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  • 1. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backBar exams rank somewhere near root canalson the list of things you wish you never had togo through. Ask any lawyer to relive the ex-perience, and you’ll probably get a responselike that of one second-year associate at aD.C. firm: “It’s the only thing you’ll ever haveto do that’s actually worse than everythingyou’ve heard about it.”A tad dramatic? Richard Conviser, a graduateof the University of California, Berkeley’sBoalt Hall School of Law and veteran pro-fessor at Chicago’s ITT/Kent Law School,doesn’t think so. That’s why, over 30 yearsago, he founded the Bar Review Institute(which became the ubiquitous BAR/BRI whenit merged with Bay Area Review in 1974) toprovide lawyers-to-be with a knowledgeableguide through this Scylla-and-Charybdisof tests. As Conviser points out, the pool ofbar-takers is already highly qualified: Theyhave graduated from college, scored well onthe LSAT, been accepted to law school, andcompleted three years of intense academicstudy (including the notoriously hellaciousfirst year). So it only makes sense that thebar exam should outdo all of the above chal-lenges and serve as a final separator of theattorneys from the also-rans.Why do I have to take it?Since the quality of education and specificcurricula can vary significantly from schoolto school, the bar exam determines a stan-dard level of competency among law schoolgraduates. In conjunction with a demonstra-tion of sufficient character and fitness (yourbar application includes a questionnaire usedto determine that you are “worthy of the trustand confidence clients may reasonably placein their lawyers”), a passing score on the barexam allows you to become a lawyer in thestate of your choice.Massachusetts administered the first writtenbar exam in 1855. Until that point, the examshad been administered orally. Bar examscontinued to become increasingly formaland regulated, and in 1931, the NationalConference of Bar Examiners (or NCBE) wasestablished to help “develop, maintain, andapply reasonable and uniform standards ofeducation and character for eligibility foradmission to the practice of law.”What is it?Unlike the LSAT, which measures yourlogical and analytical skills, this test isstrictly knowledge-based. Another differencebetween the bar and the LSAT: This exam isone you can actually fail. It’s essentially a 25-to 30-subject final exam on all the classesyou’ve taken in law school-including stuff youhaven’t seen since your first year-as well assome subjects that you may have never cov-ered in a classroom. As you might imagine,studying for this exam is not optional: It’sjust as much a rite of passage as taking theexam itself.Each state designs and administers its ownexam for admission to its bar, drawing on acombination of four NCBE-sponsored stan-dardized tests: the Multistate ProfessionalResponsibility Exam (MPRE), the MultistateBar Exam (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam(MEE), and the Multistate Performance Test(MPT). In addition, individual jurisdictions candevelop their own “local” exams that addresstheir specific laws and exceptions. Thesetests are usually in an essay format, butsome states, like Florida, also use multiple-choice questions.Resources: Find out which states use whichtests at can take it?You must qualify to sit for the bar exam,which usually means graduating from anAmerican Bar Association-approved lawschool (click here for a list). Some jurisdic-tions also allow other means of qualification,such as one year of law school study andapprenticeship at a law firm for a certainperiod. (Fun fact: Abraham Lincoln-one ofthe most respected lawyers in U.S. history-never attended law school and even went onto become a bar examiner.)Resource: Click here for the ABA’s list of bar-admission requirements in every state.When do I take it?All jurisdictions using the standardizedone-day MBE (only Louisiana, WashingtonState, and Puerto Rico do not) are requiredto administer the test on the last Wednes-days of both July and February each year.The remainder of a state’s bar-admissionstesting takes place either on the Tuesdayimmediately prior, the Thursday immediatelyBehind the Bar[L. Adrienne Wichard]Summertime, and the livin’ is easy...unless you’re a newly minted JD. While others enjoy picnics and relax poolside, you have just a few short months toprepare for the biggest test of your life. How do you figure out which test to take, when to start preparing, and how to stay sane under the pressure? Ourexclusive guide demystifies this rite of passage.
