Taking the Bar Exam

Which Bar Should I Take?   |   Character and Fitness   |   MPRE   |   The Bar Application
General Bar FAQs   |   State Specific FAQs   |   Bar Review Courses   |   After the Bar

Overview of Bar Admission

Admission to the bar is conducted through 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
  • completing your state’s character and fitness process and any additional admission prerequisites that may be required

For LL.M. students, make sure that you 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 designated official documents sufficiently in advance of the applicable Bar Exam date.  Students seeking information about eligibility may want to consult Chart 4 of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX) Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.

Because the processes vary by state, you will not receive emails from Harvard about upcoming deadlines, but there are a number of resources available to help you navigate the process. The following chart will give you a quick overview of relevant resources and offices at HLS.

Topic Primary Contacts
Overview of Bar Admission State Boards of Bar Examiners
National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX)
The Bar Exam State Boards of Bar Examiners
OCS & OPIA for employment-related issues
Character and Fitness Dean of Students Office
The MPRE National Conference of Bar Examiners
Bar Application Forms Office of the Registrar
Where to Take the Bar OCS & OPIA

You should check your state Bar page often as deadlines and requirements change throughout the year and the 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 including the application process and the Character & Fitness process. Speakers generally include representatives from the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and some of the major Bar Prep companies.

Which State(s) Bar Should I Take?

Contact: OCS & OPIA

Bar Admission in Multiple States
Generally, your employer will only require you to be admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction in which you are practicing. You should contact your employer to confirm in which jurisdiction they would like you to be admitted.

If you haven’t secured a job by the time bar registration deadlines roll around, you should sign up for the bar in the jurisdiction you are primarily targeting your job search.  This is quite common for students seeking a public interest position because the job search can extend well into the spring. Carefully monitor the bar deadlines of any state you are considering working in and meet with an OPIA or OCS advisor to discuss your unique situation.

For a variety of reasons, some students choose to apply for bar admission to two different states immediately after graduation. This is known as bar exam reciprocity. Others may be curious about being admitted to a second state later on in their career. Known as bar reciprocity, ìwaiving-in,î or admission on motion, this process refers to a state bar admitting an attorney under a more stream-lined procedure, based on his or her membership in another stateís bar. Some states do not allow admission on motion, and require practicing attorneys to follow the typical, full application process.

Note that, for LL.M. students, eligibility to sit for a particular Bar Exam varies by state.

Bar Exam Reciprocity
Bar exam reciprocity allows you to transfer the multistate bar exam score from one state to another so that you only have to take the written portion of the other state’s bar exam. This state’s bar exam is sometimes referred to as the Attorney’s Exam.

Bar exam reciprocity is commonly taken advantage of by students and junior attorneys who have not practiced law for a required number of years. Also, some states that do not offer bar reciprocity may offer bar exam reciprocity. This information can also be located on each state’s bar admission office website. Most commonly, some state bar examiners will accept MBE scores from a concurrent exam. Practically speaking, this means that applicants will sit for three (very likely consecutive) days of exams: one day for the MBE, and one day for each of the two states. You must however, check your state’s requirements and the schedule for the examinations to see if this is allowed, or even feasible.

Note that, for LL.M. students, eligibility to sit for a particular Bar Exam varies by state.

Bar Reciprocity
Bar reciprocity in contrast, allows you to waive in to another state’s bar without having to take any additional exams. For states that permit bar reciprocity or admission on motion, requirements for waiving into a particular jurisdiction are state specific and vary widely, often including a requirement that an attorney will have practiced for a certain number of years. In order to determine whether you may waive into another state, you must consult the state bar admission offices. The National Conference of Bar Examiners provides links to the websites for each state’s bar admission office. Once you locate your state’s bar admission office, look for tabs labeled reciprocity, waiving-in, or admission on motion.  

For example, if you want to determine whether you can waive into New York State, you should consult the website for the New York State Board of Law Examiners and click on the Admission on Motion/Reciprocity link. This link will provide you with the relevant information. However, if you need more information, you can always contact the Board of Law Examiners by telephone with the number provided to you on the website.

