U.S. Bar exams

I’m a non-U.S. lawyer and I’m considering taking a U.S. bar exam. As far as I know, at least three states (N.Y., California and Texas) allow foreign lawyers to take the bar exam, subject to some conditions.

N.Y. would be the most useful for me, I think, but are some states regarded as more difficult than others? Also, how long did it take you to study for your state bar, and were you a fresh graduate when you took it?

I graduated law school about 15 years ago, and have been practising in a very narrow area since then, so I’ve probably forgotten the day-to-day things I used to know about contract law, probate, torts etc. I wonder how long I’d need to prep for the test?

New York has a reputation for being tough. One of the Kennedy kids failed it a few times, I think. I haven’t heard anything about Texas or California being harder than any other state.

I’ve taken exactly one bar exam, passed it, and never intend to go through that again. It was brutal. Three days of writing, clock watching, stark terror, and other unpleasantness.

Took it the summer after I graduated in May…think the exam was sometime in late July.

I strongly recommend taking a bar review class. They cost several hundred dollars, but mine was well worth it. I went to law school in one state, took the bar in another. The bar review program covered all of the state-specific stuff very concisely, and also included a review for the multi-state. There were live lectures from Professors at local law schools for some topics, and video-tapes for others, and the materials included excellent outlines for all subjects plus old exams from previous bars and practice tests.

In terms of format, going from my memory of 15 years ago, I think the three days were divided up thusly–1 day for the multi-state, 1.5 days for the state-specific essay portion, and half a day for the multi-state essay part.

The multi-state is (or was, I assume they still use it) a multiple choice test covering general principles of law in certain areas. The multi-state essay part was similar, except that it was in essay format. The state-specific essay portion was very state specific–my state does not follow the majority rule in certain areas, has adopted particular options from the U.C.C., maintains the division between law and equity, and has a few odd procedural rules unique to this state.

My state also required a professional responsibility exam…possibly called the MPRE or something like that, that was given separately from the bar. It was a 50 question multiple choice test, also in a multi-state format, based on the Model Rules.

I think scores on the various multi-state exams were transferable to other states within a certain time limit…maybe a year or two.

Some states will allow a lawyer admitted in another jurisdiction to take an “Attorney’s Exam” instead of the full bar. In my state, someone admitted in another state for at least 5 years and in good standing would qualify. The Attorney’s Exam is just the state-specific essay portion. I don’t know if being admitted in another country would qualify for that or not.

Again, please note I took the bar 15 years ago. Things may have changed since then. I know we have several new lawyers on the board, so maybe they’ll be able to provide more current info…

Bah…missed the edit window. Wanted to add:
Also, at least in my state, the bar is only given twice a year (July and February), and the application process itself is lengthy, so you’ll want to look into those requirements for any state you want to try. I suspect that the earliest you could get cleared to sit for a bar starting now would be one given in February, 2011, but that will probably vary by state.

It’s been a long, long time since I took the California bar. Rumor had it that California, Ohio and New York were the toughest, but obviously I don’t know. There are two month practice courses that I strongly recommend you look into and do all the prep for.

Thanks Oakminster and The Second Stone, if I decide to do it I will certainly take a prep course based on both your recommendations.

Realistically, I think the N.Y. exam next February is the earliest I could hope to sit for, given my other commitments. That will give me time for a few months of private study, and then an intensive two-month course (which I believe I can do online) and that should more or less cover it, do you think?

UGH! I just lost my whole post. The high points
-I took and passed the NY Bar in July
-Oakminster is misremembering or the format has changed. NY gives a 2 day bar exam. 1 day NY Exam and one day Multistate Bar Exam. There is no essay on multistate law
-The NY exam is 5 essays on NY law (may choose from, or combine, from 12 topics), 50 multiple choice, and an MPT (Multistate ?Practical? Exam) which gives you a packet of cases and client information, and you have to do something for the client (draft a will, pleading, memo, etc).
-I took a 2 month fulltime review course as do most NY Bar takers. There are three companies. I am not a a fan of BarBri.
-I believe NY requires foreign attorneys to complete a 1 year LLM at a US law school before sitting for the Bar.
-NY does require the MPRE (as far as I know everyone does) but you can take it at any time prior to your Admission, included after the bar exam.
-final point: passing the NY Bar does not make you an attorney in NY. You have to be admitted to the Bar which is a somewhat complicated process. Also, once admitted your credentials will expire unless you maintain Continuing Legal Education Credits as required.

