Admission to the bar is conducted via the Board of Bar Examiners of the state in which you are applying. While the admission process may vary significantly from state to state, the process usually involves:
- Applying to sit for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and taking the MPRE;
- Applying to sit for the bar exam and taking the bar exam; and
- Completing your state’s character and fitness process and any additional admission prerequisites.
LL.M. students should make sure that they are eligible to take that state’s bar exam and file the requisite evaluation request (such as the Online Foreign Evaluation required by the New York State Board of Law Examiners) and required documentation well in advance of the applicable bar exam date. Students seeking information about bar exam eligibility based on foreign legal education may wish to consult NCBE Chart 4.
Because procedures vary by state, you will not typically receive emails from HLS about upcoming deadlines, but there are a number of resources available to help you navigate the process. Here is a quick overview chart of relevant resources and offices at HLS:
|Overview of Bar Admission||State Boards of Bar Examiners and the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)|
|The Bar Exam||State Boards of Bar Examiners, OCS & OPIA for employment-related issues, Dean of Students Office for logistical questions|
|Character and Fitness||Dean of Students Office|
|The MPRE||National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE)|
|Bar Application Forms||Office of the Registrar|
Begin your search by visiting the NCBE’s Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements, which contains information about deadlines and requirements for different jurisdictions. It is important that you routinely check your state’s bar admission page, as deadlines and requirements may change throughout the year and state committees are not flexible about waiving requirements.
Each year the Dean of Students Office co-sponsors a number of information sessions on the bar exam that cover both the application process and character & fitness processes. Speakers generally include representatives from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and some of the major bar preparation companies.
DOS Bar Advising Video Series
The Dean of Students Office has created a video series discussing the bar exam, an overview of the application process, the MPRE, and many other bar-related topics. New videos will be added as they are completed.
The Bar Exam
The bar exam is offered twice per year – once in February and once in July. It is generally a two-day examination, although it lasts three days in some jurisdictions. There are two types of bar exams: UBE (Uniform Bar Examination) and non-UBE. UBE exams are always the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July. Most non-UBE jurisdictions follow the UBE’s schedule.
Though the format varies by jurisdiction, components may include:
- MBE: The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a six-hour, two-hundred question multiple-choice examination covering civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, evidence, and real property.
- MPT: The Multistate Performance Test (MPT), two 90-minute skills questions covering factual analysis, legal analysis and reasoning, problem solving, identification and resolution of ethical dilemmas, written communication, and organization and management of a legal task.
- MEE: The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), a three-hour, six-question essay examination covering the following areas of law: business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, family law, real property, secured transactions, torts, and trusts and estates.
- State-specific multiple choice and essays: Check with your local state bar.
- UBE: The UBE is a two-day exam composed of the MBE, MPT and MEE. The MEE and MPT are taken on the first day, and the MBE on the second day.
Commercial Bar Preparation Courses
Most law graduates take a commercial bar preparation course beginning in late May. If you are working for a law firm, your employer may cover the costs, so you should ask your firm how to handle costs and make sure to keep receipts for reimbursement purposes. If you are pursuing a career outside of the private sector with lower pay, you may want to inquire with the bar courses about scholarships or about the possibility of working as a representative for the company to receive a discounted course. Some bar courses allow students who will be working at a law firm to “sponsor” public-interest students for the full cost of their course tuition. Student Government also coordinates a “matching” program, to match public-interest students with other students whose employers will sponsor course tuition.
HLS does not endorse any specific bar review company, and encourages you to determine which course is best for you by speaking to recent graduates, bar review company representatives, and employers.
Additional state-specific requirements for UBE states
With the wider adoption of the UBE, many states that use the UBE now require that applicants complete an additional, state-specific component that ensures applicants understand key distinctions in certain areas for that state’s laws. Both Massachusetts and New York require state-specific examinations to be completed; Massachusetts has the Massachusetts Law Component (MLC) and New York has the New York Law Course (NYLC) followed by the New York Law Exam (NYLE).
Admission to multiple jurisdictions or reciprocity or score transfer
Some students seek admission to multiple states at the same time, and with the wider adoption of the UBE this has become easier. Students seek multiple admissions for many reasons, whether for future employment opportunities, plans to relocate in the near future, or because there are useful admission combinations, such as New York and D.C., New York and Massachusetts, and New York and New Jersey. You may hear terms such as “score transfer,” “waiving in,” or “admission by motion”; these are all terms for seeking admission to another state without taking that state’s bar exam. Not all jurisdictions allow this, however, so be sure to research your options thoroughly.
