Administering bar exams is the responsibility of the bar association in the particular state or territory concerned. Those interested in pursuing a career at the bar must first be admitted as lawyers in the Supreme Court of their home state or territory. This generally requires the completion of legal studies which can take up to 8 years depending on the mode of study, the particular degree being completed and the law school. After completing a law degree, law graduates are then usually required to complete a period of Practical Legal Training (PLT).
During the PLT period, law graduates are provided with further legal education focusing more on the practical or technical aspects of the law, such as court practice, conveyancing and drafting statements of claim. Law graduates are also required to complete a minimum number of days under the supervision of a more senior lawyer.
After the successful completion of practical legal training, law graduates must then apply to be admitted to the Supreme Court in their state or territory. This ceremony is usually held with the Chief Justice of the state or territory presiding. It is a formal ceremony which also includes taking an oath (or making an affirmation) to uphold the laws of the jurisdiction and results in the person's name being recorded on the Roll of Practitioners in that jurisdiction.
Once admitted, those wishing to practise as barristers must contact the relevant bar association to register and sit the bar exam. The frequency and availability of these exams depends on the relevant bar association. Generally, the bar exams focus on three main areas of practice which are relevant to barristers; namely evidence, procedure and ethics. The exams are usually administered during the course of a day and comprise a variety of question types, usually answers are given in essay form. Candidates are informed of their results within a few months and pass rates are very competitive. Passing the bar exam in and of itself does not automatically allow one to practise as a barrister, in many jurisdictions (such as New South Wales) further requirements apply.
New South Wales
In New South Wales, successful bar exam candidates are required to complete the NSW Bar Association Bar Practice Course (BPC), which despite its name, is a mandatory course required to be taken after passing the bar exam. The BPC consists of lectures, assignments and a significant amount of further reading about court procedure and case law. At the conclusion of the BPC, candidates are then required to appear in a mock trial, often before real judicial officers, and argue their respective case. Once satisfied that the candidate has completed these requirements, the NSW Bar Association then provides each candidate with their practising certificate.
Newly called barristers are referred to as readers for a period of usually one year and are required to have at least one tutor who is barrister with at least seven years of call but is not Senior Counsel. The term reader and tutor are similar to the term pupil and pupil master as used in the United Kingdom Inns of Court.
The initial practising certificate often contains restrictions on what type of work readers are permitted to do. This may include restrictions such as appearing in court alone, undertaking direct access briefs or any other restriction which the bar association deems appropriate. After the 12-month period and upon completion of further requirements such as civil and criminal reading to the bar associations satisfaction, readers are then provided with an unrestricted practising certificate and are no longer readers but barristers.
Further information can be obtained from the relevant bar association in each state or territory:
The Order of Attorneys of Brazil (Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil), the Brazilian bar association, administers a bar examination nationwide two to three times a year (usually in January, March and September). The exam is divided in two stages – the first consists of 80 multiple choice questions covering all disciplines (Ethics, Human Rights, Philosophy of Law, Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Civil Law, Consumer Law, Civil Procedure Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Labour Law and Labour Procedure Law). The candidate must score at least 40 questions correctly to proceed to the second part of the exam, four essay questions and a drafting project (motion, opinion or claim document) in Civil Law (including Consumer Law), Labour Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Corporate Law or Tax Law, and their respective procedures. The Bar examination can be taken on the graduation year. Success in the examination allows one to practice in any court or jurisdiction of the country.
In Canada, admission to the bar is a matter of provincial or territorial jurisdiction. All provinces except for Québec follow a common law tradition. Lawyers in every common law province are qualified as both barristers and solicitors, and must pass a Barristers' Examination and Solicitors' Examination administered by the Law Society that governs the legal profession in their respective province or territory. The common law provinces all require prospective lawyers to complete a term of articles (usually 10 months) after graduation from law school during which they work under the supervision of a qualified lawyer. The bar exams may be taken after graduation from law school, but before the commencement of articling, or may be taken during or after articling is completed. Once the barristers' and solicitors' exams have been passed and the term of articles is successfully completed, students may then be called to the bar and admitted to the legal profession as lawyers (barristers and solicitors).