Er…actually, I was less than clear that I didn’t take the New York bar. Sometimes I just assume everyone knows I’m in the rural South. The bar I took is/was as I described.

Ah, gotcha. As an aside, I thought only California had a 3 day exam.

It’s hard to judge how much time you will need because of how far removed you are from law school.

That being said, the New York Bar Exam is difficult but far from impossible. From my experience, those who put the time in pass.

California has a 3 day exam (essay-MBE-essay … with 3 essays per essay day). California requires the highest score of any other state. I think New York is second.

California has no reciprocity with any other state if that matters to you. Although I think DC will accept partial California results toward the DC Bar.

California is in the minority of states that does not have Tax on the Bar Exam.

Oh, I think California has an attorney exam. Not sure how it’s different than the regular exam.

WA’s is 2.5 days, no tax (for obvious reasons), and also doesn’t use any of the multistate tests (though that’s being reconsidered).

Special Rules for DC Bar Admission based on your MBE score from a test you took for another state (see 5th subhead). I don’t think that applies to foreign attorneys.

New York also does not have Tax on the Bar exam (they used to, apparently). However, of the 12 testable topics, 5 concern commercial law: Negotiable Instruments, Secured Transactions, Corporations, Partnership/Agency, NY Contracts. Plus Wills/Trusts to some extent.

I would check very carefully the regulations of the jurisdiction where you want to take the bar. For New York, check the NYS Board of Law Examiners website.

The short version is that in New York, if you have are a lawyer in a jurisdiction whose law is based on the English Common Law and your legal training qualifies, you may be permitted to sit for the bar without anything further. Otherwise, you will have to take a one year course in U.S. law, usually an LL.M. program, which many law schools offer. Then, you have to pass the bar exam, though one of the major bar review courses can help significantly.

If you want to work in New York, you may be able to be licensed as a Foreign Legal Consultant.

Does having a certification in NY allow you to practice in border states, like NJ/CT etc?

No, except under the general rules for practicing temporarily in another state for a particular matter (called admission pro hac vice).

However, the Bar exams for states near NY are complimentarily scheduled so you can sit for two in one “go”. The most common combo is to sit for NY and NJ exams but only take the MBE once.
Day One: NY Exam
Day Two: MBE
Day Three: NJ Exam

I didn’t do that so I don’t know the exact mechanics but apparently both states can look at your MBE results regardless of where you took it. Many people take the NJ as a backup but if you don’t live or work in NJ maintaining your credentials is an expensive pain.

I took and passed the Ohio bar exam in 1992, having studied for several months beforehand (including the Princeton Bar Review course, which was pretty helpful). Ohio had a three-day exam, one day of which was the Multistate. If your Multistate score was over a certain number, you could be admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar as well, but I knew I wouldn’t be practicing there anytime soon, and didn’t want to pay the $200 upfront registration fee they wanted (to say nothing of not wanting to be on the hook for continuing legal education and annual bar dues there).

Ohio’s bar exam isn’t particularly hard, from all I’ve read. California, New York and Florida have a reputation for tough bar exams, in part, I think, because there are already so many lawyers admitted in those states (retirees, in Florida’s case). At least in 1992, the Texas bar exam had a mandatory section on oil and gas law, I remember hearing from a Texas friend. Also, if you graduated from an accredited law school in Nebraska, IIRC, you didn’t have to take the Nebraska bar exam.

I don’t know where you’re from or what your life situation is, but some jurisdictions will not allow you to get admitted unless you are legally allowed to work in the US. Texas is one of them:

Rule II
General Eligibility Requirements for Admission to the Texas Bar

(a) To be eligible for admission or reinstatement as a licensed attorney in Texas, the Applicant shall…
(5) qualify under one of the following categories:
(A) be a United States citizen;
(B) be a United States National;
(C) be an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence;
(D) be an alien otherwise authorized to work lawfully in the United States;

as an aside: I think these jurisdictions should have reciprocity policies for admission of foreign law graduates.

for shits and giggles I have, from time to time, looked up the requirements for US attorneys to get admitted in Australia, Ontario, and England.

not. pretty.

Can you tell us what they are nowadays, in a nutshell? Just curious.