States that use the UBE typically allow for a “score transfer,” where you take the exam in one state and then, once your exam score is released, apply to another state using their score transfer process. Sometimes people transfer their score as soon as it is released, other times they wait a little bit longer to start the process. You should note that every state that allows this also sets a limit on how long that score is valid, ranging from 2 years to 5 years.
Non-UBE states do not have portable scores, to either UBE or other non-UBE states, but sometimes transferring the MBE (multistate bar exam) score is possible. For states that allow this, both states must use the UBE and, provided it is considered passing in the second state, you can transfer your MBE score and only take the essay portion of the bar exam in the second state. Some states have a further requirement that there be reciprocity between the two states.
Note that military spouse attorneys may be able to apply for a temporary permit to practice while in a state on military orders without needing to take an additional bar exam. See the Military Spouse J.D. Network website for more information.
Bar Exam Application
Every state has its own application and materials to apply to sit for the bar exam, so the relevant forms and materials can be found on the states Board of Bar Examiners website. May states allow e-filing of applications now, so you will need to create an account with the state’s servicer.
Some states require that all materials, bar exam application and character and fitness application, be submitted at the same time. Others have you submit the materials separately.
Most bar applications also require that certain forms be filled out by you or by HLS. Forms requiring a signature by a school official should be sent to the Registrar’s Office, even a “Dean’s Certification” form and forms related to character and fitness. You can get character and fitness advising in the Dean of Students Office, but the forms must be signed by the Registrar.
Students who plan to request testing accommodations on the bar exam should first go to the bar admission website of the state where they are taking the exam and familiarize themselves with the application requirements and deadlines. Many states have early deadlines for accommodations information and it may take time to gather and process the necessary documentation, so give yourself plenty of time to complete this. Please also keep in mind that HLS’ process of providing accommodations is not necessarily reflective of the process for receiving testing accommodations on the bar exam.
Accessibility Services (email@example.com) is an excellent resource for additional assistance and information about requesting accommodations on the bar exam.
Information about requesting accommodations on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) can be found on the NCBE website.
Character and Fitness
In addition to examinations, each applicant is required to produce evidence that they are a person of honest demeanor and good moral character, possessing the requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney at law.
While character and fitness disclosures vary by state, you should be prepared to list specifics of every place you have lived since you turned 18, every job you have held (with contacts to confirm employment) since you turned 18, every speeding ticket, any disciplinary action in school, and any arrest or criminal charge as well as full details of the incident. You should start assembling the documents months in advance of your application due date because the process can be time-consuming. If you are concerned about how to disclose a certain piece of information, you can contact the Dean of Students Office or Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a lawyer assistance program funded by bar dues.
Where a character & fitness application requires a certification from the Dean of the Law School, this form should be sent to the Registrar’s Office.
Many states require a set of fingerprints for the character & fitness review process. The Harvard University Police Department will provide fingerprinting services.
What is the MPRE?
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is required for admission to the bars of all U.S. jurisdictions except Wisconsin and Puerto Rico. The MPRE is based on the law governing the professional conduct of lawyers. It’s a two hour, 60-question multiple-choice exam administered three times per year (March, August, and November). J.D. students may sit for the MPRE before taking a Legal Profession course at HLS.
Some jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts, require a passing score on file before you are allowed to apply for the bar exam. Other jurisdictions require a passing score before you are allowed to sit for the bar exam. Still others allow you to obtain a passing score after taking the bar exam. Check applicable requirements with your state bar association, particularly if you are considering waiting until March of your 3L year to take the MPRE. Be aware that if you wait to take the MPRE after sitting for the bar, you may delay your bar admission.
Unlike the bar exam, students do not have to take the MPRE in the jurisdiction where they plan to practice.
Registering and Preparing for the MPRE
- The MPRE registration deadline is often nearly 2 months before the actual exam, and no late registrations are accepted. You should register early to get your preferred test location, since easy to get to locations will fill up.
- Applying for MPRE exam accommodations has an even earlier recommended deadline, so be sure to start your research and application process early. You must be approved for accommodations before registering for the exam.
- Most students take a prep course offered by a bar preparation company or rely on the practice materials available on the MPRE website. Many bar prep companies offer free MPRE courses.
You can find answers to some frequently asked questions about forms, the bar exam, and the admission process on our FAQ page.