District of Columbia Bar
The District of Columbia Bar allows any J.D. graduate of an ABA-approved law school who is admitted to another state bar to immediately ìwaive inî with a minimum score of 133 on the Multistate Bar Exam (administered in all states except Louisiana) and a minimum score of 75 on the MPRE. Students planning to work in DC often opt to take the bar in another state and then waive into DC in order to gain the benefits of admission in both jurisdictions. However, you should be sure to check with your future employer regarding their preferences, as the waive-in process may require a lengthy waiting period while your application is reviewed. For more information, visit the DC Bar Association Committee on Admission website

Character and Fitness

Overview of Character and Fitness
Contact: Dean of Students’ Office
In addition to the examinations, each applicant is required to produce evidence that s/he is a person of honest demeanor and good moral character and possesses the requisite fitness to perform the obligations and responsibilities of a practicing attorney at law.

While character and fitness disclosures may 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), every speeding ticket, any disciplinary action in school, any arrest or criminal charge along with full details of the incident. Please start assembling the documents now because this process can be time consuming. If you are concerned about having to disclose something from your past, you can contact Dean Cosgrove or Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. LCL is a lawyer assistance program funded by bar dues.

Character & Fitness Applications require a certification from the Dean of the Law School. Those certification forms should be forwarded to the Registrar’s Office.

Many states require a set of fingerprints. Harvard University Police will provide fingerprinting services.

MPRE

What is the MPRE?
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is required for admission to the bars of most US jurisdictions. The MPRE is based on the law governing the conduct of lawyers. It consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately two hours.

The examination is administered three times per year (March, August, and November). J.D. students may sit for the MPRE before taking the professional responsibility course at HLS. Please note that some jurisdictions require a passing score on file before you are allowed to sit for the bar exam, so check with your state bar association, particularly if you are considering waiting until March to take the MPRE.

Registering and Preparing for the MPRE

  • The MPRE early registration deadline is often over a month before the actual exam. Register early to get your preferred test location and to avoid paying a late fee.
  • Most students take a prep course offered by the various Bar Review companies or rely on the practice material available at the MPRE website.

The Bar Application

Forms

ALL FORMS go to the Registrar’s Office, even Dean’s Certifications and forms related to Character and Fitness

General Bar Form or Application FAQs

Q: I have a lot of questions about my Bar forms; whom can I talk to in the Registrarís Office about these questions?
A: While specific questions should often be directed to the state in questionís Board of Bar Examiners, Caitlin Mason can help you with Bar Form related questions. She can be reached by phone at 617-495-3194 or email at cmason@law.harvard.edu.

Q: Are there any fees associated with completing my Bar forms?
A: No, the Registrar’s Office is happy to provide these services free of charge.

Q: When will my Bar forms be sent out?
A: The answer to this question varies depending on the Bar Exam you’re taking. Because of the high volume of Bar Forms we receive, we generally complete and send them in order of deadline.

Q: How do I know what the deadline is for the forms I’ve submitted to the Registrar’s Office for completion?
A: Check with your state bar association.

Q: How will I know when my Bar forms are sent? Will I get an email?
A: Yes, you will receive an email from the Registrar’s Office once your completed Bar Form is sent out.

Q: If an official transcript is required for me to take the Bar, will one be sent automatically?
A: No. If you need to have a transcript sent to any Board of Bar Examiners, you must request one online or at the Registrar’s Office. Recent graduates of Harvard Law School are eligible to receive up to ten free transcripts per month when they order online, so having a transcript sent will not cost you anything. Please visit the Registrar’s Office Transcript Request Page to order transcripts.

Q: Can I find my required Bar forms in the Registrar’s Office?
A: No. You are responsible for delivering any forms that you need to have filled out to the Registrar’s Office.

Q: The deadline to have my forms in to the Bar is a long way off, but I have the forms now. Is it too soon to bring them to the Registrar’s Office?
A: No, it’s never too soon to drop off your forms. The Registrar’s Office will hold them until after you’ve graduated, after which time they will be completed in the order of their Bar’s deadline.