People's Republic of China
England and Wales
Since the UK has a separated legal profession, Law graduates in England and Wales can take examinations to qualify as a Barrister or a Solicitor by either undertaking the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) or the Legal Practice Course (LPC) respectively. These courses are the vocational part of the training required under the rules of the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority and are either undertaken on a full-time basis for one year or on a part-time basis over two years. After successfully completing these courses, which generally include various examinations and practical ability tests, graduates must secure either a training contract (for those who have completed the LPC) or a pupillage (for those who have completed the BPTC). These are akin to articling positions in other jurisdictions and are the final practical stage before being granted full admission to practice. The general timescale therefore to become fully qualified after entering Law School can range between 6–7 years (assuming no repeats are required).
However some controversy remains about the lack of training contracts and pupillages available to graduates even after having completed the LPC/BPTC. These courses can vary in cost anywhere from £9,000 to £17,000 and are generally undertaken by students on a private basis making them incur additional costs. The final debt in student fees alone after having completed the academic and vocational training can range between £20,000-£25,000. This is set to increase to £40,000-£50,000 for students entering law school.
In France, Law graduates must obtain a vocational degree called certificat d'aptitude à la profession d'avocat (or CAPA in everyday speech) in order to practice independently. The most common way to achieve the CAPA is by training in an école d'avocats (Lawyer's School). This training includes academical and vocational courses and mandatory internships in law firms. Entrance to Lawyer's School is obtained by competitive examination.
To become a lawyer in Germany, one has to study law at university for four or five years. Then, one has to pass the First Juristic Examination (Erste Juristische Prüfung) in Law, which is administered in parts by the Oberlandesgericht (Higher State Court) of the respective state and in parts by the university the person attends; the state part accounts for two thirds of the final grade, the university part for one third. This examination provides a very limited qualification, as there are no formal careers in the legal field that can be followed without further training. After the first juristic examination, candidates that wish to fully qualify must participate in a two-year practical training period (Referendariat) including practical work as judge, prosecutor, and attorney. At the end of this training, candidates must take and pass the Second State Examination (Zweites Staatsexamen). This examination, if passed, allows successful participants to enter the bar as attorney, to become judges and to become state attorneys. All careers have the same legal training (Einheitsjurist), even though some careers require additional training (namely public notaries and patent lawyers).
To become a lawyer in Ghana, you have to study law at any university that offers the Bachelor of Laws degree. After completing the four year law degree, graduands can apply to be enrolled at the Ghana School of Law. Following two years of professional training, successful students can take their bar examination. Upon passing the bar examination, an induction and calling to the bar ceremony is held for all graduating students.
In Hungary, the Bar Examination is called "Jogi Szakvizsga", can be translated as "Legal Profession Examination". To sit for an exam, the candidate needs at least 3 years of daily 8 hours work experience after having a law university degree (masters level).  This exam is composed of three parts:
- Criminal Law, Criminal Procedural Law and Law of Criminal Enforcement
- Civil Law, Civil Procedural Law and Business Law
- Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, Labor Law, Social Security Law and Law of the European Union.
After passing these exams the candidate can practice law as a lawyer or as a court secretary, judge, a prosecutor at the public prosecutor's office, as a notary public, deputy notary, or an in-house legal counsel etc., and may operate individually at any field of Hungarian law (which also means that they may appear before any Hungarian court without a professional legal representative ).
The bar exams in Ireland are the preserve of the Honorable Society of King's Inns, which runs a series of fourteen exams over ten weeks, from March to June each year, for those enrolled as students in its one-year Barrister-at-Law degree course. These exams cover such skills as advocacy, research and opinion writing, consulting with clients, negotiation, drafting of legal documents and knowledge of civil and criminal procedure. For those who fail to meet the requisite 50% pass mark, repeats are held in the following August and September.
The Bar Exam in Iran is administered by two different and completely separate bodies. One is the Bar Association of every province -- all of which are under the auspices of the country's syndicate of the bars of the country. The other one is administered by the Judicial System of Iran subject to article 187 of the country's economic, social and cultural development plan.
To receive the license to practice as a “First Degree Attorney” in Iran, an applicant should complete a bachelor of law program. The official career path starts after passing the Bar Exam and receiving the title of “Trainee at Law”. The exam is highly competitive and only a certain number of top applicants are admitted annually.
