To practice law in most states, you must graduate from an ABA-approved or state-accredited law school, sit for and pass the bar exam of the state in which you intend to practice as well as demonstrate evidence of moral character. Even if you plan to enter a non-legal field, it is still recommended that you sit for and pass the bar exam because, even if you choose not to practice law initially, you may wish to do so later. At that time it is a lot easier to go active from an inactive status (after passing the bar), than it is to try to pass the bar after a long hiatus. Furthermore, the longer you wait to be tested, the more law you will forget. Also, state law tends to change over time; consequently, it is much easier to expend the necessary time and money at the outset and get the exam behind you. Study hard for the bar exam and do it right-the first and only time. You will then have one more career option to fall back on if necessary.
Application for Bar Exam:
The Application for Bar Examination and Declaration of Intention to Study Law (referred to in some states as Application for Law Student Registration) are used in conjunction with each other to obtain necessary information from prospective bar exam applicants. Both forms are available at respective law schools. The Declaration of Intention to Study Law is filed shortly after entrance into law school. If that form requires extensive information, the Application for Bar Examination will seem rather short and to the point. However, if the Declaration of Intention to Study Law is brief the Application for Bar Examination will be quite extensive. One way or another state will acquire its determined level of information by balancing these two forms' requirements.
The Application for Bar Examination would require such information as your full name, current and permanent addresses, telephone numbers, the law school you attended, the date you filed your Declaration of Intention to Study Law, and other such basic information as your social security and driver's license numbers, date and place of birth, father's name and address and mother's name and address, any name changes, whether or not you are a U.S. citizen, and your name as you wish it to appear on your certificate.
You must then sign the application in the presence of a notary, affirming that your statements are true and complete. You may also have to attest to the fact that you have not been mentally ill or treated for mental illness, that you have not been guilty of fraud, and that you have not been involved in civil litigation or bankruptcy proceedings. If you cannot answer the above questions in the negative, you must provide details and relevant court documents. If you did not include a fingerprint card or a notarized copy of your birth certificate (or certificate of naturalization if you are not a U.S. citizen) with your Declaration of Intention to Study Law, you will be asked to submit these materials with your application. For purposes of the fingerprint card, you may have to pay a visit to your local law enforcement office to satisfy that requirement.
After making copies of all forms for future reference, mail the original and necessary fee to the respective state board of bar examiners. We recommend that you mail all materials certified, return receipt requested as proof of timely filing.
Applicant's Request for Character Report:
In addition to or simultaneously with the Declaration of Intention to Study Law, prospective bar exam applicants must complete a Request for Character Report, which requires much the same types of information as the Declaration of Intention. The purpose of the Request for Character Report is to determine your moral and ethical fitness to practice law. After filling in the required information, you must list several unrelated character references. In addition, you must complete several "Authorization and Release" forms to allow release of the necessary information to the respective state's bar exam board. You must sign these documents in the presence of a notary, and then mail them along with the appropriate fee.
Since it takes time for the respective state boards to process the necessary information, it is suggested that you apply early. Even with timely filing, there is nothing quite so unnerving as finding out only two or three days before the bar exam that you have been approved to sit for it.
Will a review course help you pass the bar exam? Yes, it's almost a necessity as you will not have the time to amass the review materials offered by review courses nor be able to match their quality. To assist you in successfully passing the bar exam the first time, there are several excellent bar exam review courses on the market. You should consider this as time and money wisely invested in your career. If at all possible, attend a live review session; this will increase your motivation to study and afford you the comfort that you are not going through this alone.
There has always been some controversy over whether review courses can really teach effective bar exam techniques. Certainly they provide an excellent overview of the substantive law you need but no longer remember clearly from your first year of law school, but can they help you beat the system itself? We feel that the better review courses do a very good job of helping with the development of applicable exam techniques.
For the essay section of the bar exam, review courses can help you prepare general introductory topic paragraphs and statements that deal with the issues they know have a high probability of appearing. Some review courses have even done studies to forecast questions that are recurrently asked and, therefore, due to be asked again.
To assist in dealing with stress, some review companies offer to teach you relaxation techniques to alleviate tension and stress, allowing you to concentrate better and worry less. If stress is a problem that prevents you from attaining scores that you feel you deserve, then by all means look into such programs.
Possible Parts to the Bar Exam:
What is the bar exam like? As is true with law school, it is a tough ordeal. Only those who have grappled with it truly understand. It is two to three days, depending on the state, of sheer endurance. By the time it is over, you feel like you are brain dead; you are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
Proctors walk around the room and accompany students if phone calls must be made or in the event an emergency phone call is received, totally unlike law school exams where students are on the honor system and where proctors leave the room.
The essay portion of the exam may be offered on the Tuesday preceding the Wednesday Multistate or on the Thursday following the Multistate, depending on the state. This portion of the exam tests state law. Some states require students to provide their own bluebooks, which allows students to determine spacing per question or which question to answer first. Other states provide students with paper and require questions to be answered in the order in which they appear in the test booklet with only a line or two between responses. In these states, outlining the response before actually starting to write is of extreme importance. As is true with law school exams, you must work with the facts given. Changing facts can result in failure of that portion of the exam. Unlike law school exams, however, the bar exam is not as concerned with your being able to analyze both sides of every issue but rather with your stating a conclusion supported by application and analysis of the correct rule(s) of law. Of fundamental importance is the ability to show how you reached your conclusion by explaining each step of your analysis.
The timing factor on the essay portion varies widely from state to state. Some states give you one-half of the essay questions during the morning and the other half during the afternoon. During the morning you are allowed to work on all six questions, whatever length of time is required for each; the same is true with the afternoon session. When you complete the morning or afternoon section, these questions are collected and held. Other states allow you to work on all questions provided during the entire day. Still other states provide you one test booklet at a time and allow you to work only on those questions.
At the end of the time allocated for those questions, you are given a break (approximately fifteen minutes). You then return, another test booklet is provided, you answer only those questions provided, and then you're allowed another break. This process continues until you have completed the various exam booklets, which could be as many as five to six times. States do not allow examinees to keep Multistate exam booklets and many do not allow students to take essay exam booklets with them either.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam:
In addition to the bar exam, bar examinees in approximately thirty states must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) to practice law. The MPRE is a standardized test with fifty multiple-choice questions involving hypothetical's about ethics. It is administered at selected test centers throughout the country three times a year-March, August, and November. A scaled score of 75 or better is required to pass.
Students in most law schools are required to take a course such as Professional Responsibility in preparation for the MPRE. In addition, students normally register for MPRE review courses furnished by SMH, BARBRI, or Reed Law Group to enhance their chances of passing the MPRE on their first attempt. Often students take the MPRE prior to graduation from law school.
States vary in their approaches to administration of the bar exam. In certain states, there are several exam sites, in other states, bar examinees meet at a central location. To simplify logistics, if you are offered a choice of examination sites, choose one close to home.
Also, if you do not pass all of one state's bar exam on your first attempt, keep trying. Make certain you successfully complete that state's bar exam; otherwise, you may have to file a Declaration of Intention to Study Law in the second state accompanied by a late fee for not filing while you were in law school. This is true even though you may have filed a Declaration of Intention in the first state and graduated from a law school in the first state. Nor does it matter that you didn't know way back when that you would be living in another state after graduation from law school. It may sound ludicrous, but different states have different laws and to practice law in a particular state you have to comply with and abide by that state's laws.
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