Q: If I’m out of town and need to send my Bar forms to you, can I do so by email or fax, or do I have to send it by mail?
A: It depends on the state in question, but unless the form requires YOUR original signature, you should be able to email or fax your forms to the Registrar’s Office, at registrar@law.harvard.edu or 617-496-8907.

Q: My required Bar form says that it is a Dean’s Certification ñ should I direct this form to the Dean’s Office?
A: No, the Registrar’s Office handles all bar forms; in cases where it is necessary, the Dean’s signature will be affixed to your required document instead of that of the Registrar.

Q: The Board of Bar Examiners for my state doesn’t require a particular form, they just need a letter stating that Iíve graduated. How can I request such a letter?
A: Certificates of Graduation can be requested using the Registrar’s Office ‘Certificate of Attendance Request Form’, which is available in the Registrar’s Office or online.
Please fill out, sign, and return this form to the Registrar’s Office by hand or via mail, email, or fax. Please note that these forms require an actual signature; a typed ‘signature’ will not be sufficient.
If the Board of Bar Examiners requires an original signature on your Certificate of Graduation, please make a note somewhere on the form specifying ‘original signature’.

Q: The Board of Bar Examiners for my state doesn’t require a particular form, they just need an official final transcript showing that I’ve graduated. How can I request a transcript?
A: There are two ways a transcript can be ordered: on paper or online.  You may find the Transcript Request Form online or in the Registrar’s Office.  You may submit it by mail or in person.  Or, you may use the online ordering system through the National Student Clearinghouse. Both options can be found on the Registrar’s Office’s Transcript Request Page. Current students and recent graduates are eligible to receive free transcripts when they are ordered online; transcripts ordered in-office or by mail are $3 per copy.

Q: Some of my bar forms need to be notarized. Do you have a Notary Public in your office who can help me?
A: Yes. Notaries public are available in the Registrar’s Office, Dean of Students’ Office, and the Office of Career Services. Please call to confirm their availability before bringing your bar forms to be notarized.

State-Specific FAQs

Q: I’m a JD student applying to the NY Bar. What forms do I need to submit to the Registrar’s Office?
A: You will have to submit a Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting. A Certificate of Attendance Form is also required, but the New York Bar will provide the Registrar’s Office with that document directly.

Q: I’m an LL.M student applying to sit for the NY State Bar Exam. What forms do I need to submit through the Registrar’s Office?
A: There are three items you will need to submit through our office: a Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting, an LLM Certificate of Attendance form, and an official transcript. If you are not using your Harvard LLM degree to qualify for the bar you only need to submit the Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting. Please note that these are separate from the Online Foreign Evaluation and all required documentation, all of which must have been filed by the requisite deadlines set by the New York Board of Law Examiners (NYBOLE).

Q: If I am out of state when I complete my New York Bar Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting Form, can the staff at the Registrar’s Office verify my handwriting without viewing the completion of the form?
A: No. You will need to bring a blank copy of the Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting Form to a Notary Public, and will then need to fill out and sign your form in front of them, and have the Notary affix their seal and signature on the document. You will also need to request a letter from our office, certifying that you were out of state at the time of your Specimen of Applicant’s Handwriting Form. The form to request such a letter is available on our Policies and Forms page. The letter we provide, along with your completed, notarized handwriting form, can then be sent by you to the New York Board of Law Examiners.

Q: I’ve submitted all the necessary forms and it’s getting close to the due date, and I’m concerned my New York Bar documents haven’t been sent yet; should I call or email to check on their status?
A: Because such a high volume of HLS graduates apply to take the New York Bar Exam, the Registrar’s Office often holds the forms until a day or two before the deadline, June 15, at which time they will have them sent to the New York Bar via FedEx Standard Overnight, at no cost to students. This guarantees that all of the forms make it in time for the deadline, and also ensures that they all arrive safely. As mentioned above, an email will be sent to alert you once your forms have been sent, and will list the FedEx tracking number so you can track that package online.