After admission to the bar, an 18-month apprenticeship begins which is highly regulated under the auspices of Bar Syndicate Rules and supervision of an assigned First Degree Attorney. Trainees or apprentices must attend designated courts for designated weeks to hear cases and write case summaries. A logbook signed by the judge on the bench has to certify their weekly attendance. By the end of the eighteenth month, they are eligible to apply to take the Final Bar Exam by submitting their case summaries, the logbook and a research work pre-approved by the Bar. It is noteworthy, however, that during these 18 months, Trainees are eligible to have a limited practice of law under the supervision of their supervising Attorney. This practice does not include Supreme Court eligible cases and certain criminal and civil cases. Candidates will be tested on Civil law, Civil Procedure, Criminal law, Criminal Procedure, Commercial Law, Notary (including rules pertaining Official Documents, Land & Real Estate registrations and regulations etc.). Each exam takes two days, a day on oral examination in front of a judge or an attorney, and a day of essay examination, in which they will be tested on hypothetical cases submitted to them. Successful applicants will be honoured with the title of “First Degree Attorney”, after they take the oath and can practice in all courts of the country including the Supreme Court. Those who fail must redo the program in full or in part before re-taking the Final Bar Exam.
In Italy, the Bar Examination is called "abilitazione all'esercizio della professione forense". To sit for an exam, the candidate needs a 5-year university degree in jurisprudence and 18 months of legal apprenticeship at a law firm with at least 20 court hearings per semester. The State Bar Exam is composed of two parts: a written exam and an oral exam. The written exam is composed of three written tests over three seven-hour days. The candidate writes two legal briefs, respectively on contracts and torts (and more generally about civil law), and criminal law, and a third court brief on civil, crime, or administrative law. The candidates who pass the written tests (the pass rates vary from 30% to 50% according to jurisdiction) can sit at an oral exam before a panel of judges, layers, and law professors, who interview for about an hour the candidates on six areas of law. Italian lawyers may represent their clients on any Italian criminal, civil, or administrative court, except the Supreme Court of Cassation for which an additional exam after several years of law practice is required.
The bar exams in Japan yield the least number of successful candidates worldwide. The old format of the examinations, last held in 2010 saw only 6% passing the exam. With the new format of examinations -- even after extensive reforms and a new mandatory duration of graduate school education for a period of two years -- the pass rate is only 22%. Since 2014, candidates are allowed to take the examinations within five years before their right to take the exam is revoked and they either have to return to law school, take the preparatory exam or give up totally. It is administered solely by the Ministry of Justice.
Due to the colonial-era influence, Korea's bar exam system closely follows that of Japan's. First introduced in 1963, Korea is phasing out in 2017 its old system that allows anyone to take the exam and undergo mandatory 2-year state-sponsored training that is criticized for generating "고시낭인" or "exam jobless" referring to people who spend many years of their lives preparing for the exam. The new law school system that began in 2009 allows only the graduates of a law school to apply for the bar exam.
The Philippine Bar Examination is administered once every year on the four Sundays of November (September before 2011). It covers eight areas of law: political law, labor law and social legislation, criminal law, civil law, commercial law, taxation law, remedial law, and legal ethics and practical exercises.
In Poland, the bar examination is taken after graduating from a law faculty at a university. It allows a person to undertake practice, the duration of which varies depending on the specialization. After the practical period applicants must pass the exam held by the Professional Chambers with assistance from some members of the Ministry of Justice.
The Singapore Bar Examination (Part B) is administered once every year, usually over the course of four days. The exam is generally held on the last week of November, and is administered by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE). The eight practice areas covered in the examination include, Civil Law Practice, Criminal Law Practice, Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Family Law Practice, Real Estate Practice, Insolvency Practice, and two electives to be chosen from a list of elective subjects offered, such as, Mediation, Arbitration, and Intellectual Property. From 2023 the exam will become more stringent and training will be lengthened.
In Singapore, the legal profession is a fused profession, granting the professional qualification of an 'Advocate and Solicitor' to any successful candidate of the Bar Examinations and its practical requirements. To qualify as a candidate for the Bar Examinations, an aspiring candidate must first be a graduate from a law school or university that is on the approved list of schools mandated by the Ministry of Law. The three universities based in Singapore offering a Bachelor of Laws degree are, National University of Singapore, Singapore Management University, and Singapore University of Social Sciences. There are presently twenty-seven (27) foreign universities offering an approved Bachelor of Laws degree on the list, hailing from four countries, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America.
