Three years of law school don’t an attorney make. After one graduates from law school, she has her J.D., or juris doctorate. But she must be admitted to the bar of a state in order to practice law. A law school graduate isn’t an attorney entitled to put “Esq.” on her business cards until she has successfully applied to become a member of the bar in the state or states in which she intends to practice. The most well-known and commonly feared part of the bar application process is the bar examination. So, passing the bar exam is a big deal.
(This is not to say that there aren’t folks who go to law school and take their J.D.s and use them to enhance all sorts of successful careers. But most people who go to law school intend to be lawyers for some period of time, and therefore, must pass the bar exam for the state or states in which they intend to practice.)
The details vary from state to state, but the bar exam in our state is generally fairly typical. Here, the bar exam is administered over two days.
One day is the multiple choice Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). You have six hours to complete the exam’s 200 questions covering six legal topics: Constitutional Law, Evidence, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Torts, and Real Property. The vast majority of states use the MBE. Don’t let the fact that the questions are multiple choice fool you — MBE questions are hard. Typically more than one answer is correct, the objective is to pick the one that is “more right.” There is no partial credit on the MBE, so you don’t get any points for choosing the “next best answer.”
As my own law school chum Clio points out, some questions are even more difficult. “The worst part of the MBE is not the questions where all of the choices are sort of right and you have to choose the “most right” answer; it’s the questions where all of the answers are WRONG and you have to choose the LEAST wrong.”
Common wisdom, with which I agree, holds that the MBE is the most difficult part of the bar exam.
The other day of the bar exam in our state is the state-specific question essay day. Many states function like this. They will use the MBE, which tests non-specific state law in its multiple choice questions, and then they will have another day of essay questions which seek to test knowledge of the law of the testing state. The essay portion tosses additional subjects into the mix. In addition to covering the same six topics covered on the MBE, the essays also test the taker’s knowledge of: Administrative Law, Business Entities, Conflict of Laws, State Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Professional Responsibility, Uniform Commercial Code, and Trusts/Wills/Estates.
Essay day has the added benefit of excruciating hand pain thanks to the six hours of frantic scribbling to answer the twelve essay questions.