how to pass the bar exam

Step Three of How to Pass the Bar Exam:

Decide Which Bar Exam to Take

“Which bar exam should I take?” This is a common question among 3Ls who are not exactly sure where they are going to work or live. Fortunately, this question has become easier to answer with the adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam.

Which Bar Exam Should I Take?

The two types of bar exams

There are two types of bar exams you may take:

  • One is the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). This bar exam is the same everywhere. So, for example, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey are examples of states that have adopted the UBE. Regardless of whether you take the bar exam in Illinois, New York, or New Jersey, the bar exam will be the exact same. Note that 36 states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam as of now! (Refer to the map for these states!)
  • The second is a state bar exam. Most jurisdictions administer the same multiple-choice portion of the bar exam but come up with their own state-specific essays. States like California and Florida administer a state-specific bar exam. So, you will be expected to know state law for the essay portion of the bar exam.

What states have adopted the UBE

Two important questions to ask

The two most important questions to ask when considering which bar exam to take are:

  • (1) Where will I work?
  • (2) Where will I live?

If you have a job lined up, ask your firm which bar exam to take. They will likely have a strong opinion. This makes your decision easy.

If you are not sure where you will work—for example, maybe you don’t have a job offer lined up—then consider where you want to live. If you go to law school in New York but really want to live in Florida, it may be wise to take the Florida Bar Exam. It will make moving to Florida and finding a job easier!

A note of caution about the UBE

Some students decide to take the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), without a real plan of where they will live or work. This is not a bad idea at all since 36 states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, so as long as some of those states sound appetizing to practice law in, then you should be all set!

However, note that:

(1) You will still have to apply to the state bar and meet all of their requirements. This may include an expensive licensing fee, passing character and fitness, etc. So, choose a state carefully because the application process may be lengthy and expensive!

(2) Your UBE score is not good forever. In fact, you can only transfer a UBE score within two to five years! (Check out this post for more about the portability of UBE scores.) So, if you think you might want to move to New York 10 years down the line, don’t automatically assume your UBE score will transfer.

Lastly, note that many states have reciprocity rules where if you practice as an attorney, for say, five years, you don’t have to take the bar exam at all or you can take just a portion of the bar exam (i.e., the essays). So, if you choose to practice in one state, you are not necessarily stuck there forever. You may be able to transfer your score without taking another bar exam.

Practicing at the federal level

If you only want to practice law at the federal level (e.g., immigration), then which state bar exam you take is a little less important. Some students take the “easiest” bar exam just so they can be licensed somewhere, and then they only practice federal law. We recommend still considering where you want to work when choosing a bar exam in case you ever choose to switch fields or in case a state case comes across your desk. You have more options if you are licensed in the state you are actually working in!

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