Skip to Main Content Return to the New England Law | Boston home page

General Bar Exam Requirements and Information*

Overview

All law school graduates must apply for admission to a state bar in order to obtain a license to practice law in that jurisdiction. The criteria for eligibility to take the bar examination or to otherwise qualify for bar admission are set by each state’s board of bar examiners. Some states require that law students register for the bar exam as early as the first semester of the first year of law school and/or have other jurisdiction-specific requirements. A list of those states and their requirements can be found at States Requiring  Early Law Student Registration. Students who miss the early registration deadlines in these states may end up paying more expensive late registration fees. You can download the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements at www.ncbex.org.

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 are 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). A few states administer the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is a combination of the MBE, MEE, and 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 civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, evidence, and real property. Exam required by all jurisdictions, except Louisiana and Puerto Rico. Apply to applicable State Board of Bar Admissions. (back to top)

 

Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): Six 30-minute essay questions (three hours total) covering business associations, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, family law, federal civil procedure, real property, torts, trusts and estates, and Uniform Commercial Code. 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)

 

Uniform Bar Examination (UBE): A two-day exam testing knowledge and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law. It is composed of the MEE, two MPT tasks, and the MBE. It is uniformly administered, graded, and scored by user jurisdictions and results in a portable score that can be transferred to other UBE jurisdictions. Exam currently administered by 14 jurisdictions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Apply to applicable State Board of Bar Admissions. (back to top)

 

Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE): A two-hour, 60 question, multiple-choice examination designed to measure knowledge and understanding of established standards related to a lawyer’s professional conduct. 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, and are encouraged to, take the MPRE while enrolled in law school. Apply online at www.ncbex.org/about-ncbe-exams/mpre/test-dates-deadlines-and-fees.  (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, which is a six-hour, 60 question multiple-choice examination administered by the United States Patent Office. Students are encouraged to take the patent bar exam before graduating from law school. For additional information about the patent bar exam, visit www.uspto.gov/web/offices/dcom/olia/oed/examregist.htm. (back to top)
 

* Excerpt from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, http://www.ncbex.org.