Bar Admission Preparation Starts Early

By Eileen Santos

It's Never Too Early to Start Preparing
for Your Bar Admission

Applying for bar admission is an exhaustive and lengthy process which begins long before taking a bar examination. In all jurisdictions, there are multiple steps for applying to practice which need to be done as far in advance as possible.

Some states require first-year law students to register with their State Bar or Board of Examiners. In the remaining jurisdictions it is encouraged. Doing this starts the investigative process earlier, and as a result some states give students discounted application fees. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website has a helpful page called Bar Admission Services.

First and second year students should already be developing a thorough familiarity with the bar admission process, and calendaring all deadlines. You are accountable for every aspect of your bar admission application, so starting early is key and keeping track of the process is vital.

Register with Your State Bar

First, look up the admission requirements and registration timelines for your jurisdiction. Use our website: Bar Exam Application Information, by State, or go to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website. Find out what certifications, character investigations, personal interviews, or other licensing requirements you must satisfy.
    Did you know that the Florida Board of Bar Examiners requires applicants to be fingerprinted electronically? You'll have to go somewhere to get this done before the deadline, whether or not you're in Florida.
Learn what information you can, or must, submit online; know what you can, or must, print and send. Find out whether you'll be required to pay fees by credit card or check, and what payment methods won't be accepted. If your state uses an on-line applicant system, create your account as soon as possible.

Find out if your state has reciprocity, or admission on motion, with any other jurisdiction or if it permits admission only by attorney exam.

, search for any checklists, FAQs and forms. These will save time and help you organize your admissions process.
Third, carefully note all the filing deadlines. Record them in your calendar, post them on your fridge, and give them to someone you trust to remind you. Missing a bar application deadline is a costly error. Some deadlines are several months prior to the bar exam.

Don't forget about other filing deadlines that may affect you, such as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) or the Multistate Performance Test (MPT).

Fourth, remember that you'll have to rely on others to provide some of the information, so factor that extra time into your own deadlines.
    To sit for the July 2010 Georgia bar exam, the filing deadline for the bar exam application is June 4, 2010. However, the deadline for filing the certification of fitness application was December 2, 2009. Georgia does have a final deadline of March 3, 2010 for the fitness application, but a $400 late fee is charged, in addition to the regular fitness filing fee of $350.

Character and Fitness Application Disclosure

You may be shocked to learn what you must disclose about yourself in the character portion of your bar application. Bar admission authorities take very seriously their responsibility to determine that you have the required personal disposition to enter the profession. Because practicing law necessitates a public trust, all who apply for admission to a bar must first be approved as to character, fitness and moral qualifications.

You'll be required to provide information about your education, work experience, military service, citizenship, traffic record, criminal record, credit experience, and litigation to which you have been a party, plus prior addresses and a handwriting sample.

This may be the most detailed form you've ever filled out - Virginia's character and fitness questionnaire is 32 pages, Michigan's is 14 pages. Just the instructions by themselves for California are 10 pages, and Ohio's instructions are 6 pages.

Character and Fitness Committees may consider any of the following conduct as cause for further inquiry:

    a) Unlawful conduct or disorderly conduct (even conduct that you may consider minor - including speeding or other traffic infractions or citations, underage offenses, and offenses which have been expunged)
    b) Academic or employment-related misconduct, including probation
    c) Acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
    d) Neglect of financial responsibilities-including credit cards and student loans
    e) Violation of a court order (child custody or support, restraining orders)
    f) Indication of regular treatment of mental or emotional problems
    g) Conduct evidencing drug or alcohol abuse or misuse of controlled substances (open bottle, DWI, or underage drinking).

This may seem daunting, especially if you know that you may have a problem with any of the questions. But if you take control of the process and start your character application now, you will be in a good position to make sure your fitness investigation goes as smoothly as possible. The first step is to find out exactly what is required. You may learn that, in your state, some past conduct may result in the need for a discretionary hearing and decision by the bar examiners.

The important points to remember are to be candid and disclose everything. Be prepared: start pulling together the information you need. Be proactive: avoid fiscal delinquency by making arrangements for repayment of loans and credit cards now. Sort out any child support issues, and find out the appropriate way to provide mental health information in your state.

Disclose everything. Review of your application will focus on your current character. Your prior conduct will be considered in light of your age at the time, the seriousness, the underlying factors and the cumulative effect. Also, the committee will look at your rehabilitation and social contributions since then, and how candidly you disclosed the information on your application. Character committees are likely to disapprove applicants due to failure to disclose relevant information or misrepresenting the facts.

According to legend, aspiring lawyers must disclose even grade school detentions on their bar admission application. Although it's not quite that dire, the point is that you need to be ready. You might want to look at Mandatory Disclosure to the State Bar and Are you fit to be a lawyer?

Sign Up for a Bar Review Course

First and second year law students who enroll in BARBRI will lock in their future bar review course at today's prices, and also benefit from study outlines for the MPRE and core law school classes. Kaplan PMBR, now partnering with LexisNexis, is offering discounts on their bar review course for students who sign up by March 11. There are several other good bar review courses.

Why do you need to take a bar review course? One reason is that it is unlikely you will have taken all the topics tested on your state's bar exam while in law school. The multistate topics, the primary subjects you will be tested on for your state bar exam, will be the same courses you took in your first year of law school - Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. Additional topics vary from state to state.
    The New York State Bar exam tests on 19 additional topics, including New York Practice & Procedure, and NY distinctions for multistate topics.

    The California Bar exam tests on 7 additional topics, including Business Associations and Community Property.

    The Texas Bar exam tests on 9 additional topics, including Business Associations, Consumer Rights, and Oil and Gas, as well as Texas distinctions for multistate topics.

    The Washington State Bar exam tests on 8 additional topics, including Commercial Transactions, and Indian Law and Tribal Sovereign Immunity.

Please keep in mind that one bar exam "topic" will include questions on several subtopics. Business Associations covers corporations, partnerships and limited liability. Commercial transactions covers sales, commercial paper, bank deposits and collections, and secured transactions. Real and Personal Property includes conveyancing, financing, leasing, use and zoning.

A bar review course will prepare you for questions which overlap, such as estate and gift tax issues as a component of another topic such as family law or wills, or a bankruptcy issue as an element of wills and estates or real property.

Another reason to take a bar review course is that not all topics are given equal emphasis. Also, after two years, you will want a thorough review of your first year courses. Yet another reason is that it is nearly impossible to gather the necessary study materials, prepare a study plan and discipline yourself without a review course.

Additional good reasons can be provided by anyone who has ever taken a bar exam.

Take Charge of Your Bar Admission Application

You won't be qualified to take the bar exam unless all requirements of the bar admission process have been met. So why wait until the filing deadlines get close? Initiate your admissions process now.

As you advance toward law school graduation, remember to notify the Committee on Bar Admissions for any changes in your information. If you are simply updating your mailing address, telephone or e-mail, make sure you've followed precisely the procedures in your jurisdiction. And follow up, follow up, follow up. Make sure that your file is complete before the deadlines.

The importance of conscientious preparation to pass a bar examination can't be overstated. The same is true for the completion of all the facets of a bar admission application. They go hand in hand, and both are crucial for anyone who wants to practice law.


updated: August 15, 2012

The Law Library's web page on Bar Exam Research provides information on applications for admission in all jurisdictions, bar exams, bar review courses and sample state bar questions and answers. The Law School's corresponding web page for
Bar Exam Resources gives details for bar certification requests, bar loan information, and bar exam mentors.

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