Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

Law School Graduates Face the Bar

Before they begin their professional careers, law school graduates must obtain a license to practice law from the American Bar Association. Before granting licensure, the association requires that a candidate demonstrate character and competence. First, bar examiners look at a candidate’s background to make sure that they have demonstrated good character and are fit to practice law. Second, they require that a candidate demonstrate competence by meeting educational standards and passing a bar examination. Bar exams are used to determine whether or not someone meets the necessary qualifications to practice law within a given jurisdiction. In the United States, agencies in individual states administer bar exams. Since attorneys are officers of the court of the bars to which they belong, all state bar licensing agencies are associated with the judicial branch of government.

In most states, the exam lasts about two days and consists of essay questions, the Multistate Bar Examination, and a performance test. Essay questions are meant to test the examinee’s knowledge of general legal principles as well as the state’s own laws concerning trusts, wills, and community property. The Multichoice Bar Examination is a standardized exam containing 200 multiple choice questions, which examinees are given six hours to complete. Created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, it tests six subjects based on principles of common law, including torts, contracts, evidence, real property, and constitutional and criminal law. Most states also require that examinees complete a performance test that assess their actual skills as a lawyer. During the exam the examinee is given documents describing a fictional case and is required to use the material to draft a document containing a motion, opinion, or memorandum. While some states use their own performance tests, many use the Multistate Performance Test.

Passing the Bar Exam is not easy and the numbers reflect it. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, 79,125 people took the Bar Examination in 2009, and out of those people 54,027, or 68 percent, of them passed. While most schools teach their students about common law and how to analyze hypothetical fact patterns like a lawyer, they do not necessarily prepare them for the bar exam. In order to improve their chances of passing the bar exam, many graduates spend the time between graduation and sitting for the bar to engage in what is called a "bar review." During which they refresh their memory of black letter laws and take bar preparation courses offered by private companies.

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