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General Bar Exam Requirements and Information*

A License to Practice Law

Obtaining a license to practice law involves a demonstration of competence and character and fitness.

Competence is ordinarily established by a showing that the applicant holds an acceptable educational credential (i.e., a J.D. degree) from a law school that meets educational standards, and by achieving a passing score on the bar examination.

Character and fitness of the applicant is evaluated by the bar examiners.  In this regard, bar examiners seek background information concerning each applicant that is relevant to the appropriateness of granting a professional credential.  Law is a public profession, and because the degree of harm a lawyer can inflict once licensed is substantial, decisions about who should be admitted to practice law are made carefully by the bar examining boards.

The Exam(s)

Boards of bar examiners in most jurisdictions expect candidates to register for the exam during the final year of law school. Bar examinations are administered at the end of February and July, with considerably more applicants taking the July test because it falls after graduation from law school. As state-specific information is so important (and so variable) in the lawyer-licensing process, law students should contact the board of bar examiners in the jurisdiction(s) in which they are most likely to practice law.

The most common bar exam testing configuration consists of a two-day or three-day examination.  The first day of testing is devoted to the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).  The second day of testing is typically comprised of locally state crafted essays.  In some states there is a third day of testing, which may include the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and/or the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). In addition, almost all jurisdictions require that the applicant present a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). 


Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): a six-hour, two hundred question multiple-choice examination covering contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, and real property. Administered in all states. Apply to applicable State Board of Bar Admissions. (back to top)


Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): a three-hours, six-question essay examination covering agency and partnership, commercial paper, conflict of laws, corporations, decedents' estates, family law, federal civil procedure, sales, secured transactions, and trusts and future interests. Exam may be administered in states requiring a third day of testing. Apply to applicable State Board of Bar Admissions. (back to top)


Multistate Performance Test (MPT): three 90-minute skills questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of lawyering tasks, and communication. Exam may be administered in states requiring a third day of testing. Apply to applicable State Board of Bar Admissions. (back to top)


Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE): a fifty question, two-hour, multiple-choice examination administered three times each year. Passing scores are established by each jurisdiction.  Massachusetts requires a passing score of 85. The MPRE is administered separately from the bar exam in March, August and November.  Law students may take the MPRE while enrolled in law school. Apply on-line at:  (back to top)


Patent Bar Exam: A patent attorney is someone who is admitted to practice patent cases before the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The patent bar is administered by the United State Patent Office. Each practitioner must show proof of good moral character and reputation, have the requisite scientific or technical background, and pass the registration examination commonly known as the patent bar exam. Students are encouraged to take the patent bar exam before graduating from law school. For additional information about the patent bar exam, visit (back to top)

* Excerpt from the National Conference of Bar Examiners,