  • 2. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedfollowing, or both.While most students take the bar exam inJuly, students who want to take it in a secondstate, who graduate in the fall, or who didn’tpass their first time around can take it inFebruary.Which state should I choose?For dyed-in-the-wool Texans whose roots rundeeper than the family oil well, this one’s ano-brainer. If, on the other hand, you grew upin Connecticut, attended school in both Penn-sylvania and Virginia, are moving to D.C. afterlaw school, but hope you’ll end up in New YorkCity someday, your decision might not be socut-and-dried.This was the case for one JD from the Uni-versity of Virginia. He ultimately decided totake the bar exam in two states-New Yorkand Connecticut-and then take advantageof the District of Columbia’s waive-in policy(explained below) so that he could practice ata firm there.Some states are particularly accommodatingto lawyers who need to practice in multiplestates simultaneously or switch from state toneighboring state, and they have set up theirexam schedules accordingly so candidates cantest in just one three-day session rather thanseveral separate ones. For example, the NewYork bar recognizes that it will often sharelawyers with surrounding states, and hasmade it easy for candidates to take its examconcurrently with New Jersey, Maryland, Mas-sachusetts, Maine, or Connecticut.In other states, like California-long reputedto have one of the most difficult examinationsin the country because of its length as well asits low passing rate (55.3 percent for the July2000 exam)-you won’t have the option to takemore than one state test per administration.California’s exam runs three days, so if youwant to be licensed to practice elsewhere atthe same time, you may have to hit the bookstwice.There are places though, like D.C., that havevery liberal reciprocity rules; some will allowa lawyer who has passed the bar in anotherjurisdiction to “waive in” to their own-in otherwords, to apply for eligibility to practice intheir state without having to take another bar.Different states have different levels of reci-procity. The District of Columbia requires onlythat candidates be bar-certified elsewhereand that they have a sponsoring lawyer basedin Washington to vouch for their competenceand professionalism; many states require thatcandidates have been bar-certified elsewherefor three or more years before applying. Somestates refuse to let anyone waive in at all.Florida is one: In order to practice law in theSunshine State, you must pass its bar exam.Period. (Perhaps this is intended to discour-age snow-weary northern lawyers from tryingto retire early to Palm Beach!)As you choose the bar that’s best for you,consider three main issues: where you’d liketo practice immediately after graduation,whether you might transfer within your firmto offices in other states, and where you’dultimately like to settle down.Pamela Dayanim, a 3L at Georgetown Uni-versity with a job waiting for her at Baker &McKenzie in Washington, D.C., plans to takethe New York bar exam. It’s one of the mostrespected in the country, so it’s not too dif-ficult to waive in to other states. (Check withyour state’s bar-admissions office to seewhich reciprocity rules apply to you.) Also,as the Big Apple is the hub of most corporatetransactions, it’s a good one to take if you’reinterested, as she is, in corporate law.Once you determine the state or states inwhich you’d like to practice, you’ll have tolearn the nuances of their specific bar exams.Because each state is allowed to determinethe makeup of its test, exams vary in theirlevel of difficulty. While the MBE is standardthroughout most of the country, the materialtested on the rest of the days is left up to eachstate’s discretion.New York’s bar exam, while only two dayslong, is considered one of the hardest inthe country. Not only does New York havemany exceptions to the general law, but itssix state-specific essay questions also covercombinations of 27 different areas of law-often asking candidates to draw upon severalareas of knowledge to answer each question.States with three-day exams, like Californiaand Texas, require more work as well as moreendurance from candidates.Virginia’s bar exam is deemed even more diffi-cult because it not only tests candidates on 28different subjects but also requires in-depthknowledge of minority law that often contra-dicts the rules you need to study for the mul-tistate exam. Consequently, Virginia has oneof the lowest pass rates in the country. Evenworse, you can’t sport those lucky sweats thatgot you through the LSAT: The conservativestate requires that its aspiring lawyers takethe bar in attire “suitable for a lawyer appear-ing in a court of record” (yes, that means asuit). Interestingly, it also mandates wearingsoft-soled shoes to minimize noise in the test-ing rooms. The result: a room full of stressed-out fashion victims wearing suits and sneaks.Resource: NCBE’s Web site lists contactinformation for the bar-admissions offices ineach of the 50 states, as well as the District ofColumbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, andsome non-U.S. territories.Where is it administered?Exams are usually administered on univer-sity campuses, in convention centers, or inhotel conference rooms. Some test-takersget luckier than others. One New York barveteran fondly remembers taking the test ata museum in Albany with a phenomenal view
  • 3. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3 continued on backof the Adirondacks. (He does note, however,that this was “the only ‘pretty’ part of theexperience.”) Some of his compatriots, on theother hand, were down in Manhattan at a morenotorious testing location-the immense JacobJavits Center. Survivors tell harrowing talesof the pretest lockdown: Garage-like doorsdescend slowly and lock with a loud thud asyou begin the exam. Another veteran sufferedthrough the deafening noise of an equipmentsound check for a concert that was being heldoutside his testing site on the second day ofthe exam. He recounts, “I could barely hearmyself think. The woman next to me startedcrying. One guy just threw his hands up andwalked out.” The moral of the story? Be pre-pared for anything.How do I register for the bar exam?Registration deadlines for both the Februaryand July exams are usually from 90 to 120days before the testing date. Some states, likeCalifornia, offer online registration. Regular-deadline registration fees vary but start atabout $100 and may run as high as $1,000 (inthose states with more labor-intensive testing,such as hand-graded MPTs). Late registrationcan tack on a significant amount to the alreadysteep prices, so save a few hundred dollarsand don’t put this one off.How is the exam structured?With a few exceptions (like the aforemen-tioned California and Texas), most states’bar exams consist of two days of testing: theWednesday MBE and a Tuesday or Thursdaystate-specific exam.The MBEThe MBE covers the areas of legal knowledgethat all lawyers should have mastered and isoften considered the most significant com-ponent of the exam. Its 200 multiple choicequestions are broken up into two three-hoursections-one administered in the morning,one in the afternoon.Questions are conceived by committees oflawyers and law professors and then reviewedand edited by several legal experts and psy-chometricians. They cover six different subjectareas, most of which were addressed in yourfirst year of law school: constitutional law,contracts, criminal law and procedure, evi-dence, real property, and torts. The majority ofthe questions test your knowledge of generallegal principles, but some will provide stat-utes or exceptions for you to consider whenformulating your answer. Since no points aretaken off for wrong answers, answer everyquestion. You’ll most likely have plenty of timeto finish: Statistics show that the three-hourtimeframe for each set of 100 questions issufficient for 99 percent of all test-takers.The MBE is the only portion of the bar examwhose scoring is centralized and consistentacross the country. Your raw score is thenumber of questions you answered correctlyout of a possible 200. In addition to your rawscore, however, the NCBE will also report ascaled score that adjusts for variations in thedifficulty of your particular exam.States differ on how heavily they weight MBEperformance in the overall score. In moststates it makes up about half the total, butSouth Carolina, for example, only counts it forone-seventh. Though passing requirementsvary from state to state, they generally hoveraround the 130 to 140 scaled-score range.Nationwide, around 60 to 80 percent of ap-plicants pass the MBE.Local TestsThe local portion of each exam generallycomprises a series of essay questions onthe laws and their exceptions in the specificstate. These essay questions give prospectivelawyers the opportunity to demonstrate theirability to reason, analyze, and communicatetheir conclusions given a set of circumstanceswithin the constraints of state law. In moststates, this requires another six-hour day oftesting.Resource: Samples of essay questions frompast bar exams are often available on indi-vidual state bars’ Web sites. Georgia’s, forexample, is at; New York in-cludes “above-average responses” along withsamples of previous questions on its Web site, states also use the NCBE-sponsoredMEE and MPT as part of their local testing.The MEEOnly 14 jurisdictions, including Hawaii, Mis-souri, and D.C., use the Multistate Essay Exam(MEE) as part of their state-specific essay-question section. Though it’s a standardizedtest, the MEE is scored and evaluated by thestate in which it is administered rather thanby a central scoring agency. The three-hourexam is made up of six essay questionscovering agency and partnership, commer-cial paper, conflict of laws, corporations,decedents’ estates, family law, federal civilprocedure, sales, secured transactions, andtrusts and future interests. It is administeredon the Tuesday before the last Wednesday ofFebruary and July.The MPTTwenty-four states, from Alaska to WestVirginia, also include one or more of the three90-minute items in the Multistate Perfor-mance Test (MPT) in their state-specific day oftesting. And more and more are joining theirranks. New York, Pennsylvania, and Idaho willbegin administering the MPT in July 2001. Theexam is administered on the Tuesday beforeand/or the Thursday after the last Wednesdayin February and July.The MPT asks candidates to use their general
