a 6 hour long multiple choice test concerning subject matter that you cover in your first year of law school. This test is the same for every state, and can be compared to the SAT or the LSAT you have previously taken.
The second part to every bar exam is the Essay Section. This is another 6 hour test where you have to answer questions in essay form. The essay section is state specific, i.e. here is where each state will give a different test (be advised some states are now adopting the MBE which is a general test and not state specific). The form and subject matter of the essays will differ for each state.
Finally, depending on the jurisdiction you may or may not be required to take two additional 2 hour tests (one of which concerns analytical skills and the other concerns attorney ethics).
Generally, you can only take two bar exams at most because of scheduling that looks like this…
Day 1= Essays for state #1.
Day 2 = MBE, (Your MBE score gets applied to both states.)
Day 3 = Essays for state #2.
Thus, if you are sitting for two bar exams, you would be sitting for three days in a row 6 hours each day.
4) Character and fitness – Lawyers are in a unique position of trust, and often have the ability to take advantage of others, which is why the state bars attempt to ensure that only those individuals with high character are granted a license to practice law. If you have a criminal past and have been found guilty of certain crimes (especially those that concern fraud or dishonesty) you may find yourself in a position where you have graduated from law school, applied and sat for the bar exam, only to be denied your law license.
As a general rule crimes up to DUIs pre law school will be written off as immaturity… any crimes committed during your law school career are much more harshly judged. I would advise that if you have legal issues that are serious (DUI and above), you should contact the character and fitness department of the bar admissions council for the states you desire to practice law.
Submit a request (pre law school) for advice as to whether or not you would be prohibited from practicing law, and make sure you get a response in writing.
5) Reciprocity – remember that just because you are admitted to one state bar does not mean that you will be permitted to practice in all states. In fact you will only be allowed to practice law in the state in which you have been admitted.
To be admitted into other states you will again have to take that state’s bar examination and will be subject to that state’s bar exam requirements. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some states allow reciprocity, which means that if you are an experienced lawyer in good standing, you may be permitted to waive into the new state without sitting for the bar examination.
Be advised however that not all states have this, and some do not allow reciprocity for other states.
6) Interview – Certain jurisdictions will require that you complete an interview with someone from the state’s bar admissions. This is usually a formality, unless you have some criminal history or other problems that the bar administrator wants to address.
7) Swearing in ceremony – finally, once you have passed all written examinations, as well as the character and fitness test, completed an interview, you will most likely be required to appear in court (or before a judge) and be sworn in to the bar. This is the point when you have finally satisfied all of the bar exam requirements and become a lawyer!