A bar examination is a test intended to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction.
- England and Wales
- South Africa
- United States
- When exams occur
- Preparation for the exam
- Multistate standardized examinations
- Uniform Bar Examination UBE
- Multistate Bar Examination MBE
- Multistate Essay Examination MEE
- Multistate Performance Test MPT
- Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination MPRE
- Non standardized examinations
- Arguments against bar exams
- Arguments for alternatives to the bar exam
The Order of Attorneys of Brazil (Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil), the Brazilian Bar association, administers a bar examination nationwide two to three times a year (usually in January, March and September). The exam is divided in two stages – the first consists of 80 multiple choice questions covering all disciplines (Ethics, Human Rights, Philosophy of Law, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Civil Law, Consumer Law, Civil Procedure Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Labour Law and Labour Procedure Law). The candidate must score at least 40 questions correctly to proceed to the second part of the exam, four essay questions and a drafting project (motion, opinion or claim document) in Civil Law (including Consumer Law), Labour Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law or Tax Law, and their respective procedures. The Bar examination can be taken on the graduation year. Success in the examination allows one to practice in any court or jurisdiction of the country.
England and Wales
Since the UK has a separated legal profession, Law graduates in England and Wales can take examinations to qualify as a Barrister or a Solicitor by either undertaking the BPTC or the LPC respectively. These courses are the vocational part of the training required under the Bar Association and The Law Society rules and are either undertaken on a full-time basis for one year or on a part-time basis over two years. After successfully completing these courses, which generally include various examinations and practical ability tests, graduates must secure either a Training Contract (for those who have completed the LPC) or a Pupillage (for those who have completed the BPTC). These are akin to Articling positions in other jurisdictions and are the final Practical stage before being granted full admission to practice. The general timescale therefore to become fully qualified after entering Law School can range between 6–7 years (assuming no repeats are required).
However some controversy remains about the lack of Training Contracts and Pupillages available to graduates even after having completed the LPC/BPTC. These courses can vary in cost anywhere from £9,000 to £17,000 and are generally undertaken by students on a private basis making them incur additional costs. The final debt in student fees alone after having completed the academic and vocational training can range between £20,000-£25,000. This is set to increase to £40,000-£50,000 for students entering law school in the years 2012 due to the increased tuition fees for Law School itself.
In France, Law graduates must obtain a vocational degree called certificat d'aptitude à la profession d'avocat (or CAPA in everyday speech) in order to practice independently. The most common way to achieve the CAPA is by training in an école d'avocats (Lawyer's School). This training includes academical and vocational courses and mandatory internships in law firms. Entrance to Lawyer's School is obtained by competitive examination.
To become a lawyer in Germany, you have to study law at university for four or five years. Then you have to pass the First Juristic Examination (Erste Juristische Prüfung) in Law, which is administered in parts by the ministry of justice of the respective state and in parts by the university the person attends; the state part accounts for two thirds of the final grade, the university part for one third. This examination provides a very limited qualification, as there are no formal careers in the legal field that can be followed without further training. After the first juristic examination, candidates that wish to fully qualify must participate in a two-year practical training period (Referendariat) including practical work as judge, prosecutor, and attorney. At the end of this training, candidates must take and pass the Second State Examination (Zweites Staatsexamem) . This examination, if passed, allows successful participants to enter the bar as attorney, to become judges and to become state attorneys. All careers have the same legal training (Einheitsjurist), even though some careers require additional training (namely public notaries and patent lawyers).
In Hungary, the Bar Examination is called "Jogi Szakvizsga", can be translated as "Legal Profession Examination". This exam is composed of three parts:
- Criminal Law, Criminal Procedural Law and Law of Criminal Enforcement
- Civil Law, Civil Procedural Law and Business Law
- Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Labor Law, Social Security Law and Law of the European Union.
After passing these exams the candidate can practice law as an attorney-at-law /barrister or as a secretary/judge at the court or as a prosecutor at the public prosecutor's office or in-house legal counsel or may operate individually at any field of law.