  • 4. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 4 continuedlegal knowledge to perform practical tasks-like writing a memo or a brief-under realisticcircumstances. Each MPT includes a “file”(containing a memorandum from a supervis-ing attorney and documents that may or maynot be relevant to the case) and a “library”(containing relevant and/or irrelevant casesand statutes). While it does test some legalknowledge, it is primarily a test of the skillsthat you will use as a lawyer. Like the MEE,the MPT is scored locally.The MPREStudents usually take the Multistate Profes-sional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) in Novem-ber of their third year of law school. It’s alsoadministered in March and August. You studyfor it separately (although most studentsconfess that they don’t spend too much timeor energy preparing for it).Essentially, this 50-question, two-hour,multiple-choice exam tests commonsenserules of professional responsibility, and it’sconsiderably more difficult to fail than themore intensive and comprehensive bar exam.Most states have a first-time pass rate ofabout 90 percent. Maryland, Washington State,Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico are the only statesthat do not require the MPRE.The score that you receive on the MPRE willbe a scaled version-between 50 and 150-ofyour maximum raw score and is rated accord-ing to the test’s relative difficulty. Passingscores are determined by the supreme courtsin each jurisdiction, so they fluctuate (gener-ally from 75 to 85) from state to state.While the MPRE is not part of the two- orthree-day bar exam itself, a passing score isstill necessary to be eligible to practice lawin most jurisdictions. Regular registrationdeadlines are usually about five weeks beforethe exam date, and the registration fee is $48(the cost doubles if you register late).It’s all in the preparation.Preparing for the bar exam is absolutely es-sential. Law firms recognize this, and mostgive their incoming first-year associates thesummer off after graduation (sometimessalaried) to study for the late-July administra-tion. Many firms will even pick up the tab forexpensive prep courses or offer a stipend forregistration and preparation expenses.One of the biggest reasons to take a prepcourse is that your schooling alone will mostlikely not have provided you with all the infor-mation you’ll need. Robert Feinberg, presi-dent and CEO of the bar-review course PMBR(Professional Multistate Bar Review), assertsthat “law schools don’t prepare students forthe bar exam”-bar-review courses preparestudents for the bar exam. Dayanim had nointerest in tax law, so she chose not to wastea full three credits studying it. Instead, she’llget the essential information on tax law inNew York-the state in which she’s taking herexam-in condensed form from her BAR/BRIprep course.Conviser offers perhaps the most persuasiveargument of all for not going into the barexam less than fully prepared: “Bar examfailure has very public ramifications.” If youdon’t pass the exam, your friends, colleagues,and-in many cases-anyone who visits yourstate bar’s Web site will know about it. (If yourlast name is Kennedy, your under-par perfor-mance could make headlines for weeks.) Andof course, you won’t be a lawyer until you dopass.Firms are generally accommodating to first-year associates who learn in November thatthey have failed the bar. Especially if you’vewowed them in your first three months on thejob (read our tips on first-job success), theywill usually let you stick around and retake theexam in February. Of course, your businesscard will only say “law clerk” until you pass.If the second time is also a no-go, many firmswon’t give you the chance to see if the third’sa charm before they say sayonara.Most states, however, will let you take theexam as many times as necessary. In 1997,42-year-old Herbert Moreira-Brown passedthe New York State Bar after more than adozen attempts. As he told the New York LawJournal, “If you pass it once, it doesn’t matterhow many times you failed.”Prep-Course PrimerIf you don’t adhere to Moreira-Brown’sphilosophy, however, sign up for a prepcourse-or two, or three. The biggest and mostreputable name in bar review is BAR/BRI, theonly nationwide course offering preparationfor all 50 states’ bar exams. PMBR is also afamiliar name for most 3Ls; it’s well-knownfor its condensed three- and six-day MBE-only prep courses. Both have been around forover a quarter-century, both are extremelycomprehensive and offer various servicesto students from their first semester in lawschool, and both carry hefty price tags-fromseveral hundred to a couple thousand dollarseach, depending on the bar (or bars) you’repreparing for.There are also “boutique” prep courses-likeFleming’s Fundamentals of Law in Califor-nia-and a few less-expensive at-home studyprograms. These courses, however, are onlyappropriate for students in a handful of statesand are not as well-established as eitherBAR/BRI or PMBR.Dayanim is planning to take PMBR’s six-daycourse in addition to her BAR/BRI preparation.She won’t be alone. Many aspiring lawyersdouble up on prep courses. They want to knowthat they went into the exam having done ab-solutely everything to ensure a passing scorethe first time around. As the BAR/BRI T-shirtquips: “Do it right. Do it once. Never, ever doit again.”You can take BAR/BRI without taking PMBR,