Q. What is the New York bar pro bono requirement and what forms do I need to submit?
A. Please see the New York State Unified Court System webpage on Pro Bono Bar Admission Requirements for official information.

All candidates seeking admission to the New York Bar – after having taken and passed the NY Bar Exam – after January 1, 2015 will need to file documentation showing that they have completed 50 hours of law-related pro bono service. As the applicable date of this requirement is the date of bar admission, not the date the exam is taken, it is anticipated that students who graduate on or after May 1, 2014 will be subject to the new rule.

Pro bono activity that satisfies the New York Bar admission requirement may not satisfy the HLS 40-hour Pro Bono Graduation Requirement and vice versa. Because Harvard Law is not the administrator of this requirement, we cannot officially verify or confirm that a particular activity will count.

As proof of completion, applicants will need to file an Affidavit of Compliance with their application for each pro bono activity used to satisfy the New York Bar 50-hour requirement. Each Affidavit must be certified and signed by the appropriate supervising attorney or faculty member. It is strongly recommended that Affidavits be completed immediately after the qualifying pro bono work is done, as tracking down supervisors or required information months or years after the pro bono work has been completed will be very difficult.  Please note that neither the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs nor the Office of the Registrar may sign Affidavits of Compliance ñ only a supervising attorney or faculty member may certify pro bono hours.

Q: What forms do I need to provide to the Registrar’s Office to fulfill the requirements for sitting for the California Bar Exam?
A: The California Bar will send us forms to certify your graduation and character and fitness directly. However, they also require that an official transcript be sent to them; this will need to be requested by you, in our office or using our online ordering system.

Q: The California Bar says that they will request a transcript on my behalf. Is this correct, and will a transcript be sent?
A: No. In order to have a transcript sent to the California Bar, you will need to request one personally. Current students and recent graduates are eligible to receive free transcripts when they are ordered online, so you can request that a transcript be sent on to the California Bar at no cost to yourself by ordering a transcript here.

The Bar Exam

Format of the Test (varies by jurisdiction, but may include…)

  • MBE: The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) a six-hour, two-hundred question multiple-choice examination covering contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law  and procedure, evidence, and real property. The MBE will include federal civil procedure beginning in February 2015.
  • MPT: The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) three 90-minute skills questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of a lawyering task, and communication.
  • MEE: The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) a three-hour, six-question essay examination covering agency and partnership, commercial paper, conflict of laws, corporations, decedents’ estates, family law, federal civil procedure, sales, secured transactions, and trusts and future interests.
  • State-specific MC and Essays: Check with your local state bar

Bar Review Courses

Commercial Bar Courses
A majority of law graduates take a commercial bar preparation course beginning in late May. If you are working for a law firm, your employer will usually cover the costs, so you should ask how to handle costs and keep receipts for expenses. 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.

The law school does not endorse any specific bar review company but encourages you to do research by speaking to recent graduates, bar review company representatives and employers.  The Dean of Students Office requires any bar review company wishing to table or present at HLS to complete a questionnaire with information about the number of HLS students enrolled in the past year, general passage data for their bar course students, etc.  Since the information is confidential, it is only available to law students by visiting the Dean of Students Office (WCC3039) to review the hard copy reports.  You can ask for it at the front desk, sign a form indicating that you will not share the information, and show your HUID.

After the Bar

Continuing Legal Education (CLE)
Most state bars require licensed attorneys to complete yearly CLE credits in order to remain in good standing. CLE requirements vary greatly by state, so it is important to consult your state bar association to ensure that you successfully complete the mandatory coursework.

For example, if you are licensed in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued a requirement that all attorneys licensed after September 1, 2013 complete a one-day Practicing with Professionalism course within 18 months of admission. More information is available on the SJC’s website here.

Changing your resume, LinkedIn, etc.
Once you have graduated and submitted your application to the Bar, the proper resume designation for your Bar status is “Application Pending.” Once you have passed the exam and the Character & Fitness interview (or equivalent), your status may be designated “Admission Pending.” Bar Examiners previously required  candidates to change the language on their resumes and LinkedIn accounts before clearing their application and admission to the Bar.