A law school graduate is not a lawyer and cannot practice law before he or she is licensed, and a license requires admission to the bar of at least one of the 56 jurisdictions in the U.S. (the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories). To get a general idea of the bar admission process, read this one page overview from the ABA: Basic Overview of Bar Admissions.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners provides an annual summary (updated each spring) of the bar admission requirements in every U.S. jurisdiction: Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.
Character & Fitness
In addition to a bar examination, there are character, fitness, and other qualifications for admission to the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction. Applicants are encouraged to determine the requirements for any jurisdiction in which they intend to seek admission by contacting the jurisdiction. Addresses for all relevant agencies are available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Each jurisdiction determines its own rules for bar admission, including the composition of its bar exam. Most, if not all, jurisdictions use some combination of multiple choice and essay questions, and most jurisdictions use some combination of Multistate exams developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and jurisdiction-specific questions developed by their own courts or bar examiners. Each jurisdiction decides which Multistate exams it will use and the weight it will assign to each; this information is published annually on bar examiner websites and in the NCBE's Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements. Understanding the content and structure of your jurisdiction's bar exam will help you to tailor your studying and develop strategies for passing the exam.
- Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
- A six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice examination
- Required for admission to the bars of all but two jurisdictions (LA and PR) in 2016
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
- Consists of one or two 90-minute writing tasks
- Administered by 43 jurisdictions, including DC, in 2016
- Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)
- Consists of six 30-minute essay questions
- Administered by 35 jurisdictions, including DC, in 2016
- Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)
- Consists of the MEE, two MPTs, and the MBE
- Results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions
- Administered by 20 jurisdictions, including DC, in July 2016
- Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
- A two-hour, 60-question multiple-choice examination
- Required for admission to the bars of all but three jurisdictions (MD, PR, and WI) in 2016
- The MPRE is administered separately from a jurisdiction's bar exam
- Law students may take the MPRE prior to graduation
Note: A small number of jurisdictions have a registration requirement or option for current law students. Depending on a state's rules, a student may be able to save time or money by registering for the bar exam during the first or second year of law school.
- Maryland Bar Exam Essay Questions and Sample Answers from the Maryland Board of Law Examiners
- Being admitted to a state's bar does not mean that a lawyer is automatically admitted to the federal courts physically located in that state. Each federal court sets its own admission rules. For example:
- Membership in voluntary bar associations is not required in order to practice law, but it often plays an important part in a lawyer's career development. See, for example: