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Bar examinations in the United States are administered by agencies of individual states. In 1763, Delaware created the first bar exam with other American colonies soon following suit.[1] 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)[2] 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)
[edit]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 one 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 Alabama, California, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas are also three days long.
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.
[edit]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.[3] For bar review, most students in the United States attend a private bar exam review course which is provided by a third-party company and not their law school.[4]
[edit]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.[5] The best known exams developed by NCBE are the Multistate Bar Examination (1972), the Multistate Essay Examination (1988), the Multistate Performance Test (1997), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (1980).[6]
[edit]Uniform Bar Exam (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, administering the first examination of its kind in February 2011.[7] 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— California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas—have so far chosen not to adopt the UBE, although New York is presently giving a conversion to the UBE serious consideration[8]. Also, given Illinois' proximity to Missouri and shared market for St. Louis lawyers, the state is currently pondering adopting the UBE, as well, and could become the first of the "big market" states to adopt the test.[9] 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.[10]
As of December 2011, the Uniform Bar Examination Jurisdictions are[11]:
Alabama (July 2011)
Arizona (July 2012)
Colorado (February 2012)
Idaho (February 2012)
Missouri (February 2011)
Montana (conditional approval)
Nebraska (conditional approval)
North Dakota (February 2011)
Washington (July 2013)
[edit]Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) is a standardized, multiple-choice examination created and sold to participating state bar examiners.[12]
It is administered on a single day of the bar examination in 48 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Republic of Palau. The only states that do not administer the MBE are Louisiana, which follows a civil law system and thus differs significantly from the vast majority of states, and Washington, which plans to begin administering the exam in July 2013[13]. The MBE is also not administered in Puerto Rico, which, like Louisiana, has a civil law system.[14] 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.
At the January 2009 conference of the Association of American Law Schools, NCBE president Erica Moeser indicated that her organization was considering adding a seventh topic, civil procedure, to the examination.[15]
[edit]Average scores
The average raw score from the summer exam historically has been about 128 (64% correct), while the average scaled score was about 140. [16] 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.
[edit]Transfer of MBE scores
Taking the MBE in one jurisdiction may allow an applicant to use their MBE score to waive into another jurisdiction or to use their MBE score with another state's bar examination.[17]
[edit]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.[18]
The MEE can cover any of the following areas:[19][20]
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 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.[21]
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 NCBE 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.[19]
The MEE is generally partnered with the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), a written performance test developed by the NCBE and used in 33 U.S. jurisdictions.[22]
[edit]Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) is a written examination administered as a part of the bar examination in 33 jurisdictions of the United States. Generally, a performance test is intended to mimic a real-life legal task that future lawyers may face.[22][23] The test was first created in 1997.[6] The NCBE summarizes the goal of the MPT as follows:[21]
"The MPT is not a test of substantive knowledge. Rather, it is designed to examine six fundamental skills lawyers are expected to demonstrate regardless of the area of law in which the skills arise. The MPT requires applicants to (1) sort detailed factual materials and separate relevant from irrelevant facts; (2) analyze statutory, case, and administrative materials for principles of law; (3) apply the law to the relevant facts in a manner likely to resolve a client's problem; (4) identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, when present; (5) communicate effectively in writing; (6) complete a lawyering task within time constraints."
The required tasks may include writing a legal memorandum, drafting an affidavit, or drafting a settlement offer letter to opposing counsel. Each test includes what NCBE calls a "File" and a "Library". The File contains source documents detailing all facts of the case, plus a memorandum from a supervising attorney detailing the task required. The File will include relevant and irrelevant facts, and often facts may be ambiguous, incomplete, or contradictory. The Library includes cases, statutes, regulations, and rules, which may or may not be relevant, but are sufficient to complete the required task.[24]
The tests are actually drafted by an NCBE committee with expertise in developing performance tests. After initial drafting, the questions are pretested, analyzed by outside experts, 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 individual test 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.[21]
The MPT is always administered on a single day of the bar examination, specifically the day before the MBE. This means that it is administered on the same day as the MEE. Jurisdictions are provided two separate MPT tests, each designed to require 90 minutes in all, and may choose to require examinees to work one or both tests.[23]
Because of this scheduling fact, the MPT is more often than not administered alongside the MEE.[25]
[edit]Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
Main article: Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination
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 three times a year, in March, August and November.
[edit]Non-standardized examinations
A majority of U.S. jurisdictions also require a performance test, which is intended to be a more realistic measure of actual lawyering skill. The candidate is presented with a stack of documents representing a fictional case and is asked to draft a memorandum, motion, or opinion document. Many jurisdictions use the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), while California and Pennsylvania draft and administer their own performance tests.