To be called to the Singaporean Bar, all law graduates must complete the following:
- Sit for, and pass the Singapore Bar Examinations (Part B).
- Completed a six-month training contract known as the Practice Training Contract with a local law firm, or practice.
- Subject to an order from Court, legal trainees who have completed at least three months of their Practice Training Contract, as well as sat for and passed the Singapore Bar Examinations (Part B), are able to seek partial admission to the bar. By applying to the Court to be part-called, candidates are granted the right to appear before the Court in specific circumstances.
In addition, all law graduates of non-Singaporean university must complete the following additional requirements:
- Sit for, and pass the Singapore Bar Examinations (Part A). The five subjects which are offered in this exam are, Administrative and Constitutional Law, Company Law, Criminal Law, Evidence, and Land Law. All foreign university graduates are required to pass this exam to prove competence in Singaporean law. Part A of the Bar Examinations are administered by SILE as well.
- All foreign university graduates are also required to complete an additional six-month training known as the Relevant Legal Training, to prove practical competence with a local law firm, or practice.
- Both the Relevant Legal Training, and the Singapore Bar Examinations (Part A) must be completed by a candidate before said candidate is allowed to commence either their Practice Training Contract, or sit for the Singapore Bar Examinations (Part B).
In Spain the examination to access the legal profession and legal practice is called State Examination for Access to the Legal Profession.
The evaluation test has a total duration of 4 hours and consists of:
- 50 questions on «Common subjects in the practice of the legal profession».
- 25 questions on «Specific subjects» according to the legal specialty (civil and commercial, criminal, administrative and contentious-administrative, and labor)
In Thailand, the bar examination is separate from the lawyer licence. To practice law as a lawyer -- i.e. to speak in the court -- one must pass a lawyer licence examination and does not need to be called to the bar. People take the bar examination to become qualified to take a judge or public prosecutor examination.
To be called to the bar, one must pass the written exams consisting of four parts as follows.
- Civil and commercial law, intellectual property law, and international trade law.
- Criminal law, employment law, constitution law, administrative law, and tax law.
- Civil procedure law, bankruptcy and business reorganization law, and the system of the court of justice. And
- Criminal procedure law, human rights, and law on the evidence.
Each part has 10 essay questions. The pass mark is 50. The parts 1-2 are usually taken in October and the rest are usually taken in March. One does not need to pass all four parts in one year. After passing all the written exams, there is an oral exam.
Around 10,000 bar students sit the exam each year. In 2013, 1,231 students were called to the bar, 111 of whom did it in only one year.
Quite confusingly with international norms, students called to the bar are referred to as netibandit (เนติบัณฑิต), which means Barrister-at-Law in English. The Thai legal profession, however, is a fused one and those with lawyer licenses are able to practice both as barristers and solicitors in the British/Commonwealth sense. Many students called to the bar choose to become judges or public prosecutors instead of lawyers. As the Thai bar examination (administered and awarded by the Thai Bar Association) is separate from the lawyers licensing scheme (administered and awarded by the Lawyers Council of Thailand), this means that judges and public prosecutors belong to a separate licensing organization from lawyers. This is unlike in the US where judges and prosecutors most often come from the ranks of senior lawyers and belong to the same bar.
Bar exams are administered by agencies of individual states. In 1738, Delaware created the first bar exam with other American states soon following suit. A state bar licensing agency is invariably associated with the judicial branch of government because American attorneys are all officers of the court of the bar(s) to which they belong.
Sometimes the agency is an office or committee of the state's highest court or intermediate appellate court. In some states which have a unified or integrated bar association (meaning that formal membership in a public corporation controlled by the judiciary is required to practice law therein), the agency is either the state bar association or a subunit thereof. Other states split the integrated bar membership and the admissions agency into different bodies within the judiciary; in Texas, the Board of Law Examiners is appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and is independent from the integrated State Bar of Texas.
The bar examination in most U.S. states and territories is at least two days long (a few states have three-day exams) and usually consists of:
- Essay questions:
- Essentially all jurisdictions administer several such questions that test knowledge of general legal principles, and may also test knowledge of the state's own law (usually subjects such as wills, trusts and community property, which always vary from one state to another). Some jurisdictions choose to use the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), drafted by the NCBE since 1988, for this purpose. Others may draft their own questions with this goal in mind, while some states both draft their own questions and use the MEE.