The bar exams in Ireland are the preserve of the Honorable Society of King's Inns, which runs a series of fourteen exams over ten weeks, from March to June each year, for those enrolled as students in its one-year Barrister-at-Law degree course. These exams cover such skills as advocacy, research and opinion writing, consulting with clients, negotiation, drafting of legal documents and knowledge of civil and criminal procedure. For those who fail to meet the requisite 50% pass mark, repeats are held in the following August and September.
The Bar Exam in Iran is administered by two different and completely separate bodies, one of which is the Bar Association of every province all of which are under the auspices of the country's syndicate of the bars of the country, and the other one is administered by Judiciary System subject to article 187 of the country's economic, social and cultural development plan. The following is the process of obtaining the license through the Bar Association's procedures.
To receive the license to practice as a “First Degree Attorney” in Iran, an applicant should complete a bachelor of law program. The official career path starts after passing the Bar Exam and receiving the title of “Trainee at Law”. The exam is highly competitive and only a certain number of top applicants are admitted annually.
After admission to the bar, an eighteen-months apprenticeship program begins which is highly regulated under the auspices of Bar Syndicate Rules and supervision of an assigned First Degree Attorney. Trainees or apprentices must attend designated courts for designated weeks to hear cases and write case summaries. A logbook signed by the judge on the bench has to certify their weekly attendance. By the end of the eighteenth month, they are eligible to apply to take the Final Bar Exam by submitting their case summaries, the logbook and a research work pre-approved by the Bar. It is noteworthy, however, that during these eighteen months, Trainees are eligible to have a limited practice of law under the supervision of their supervising Attorney. This practice does not include Supreme Court eligible cases and certain criminal and civil cases. Candidates will be tested on Civil law, Civil Procedure, Criminal law, Criminal Procedure, Commercial Law, Notary (including rules pertaining Official Documents, Land & Real Estate registrations and regulations etc.). Each exam takes two days, a day on oral examination in front of a judge or an attorney, and a day of essay examination, in which they will be tested on hypothetical cases submitted to them. Successful applicants will be honoured with the title of “First Degree Attorney”, after they take the oath and can practice in all courts of the country including the Supreme Court. Those who fail must redo the apprenticeship program in full or in part before taking the Final Bar Exam again.
The bar exams in Japan yield the least number of successful candidates worldwide. The old format of the examinations, last held in 2010 saw only 6% passing the exam. With the new format of examinations, even after extensive reforms and a new mandatory duration of graduate school education for a period of two years, the pass rate is only 22%. Since 2014, candidates are allowed to take the examinations within five years before their right to take the exam is revoked and they either have to return to law school, take the preparatory exam or give up totally. It is administered solely by the Ministry of Justice.
The Philippine Bar Examination is administered once every year on the four Sundays of November (September before 2011). It covers eight areas of law: political law, labor law and social legislation, criminal law, civil law, commercial law, taxation law, remedial law, and legal ethics and practical exercises.
In Poland, the bar examination is taken after graduating from a law faculty at a university. It allows a person to undertake practice, the duration of which varies depending on the specialization. After the practical period applicants must pass the exam held by the Professional Chambers with assistance from some members of the Ministry of Justice.
See Legal education: South Africa.
In Thailand, the bar examination is different from the lawyer licence. To practice law as a lawyer, i.e. to speak in the court, one must pass a lawyer licence examination and does not need to be called to the bar. People take the bar examination to become qualified to take a judge or public prosecutor examination.
To be called to the bar, one must pass the written exams consisting of four parts as follows.
- Civil and commercial law, intellectual property law, and international trade law.
- Criminal law, employment law, constitution law, administrative law, and tax law.
- Civil procedure law, bankruptcy and business reorganization law, and the system of the court of justice. And
- Criminal procedure law, human rights, and law on the evidence.
Each part has 10 essay questions. The pass mark is 50. The parts 1-2 are usually taken in October and the rest are usually taken in March. One does not need to pass all four parts in one year. After passing all the written exams, there is an oral exam.
Around 10,000 bar students sit the exam each year. In 2013, 1,231 students were called to the bar, 111 of whom did it in only one year.
