What Is the Bar Exam Like?
You’ve worked hard all through law school, hoping to finally reach the goal of a rewarding career in the field of law. But graduating with your J.D. isn’t technically the finish line.
First, you have to pass the bar exam.
If you’re planning on working as an attorney anywhere in the United States (with the exception of Wisconsin), you will have to pass the bar exam first. And if this is your first time, you might be asking yourself, “What is the bar exam?”
What Is the Bar Exam?
As a lawyer, you will have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Giving legal advice and representing clients in court is not a job that should be handled by just anyone. Jurisdictions need some way to prove that you have a certain level of competency needed to practice law.
Enter: the bar exam.
Rather, I should say, “Enter: the bar exams” because there is not just one type! The most common bar exam in the U.S. is the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), but it is currently adopted by only 36 states. Thirteen states (including California) have their own version of the bar exam.
I can hear you right now: “But Steven, that’s only 49 states!” You’re right. Wisconsin gives their law school graduates “diploma privilege.” They don’t have to take the bar exam in order to practice law!
California Bar Exam Format
As a UC Hastings alumnae and law professor, I eat, drink, and breathe the California bar exam. And while it’s changed a time or two over the last few years, I’ve managed to keep up with it.
Recently, the State Bar of California announced that the bar exam will be returning to an in-person format for February 2022.
Much like the UBE, the California bar is split up over two full days.
Day One consists of five 1-hour essay questions and one 90-min performance test. You will be given a lunch break after the first three essay questions.
On Day Two, you will take the Multistate Bar Examination, which is made up of 200 multiple choice questions. You will also receive a break after the first 100 questions.
That’s three distinct and separate phases, all with their own “secret code” that you’ll have to decipher in order to pass.
How Do I Study For the Bar Exam?
All bar exams are designed to be difficult, but the California bar is notoriously hard.
The advice I give my students tends to follow the same three steps:
- prepare yourself as early as you can,
- as often as you can, and
- on all three phases of the bar exam.
It’s never too early to start preparing for the California bar! In fact, you should have that goal in mind on your very first day of law school.
Generally, it’s best to be a “jack-of-all-trades” in a variety of different subjects, rather than a master at one specific one. Patent lawyers and family law attorneys both have to pass the same bar exam!
If you go the “bar exam tutoring” route, choose your program wisely. Most of them will require a ton of your time and won’t focus on all three phases of the exam.
But Wait…There’s More!
There is one more step you must take before you can practice law: pass a moral character review.
According to the Rules of the State Bar of California, prospective lawyers must show that they have “good moral character.” Among the many things considered during the review are “honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others and the judicial process.”
This review can take a minimum of six months, so start the application process early, preferably in January of your last year of law school. Once you receive the good news that you passed the exam, you’ll want to hit the ground running.
Are You Prepared?
I’ve built my career on helping students prepare for (and pass) the California Bar—it’s a skill I’ve been honing over the last 20+ years. I’m one of only three bar exam tutors in the country that offers 1-on-1 tutoring on all three phases of the bar.
Don’t have time for private bar exam tutoring? No problem. My books WINNIN’ TIME! and The Trigger List have everything you need to decipher the bar exam and finish in record time.
You won’t just feel better prepared, you’ll be better prepared!
Ready to get started? Contact me today!