Bar Exam

The bar exam is a rigorous multi-day examination that determines whether or not a candidate can practice law in a given area (usually a state). At present, only Wisconsin and New Hampshire will grant diploma privilege - the ability to be certified to practice law without taking a bar exam, if they have graduated from a specifically designated law school. To practice law in California, individuals need only to pass the bar exam. They can go to law school by through a correspondence school, and need not have a B.A. or a law degree (Juris Doctor, J.D., or Doctor of Jurisprudence) to take the bar exam.

Bar Exam Process

The bar exam is a grueling experience across the board, but varies in length and content from state to state. California's bar exam is one of the longest (three days) and most difficult in the nation. Included on the test are extensive essay questions and performance testing, the actual drafting of memos based on materials presented as part of the examination. The bar exams throughout the country are given at the same time on two to three consecutive testing days - except for Louisiana, which gives 21-hour exams on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. If an individual has been a practicing attorney in another jurisdiction, they may be allowed to practice without retaking the bar exam. Law students typically go through a bar review process before attempting to take the exam. Many students, upon graduating from law school opt to take specific courses designed to help them pass the bar.


Rate of Success

The first day of testing usually includes 200 questions covering constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, evidence, real property, and torts. The second day often includes essay questions on a wide variety of topics. A number of states have added multistate examination essays and multistate performance components to their exams. Many states also have a Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) as well, which concentrates on the character and fitness of the candidate to practice law. The average number of students passing the bar exam on the first try in California is less than half (48.8%). The Internet provides a number of resources for bar exam preparation, including advice on how to take the exam, the dates, and other pertinent information. It is well to note that while failing the bar exam is not a great experience, there are lots who have failed upon the first try, and have retaken it, even a number of times before passing, and gone on to become successful lawyers.

Criticism and Defense

As with any major examination process, there are those who argue that the bar exam is not a true measure of one's competency to practice law, that the exam negatively affects the curricula of law schools, and that the exam inhibits diversity in the field of law. Proponents of the bar exam argue that it is an excellent method for assessing candidates' knowledge of the law and the skills needed to practice law. New Hampshire has been experimenting with an alternative to the bar exam, through the implementation of its Webster Scholars' program, wherein law students are evaluated throughout their law studies, using performance based testing to demonstrate their competencies, thereby enhancing students' professionalism as they practice law.

By Eve Visconti           


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