  • 5. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 5but you can’t take PMBR alone as it only prepsyou for the MBE and not the state-specific oressay portions of the exam. PMBR bills itselfas a supplement to a BAR/BRI-type course,and endorses taking both. Robert Feinbergfounded PMBR on the premise that a goodscore on the MBE can make up for a weakerscore on the state-specific section. For ex-ample, Florida requires a combined score of262 on both its MBE and local tests, so everypoint over 131 that you earn on the MBE earnsyou points toward your local score. In fact,there seems to be an unwritten theory amongbar-exam experts that, in most states, if youcan ace the MBE, you’ll pass the whole thing.Many students take PMBR’s short course dur-ing the two-week gap between the end of theirBAR/BRI course and the exam date. Someformer test-takers caution against this tactic,however, asserting that there’s not enoughtime left to absorb all the information PMBRthrows at you, and it’s better to take advan-tage of it earlier in your study period.One Virginia examinee didn’t bother withPMBR at all, however. She knew that it wouldonly help her with about 40 percent of herscore (Virginia counts your results on its ownstate-specific test for 60 percent of the total)and that much of the information would in factbe contradictory to what she would need toknow for her local exam.Both BAR/BRI and PMBR have earned theirstripes by hiring only currently practicinglawyers and law professors and by providingstudents with the most up-to-date practicequestions and review materials. BAR/BRI con-sistently researches and analyzes each state’sexams in order to help students focus theirstudy on the areas they’re most likely to seeon the test. For example, BAR/BRI can usuallypredict which combinations of New York’s 27possible essay subjects are likely to show upon the administration for which you’re prepar-ing. And if you plan to take a bar exam in morethan one state, most prep courses-includ-ing BAR/BRI-will cut you a deal on the costof double-prepping, whether you do it at thesame time or in tandem.Inside a prep course.BAR/BRI’s lecture-style classes are led byexperts in each subject. Course material iscustomized to each state’s exam, and lessonsare separated by subject, addressing both therules and their exceptions for each specificstate. This format allows you to study for boththe MBE and the local test simultaneously.Unless you’re taking a class in the most popu-lar city in the state for which you’re studying,you’ll watch all of your classes on videotape.While this may seem impersonal, it’s actuallyof little consequence whether you attend liveor recorded lectures: The material itself iswell-outlined in BAR/BRI’s prepared guides,and even in live classes, students aren’tallowed to interrupt the professor with ques-tions. Many professors do give out their directoffice numbers, however, to students whoview either live or recorded classes. If all elsefails, you can always call BAR/BRI’s question-and-answer hotline. BAR/BRI does providelive lecturers in multiple locations in all statesfor its one-day MPRE prep class. There are noMPRE courses on tape.Taking a bar-review course, like the one BAR/BRI offers, can be more intense than any ofthe classes you endured in law school. For theJuly exam, for example, BAR/BRI’s classesbegin shortly after graduation in May andrun for six weeks. Each week, you can expectfour or five days of lectures-about four hourseach day-and three to four hours of condens-ing your notes. In addition, you’ll have abouttwo hours’ worth of reviewing and practicequestions to do on each weekday, with anothereight to 10 hours of work waiting for you onthe weekends.BAR/BRI advises its students to take oneday off from studying each week for the firstmonth of the course, and for good reason:Students who study non-stop for six weeksare more likely to burn out early, leaving themdrained and test-weary long before the actualexam date.Some boutique courses, like Fleming’s,offer personalized tutoring as part of theircourse. (Fleming’s tutoring package runsabout $5,500). Others, like BAR/BRI, provideindividual attention in the form of a hotline.Hiring a tutor is not a complete substitute fortaking a course and is not often necessarybecause the nuances of each state’s exam arepretty cut-and-dried, but some test-takersfeel more secure with personalized attention.You can often find local bar-exam expertsthrough your university’s newspaper or bul-letin boards. Expect to pay upwards of $50 to$100 an hour for their services.Sign up early!You can register for these prep courses asearly as your first semester in law school oras late as your last, but there are two advan-tages to registering early: Both BAR/BRI andPMBR will freeze the cost of their courses assoon as you put down your deposit, so thinkingahead can save you several hundred dollars;early birds also benefit from supplementaryprep materials-study outlines for your MPRE,for example-and subject guides for core lawschool classes to help you make the most ofyour law school experience.Resource: BAR/BRI’s Web site includes enroll-ment materials for courses in every state.PMBR also allows you to register online.So now that you know the ins and outs of thislegal test of all tests, all you need to do is takethe darn thing. Then, just sit back, relax (yeah,right), and wait four months to find out if youpassed.