Quite confusingly with international norms, students called to the bar are referred to as netibandit (เนติบัณฑิต), which gets translated into English as Barrister-at-Law. The Thai legal profession, however, is a fused one and those with lawyer licenses are able to practice both as barristers and solicitors in the British/Commonwealth sense. Many students called to the bar choose to become judges or public prosecutors instead of lawyers. As the Thai bar examination (administered and awarded by the Thai Bar Association) is separate from the lawyers licensing scheme (administered and awarded by the Lawyers Council of Thailand), this means that judges and public prosecutors belong to a separate licensing organization from lawyers. This is unlike in the US where judges and prosecutors most often come from the ranks of senior lawyers and belong to the same bar.
Bar exams are administered by agencies of individual states. In 1738, Delaware created the first bar exam with other American colonies soon following suit. A state bar licensing agency is invariably associated with the judicial branch of government, because American attorneys are all officers of the court of the bar(s) to which they belong.
Sometimes the agency is an office or committee of the state's highest court or intermediate appellate court. In some states which have a unified or integrated bar association (meaning that formal membership in a public corporation controlled by the judiciary is required to practice law therein), the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit thereof. Other states split the integrated bar membership and the admissions agency into different bodies within the judiciary; in Texas, the Board of Law Examiners is appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and is independent from the integrated State Bar of Texas.
The bar examination in most U.S. states and territories is at least two days long (a few states have three-day exams) and usually consists of:
When exams occur
Each state controls where it administers its bar exam. Because the MBE (below) is a standardized test, it must be administered on the same day across the country. That day occurs twice a year as the last Wednesday in July and the last Wednesday in February. Two states, Delaware and North Dakota, may administer their bar exams only once, in July, if they do not have enough applicants to merit a second sitting. North Dakota requires ten applicants in order to administer the February exam. Most bar exams are administered on consecutive days. Louisiana is the exception, with the Louisiana Bar Exam being a three-day examination on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Also, Louisiana's examination is the longest in the country in terms of examination time, with seven hours on Monday and Wednesday and seven and one half hours on Friday for a total of 21.5 hours of testing. Montana's bar examination also occurs over a three-day period, with a total of 18 hours of testing. The bar exams in California, Delaware, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas are also three days long, though the California bar exam is moving to a two-day format with the July, 2017, sitting.
The MEE and MPT, as uniform though not standardized tests, also must be administered on the same day across the country – specifically the day before the MBE.
Preparation for the exam
Most law schools teach students common law and how to analyze hypothetical fact patterns like a lawyer, but do not specifically prepare law students for any particular bar exam. Only a minority of law schools offer bar preparation courses.
To refresh their memory on "black-letter rules" tested on the bar, most students engage in a regimen of study (called "bar review") between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar. For bar review, most students in the United States attend a private bar review course which is provided by a third-party company and not their law school.
Multistate standardized examinations
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is a U.S. based non-profit organization that develops national ("multistate") standardized tests for admission to the bar in individual states. The organization was founded in 1931. The best known exams developed by NCBE are the Multistate Bar Examination (1972), the Multistate Essay Examination (1988), the Multistate Performance Test (1997), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (1980).
Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)
NCBE has developed a Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which consists solely of the MBE, MEE, and MPT, and offers portability of scores across state lines. Missouri became the first state to adopt the UBE; both that state and North Dakota were the first to administer the UBE, doing so in February 2011. Following Missouri's lead, several other jurisdictions, all of which were among the 22 that already were using all three components of the UBE, are expected to adopt that examination. However, many of the largest legal markets – California, Florida, Illinois and Texas – have so far chosen not to adopt the UBE. Among the concerns cited with the adoption of the UBE were its absence of questions on state law and the fact that it would give the NCBE much greater power in the bar credentialing process.
As of January 2017, the Uniform Bar Examination Jurisdictions are (date of first UBE administration in parentheses):
Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination created and sold to participating state bar examiners.
The examination is administered on a single day of the bar examination in 49 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Republic of Palau. The only state that does not administer the MBE is Louisiana, which follows a civil law system very different from the law in other states. The MBE is also not administered in Puerto Rico, which, like Louisiana, has a civil law system. The MBE is given twice a year: on the last Wednesday of July in all jurisdictions that require that examination, and on the last Wednesday of February in the same jurisdictions, except for Delaware and North Dakota.