- Some jurisdictions administer complicated questions that specifically test knowledge of that state's law.
- Multistate standardized examinations (below)
When exams occur
Each state controls when it administers its bar exam. Because the MBE (below) is a standardized test, it must be administered on the same day across the country. That day occurs twice a year as the last Wednesday in July and the last Wednesday in February. Two states, Delaware and North Dakota, may administer their bar exams only once, in July, if they do not have enough applicants to merit a second sitting. North Dakota requires ten applicants in order to administer the February exam. Most bar exams are administered on consecutive days. Louisiana is the exception, with the Louisiana Bar Exam being a three-day examination on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Also, Louisiana's examination is the longest in the country in terms of examination time, with seven hours on Monday and Wednesday and seven and a half hours on Friday for a total of 21.5 hours of testing. Montana's bar examination also occurs over a three-day period, with a total of 18 hours of testing. The bar exams in Delaware, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas are also three days long. The California bar exam moved to a two-day format beginning with the July 2017 exam.
The MEE and MPT, as uniform though not standardized tests, also must be administered on the same day across the country – specifically the day before the MBE.
Preparation for the exam
Most law schools teach students common law and how to analyze hypothetical fact patterns like a lawyer, but do not specifically prepare law students for any particular bar exam. Only a minority of law schools offer bar preparation courses.
To refresh their memory on "black-letter rules" tested on the bar, most students engage in a regimen of study (called "bar review") between graduating from law school and sitting for the bar. For bar review, most students in the United States attend a private bar review course which is provided by a third-party company and not their law school.
Multistate standardized examinations
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is a U.S. based non-profit organization that develops national ("multistate") standardized tests for admission to the bar in individual states. The organization was founded in 1931. The best known exams developed by NCBE are the Multistate Bar Examination (1972), the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (1980), the Multistate Essay Examination (1988), and the Multistate Performance Test (1997).
Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)
NCBE has developed a Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which consists solely of the MBE, MEE, and MPT, and offers portability of scores across state lines. Missouri became the first state to adopt the UBE; both that state and North Dakota were the first to administer the UBE, doing so in February 2011. Following Missouri's lead, several other jurisdictions, all of which were among the 22 that already were using all three components of the UBE, are expected to adopt that examination. However, many of the largest legal markets – e.g., California and Florida – have so far chosen not to adopt the UBE. Among the concerns cited with the adoption of the UBE were its absence of questions on state law and the fact that it would give the NCBE much greater power in the bar credentialing process.
- Alabama (July 2011)
- Alaska (July 2014)
- Arizona (July 2012)
- Colorado (February 2012)
- Connecticut (January 2017)
- District of Columbia (January 2016)
- Idaho (February 2012)
- Iowa (February 2016) 
- Kansas (February 2016)
- Maine (July 2017)
- Massachusetts (January 2018)
- Minnesota (February 2014)
- Missouri (February 2011)
- Montana (July 2013)
- Nebraska (February 2013)
- New Hampshire (February 2014)
- New Jersey (February 2016)
- New Mexico (January 2016)
- New York (July 2016)
- North Dakota (February 2011)
- Oregon (January 2017)
- Rhode Island (February 2018)
- South Carolina (January 2017)
- Utah (February 2013)
- Vermont (January 2016)
- Washington (July 2013)
- West Virginia (January 2017)
- Wyoming (July 2013)
Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination created and sold to participating state bar examiners.
The examination is administered on a single day of the bar examination in 49 states and Washington, D.C., as well as in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Republic of Palau. The only state that does not administer the MBE is Louisiana, which follows a civil law system very different from the law in other states. The MBE is also not administered in Puerto Rico, which, like Louisiana, has a civil law system. The MBE is given twice a year: on the last Wednesday of July in all jurisdictions that require that examination, and on the last Wednesday of February in the same jurisdictions, except for Delaware and North Dakota.
The 200 MBE questions test six subjects based upon principles of common law and Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code (covering sales of goods) that apply throughout the United States. The questions are not broken down into sections and the six topics are distributed more or less evenly throughout the course of the exam. Exam-takers generally receive three hours during the morning session to complete the first 100 questions, and another three hours during the afternoon session to complete the second 100 questions.
In January 2009, NCBE indicated that it was considering adding a seventh topic, civil procedure, to the examination. Civil Procedure was scheduled to make its first showing on the MBE in February 2015.
The average raw score from the summer exam historically has been about 128, or about 67% correct (only 175 of the 200 questions are scored with the remaining 25 questions being evaluated for future use), while the average scaled score in 2007 was about 140. In summer 2007, the average scaled score was 143.7 with a standard deviation of 15.9. Over 50,000 applicants took the test; less than half that number took it in the winter.
Transfer of MBE scores
Taking the MBE in one jurisdiction may allow an applicant to use his or her MBE score to waive into another jurisdiction or to use the MBE score with another state's bar examination.
Multistate Essay Examination (MEE)
The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is a collection of essay questions largely concerning the common law administered as a part of the bar examination in 26 jurisdictions of the United States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Palau (Not part of the United States), Rhode Island, South Carolina (eff. Feb. 2017), South Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
- Business associations – Agency and partnership, corporations, limited liability companies
- Conflict of laws
- Constitutional law
- Criminal law and procedure
- Family law
- Federal civil procedure
- Real property
- Trusts and estates – decedents' estates; trusts and future interests
- Uniform Commercial Code – Article 3, Negotiable Instruments; Article 4 [Bank Deposits and Collections]; Article 9, Secured Transactions
MEE questions are actually drafted by the NCBE Drafting Committee, with the assistance of outside academics and practitioners who are experts in the fields being tested. After initial drafting, the questions are pretested, analyzed by outside experts and a separate NCBE committee, reviewed by boards of bar examiners in the jurisdictions that use the test, and then revised by the Drafting Committee in accordance with the results of this process. Each MEE question is accompanied by a grading guide, and the NCBE sponsors a grading workshop on the weekend following the bar exam whose results are provided to bar examiners.
The examination is always administered on a single day of the bar examination, specifically the day before the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). Through February 2007, the MEE consisted of seven questions, with most jurisdictions selecting six of the seven questions to administer. Unlike the MBE, which is graded and scored by the NCBE, the MEE is graded exclusively by the jurisdiction that administers the bar examination. Each jurisdiction has the choice of grading MEE questions according to general U.S. common law or the jurisdiction's own law.
The MEE is generally paired with the MPT.
Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
The Multistate Performance Test (MPT), a written performance test designed to test an examinee's ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a realistic situation and complete a task that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. It was developed by the NCBE and is used in many U.S. jurisdictions. The MPT is generally paired with the MEE.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
In almost all jurisdictions, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an ethics exam, is also administered by the NCBE, which creates it and grades it. The MPRE is offered four times a year, in March, August, September and November
California and Pennsylvania draft and administer their own performance tests. California performance tests were three hours in length prior to 2017 and are far more difficult than the MPT; as of July 2017, California has switched to a 90-minute format but continues to prepare its own performance tests.
Essay questions are the most variable component of the bar exam. States emphasize different areas of law in their essay questions depending upon their respective histories and public policy priorities. For example, unlike Texas and Alta California, Louisiana did not convert to common law when it was acquired by the United States, so its essay questions require knowledge of the state's unique civil law system. Several states whose law descends from Spanish and Mexican civil law, like Texas and California, require all bar exam applicants to demonstrate knowledge of community property law. Pennsylvania, with a history of federal tax evasion (e.g., the Whiskey Rebellion), tests federal income tax law, while New Jersey, with a history of discriminatory zoning (resulting in the controversial Mount Laurel doctrine), tests zoning and planning law. Washington, South Dakota, and New Mexico each test Indian law, because of their relatively large populations of Native Americans and large numbers of Indian reservations. Most states test knowledge of the law of negotiable instruments and secured transactions (Articles 3 and 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code), but Alaska, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania do not; they have recognized that the vast majority of criminal, personal injury, and family lawyers will never draft a promissory note or litigate the validity of a security interest.
Arguments against bar exams
A statement by the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) articulates many criticisms of the bar exam.. The SALT statement, however, does propose some alternative methods of bar admission that are partially test-based. A response to the SALT statement was made by Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus in The Bar Examiner
Arguments for alternatives to the bar exam
The NCBE published an article in 2005 addressing alternatives to the bar exam, including a discussion of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, an alternate certification program introduced at the University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center) in that year.
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