The 200 MBE questions test six subjects based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (covering sales of goods) that apply throughout the United States. The questions are not broken down into sections and the six topics are distributed more or less evenly throughout the course of the exam. Exam-takers generally receive three hours during the morning session to complete the first 100 questions, and another three hours during the afternoon session to complete the second 100 questions.
In January 2009, NCBE indicated that it was considering adding a seventh topic, civil procedure, to the examination. Civil Procedure was scheduled to make its first showing on the MBE in February 2015.
The average raw score from the summer exam historically has been about 128, or about 67% correct (only 175 of the 200 questions are scored with the remaining 25 questions being evaluated for future use), while the average scaled score in 2007 was about 140. In summer 2007, the average scaled score was 143.7 with a standard deviation of 15.9. Over 50,000 applicants took the test; less than half that number took it in the winter.
Transfer of MBE scores
Taking the MBE in one jurisdiction may allow an applicant to use his or her MBE score to waive into another jurisdiction or to use the MBE score with another state's bar examination.
Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)
The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is a collection of essay questions largely concerning the common law administered as a part of the bar examination in 26 jurisdictions of the United States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Palau, Rhode Island, South Carolina (eff. Feb. 2017), South Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
The MEE can cover any of the following areas:
MEE questions are actually drafted by the NCBE Drafting Committee, with the assistance of outside academics and practitioners who are experts in the fields being tested. After initial drafting, the questions are pretested, analyzed by outside experts and a separate NCBE committee, reviewed by boards of bar examiners in the jurisdictions that use the test, and then revised by the Drafting Committee in accordance with the results of this process. Each MEE question is accompanied by a grading guide, and the NCBE sponsors a grading workshop on the weekend following the bar exam whose results are provided to bar examiners.
The examination is always administered on a single day of the bar examination, specifically the day before the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). Through February 2007, the MEE consisted of seven questions, with most jurisdictions selecting six of the seven questions to administer. Unlike the MBE, which is graded and scored by the NCBE, the MEE is graded exclusively by the jurisdiction that administers the bar examination. Each jurisdiction has the choice of grading MEE questions according to general U.S. common law or the jurisdiction's own law.
The MEE is generally paired with the MPT.
Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
The Multistate Performance Test (MPT), a written performance test designed to test an examinee’s ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation and complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. It was developed by the NCBE and is used in many U.S. jurisdictions. The MPT is generally paired with the MEE.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
In almost all jurisdictions, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an ethics exam, is also administered by the NCBE, which creates it and grades it. The MPRE is offered three times a year, in March, August and November.
California and Pennsylvania draft and administer their own performance tests. California performance tests are three hours in length (as California has traditionally viewed the 90-minute MPT as too short to meaningfully test anything, though is reverting to back to this format with its July, 2017, sitting) and are far more difficult than the MPT.
As noted above, essay questions are the most variable component of the bar exam. States emphasize different areas of law in their essay questions depending upon their respective histories and public policy priorities. For example, unlike Texas and Alta California, Louisiana did not convert to common law when it was acquired by the United States, so its essay questions require knowledge of the state's unique civil law system. Several states whose law descends from Spanish and Mexican civil law, like Texas and California, require all bar exam applicants to demonstrate knowledge of community property law. Pennsylvania, with a history of federal tax evasion (e.g., the Whiskey Rebellion), tests federal income tax law, while New Jersey, with a history of discriminatory zoning (resulting in the controversial Mount Laurel doctrine), tests zoning and planning law. Washington, South Dakota, and New Mexico each test Indian law, because of their relatively large populations of Native Americans and large numbers of Indian reservations. Most states test knowledge of the law of negotiable instruments and secured transactions (Articles 3 and 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code), but Alaska, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania do not; they have recognized that the vast majority of criminal, personal injury, and family lawyers will never draft a promissory note or litigate the validity of a security interest.
Arguments against bar exams
A statement by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) articulates many criticisms of the bar exam.. The SALT statement, however, does propose some alternative methods of bar admission that are partially test-based. A response to the SALT statement was made by Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhau in The Bar Examiner
Arguments for alternatives to the bar exam
The NCBE published an article in 2005 addressing alternatives to the bar exam, including a discussion of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, an alternate certification program introduced at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center) in that year.