In order to practice law in a jurisdiction within the United States, you must pass a bar examination. Unlike exams you may have taken while in law school, the bar exam covers up to sixteen subjects, is given over a two to three day period, and is typically given twice a year. If you plan on practicing law after graduating from law school, you will need to pass a bar exam.
The First Step
The Office for Academic Success & Bar Programs is available to assist current USD law students with any and all questions relating to the bar exam, moral character application, MPRE, and general study strategies. Graduating USD law students—be sure to book your 15 minute one-on-one appointment with Director of Academic Success & Bar Programs, Kiyana Kiel, to discuss your own personal bar plan. Email Kiyana Kiel to request an appointment.
* LLM Students—Please contact Graduate and International Programs for more information about planning for your bar exam. *
The Office of the Law School Registrar prepares bar certifications for various purposes and various jurisdictions. If you are considering taking a bar exam in a jurisdiction other than California, please be aware that you may be responsible for providing the Registrar’s office with the documentation needed to certify you to sit for that bar exam. The State Bar of California provides us with this documentation directly after you apply to take the California bar exam.
Practicing Law in California
In order to be admitted to practice law in California you must:
- File a registration application and be permitted to register as a law student. This is normally done within the first 90 days of your 1L year.
- Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), and achieve a scaled score of 86.00 or greater. This examination is administered and graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
- File an application for moral character determination and receive a positive moral character determination from the Committee of Bar Examiners.
- Complete the required legal education. (Graduate from USD)
- File an application, take and pass the California Bar Examination.
- Comply with California court-ordered child or family support obligations.
Registration and Administration of the MPRE
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is a 60 question, two-hour and five minute, multiple-choice examination administered three times each year. The exam is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners through their agent Act, Inc. More information is available online at the MPRE website.
Application for Moral Character Determination
You can submit your application for Moral Character Determination online at the State Bar of California’s website. The determination process can take as long as six to nine months. Students are encouraged to use Thanksgiving break of their final year as an opportunity to gather the information needed to complete the application. This will include residence addresses since you turned 18, employers, character witness names, addresses and phone numbers, etc.
Note: Criminal history is part of the moral character determination, as is your record while at USD. If you failed to disclose a misdemeanor or felony during the admission process, contact Director of Acaemic Success & Bar Programs, Kiyana Kiel, immediately at 619-260-6876 to set up an appointment to discuss your options.
*Submit your applications as soon as possible during your last year at USD.*
Registration for the California Bar Exam
You can register for the California Bar Exam online at the State Bar of California’s website. For those taking the July 2015 bar exam, registration for the exam opens on March 2, 2015.
The California Bar Exam
The bar exam given in California is considered the toughest in the country. It covers 14 subjects over three days and includes essay questions, multiple choice questions, and performance test assignments.
According to the California State Bar, the essay questions are "designed to measure an applicant's ability to analyze legal issues arising from fact situations. Answers are expected to demonstrate the applicant's ability to analyze the facts of the question, to tell the difference between material facts and immaterial facts, and to discern the points of law and fact upon which the question turns... The answer should evidence the applicant's ability to apply the law to the given facts and to reason in a logical, lawyer-like manner from the premises adopted to a sound conclusion. An applicant should not merely show that he/she remembers the legal principles, but should demonstrate his/her proficiency in using and applying them."
The following subjects may be tested on the California bar exam
- Business Associations (including Agency & Partnership)
- Civil Procedure (Federal and California)
- Community Property
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law
- Criminal Procedure
- Evidence (Federal and California)
- Professional Responsibility
- Real Property
Bar Exam Preparation
Many students are unsure how best to prepare for the bar examination. Nearly all students planning to take the bar exam enroll in one or more bar review courses. Bar review courses assist graduates in reviewing substantive law, drafting essays and performance tests and developing an approach to taking multiple choice questions. Many companies both in and out of California offer a variety of courses, workshops and online tutorials. Students should thoroughly research these options before selecting a course. The average bar applicant spends between $3,500 and $4,500 on bar preparation courses, but almost all students sign up for at least one.
Students are encouraged to discuss their Bar Review course options with Director of Academic Success & Bar Programs Kiyana Kiel by contacting Kiyana Kiel to schedule an appointment.
Taking a Bar Exam in a Jurisdiction other than California
The National Conference of Bar Examiners maintains a website that gives an overview of each state's requirements with a link to each state's bar exam information and application forms. If you are thinking of taking a bar exam in a jurisdiction other than California, you can begin your research here:
When doing your research, be sure to take note of the following information or requirements specific to each jurisdiction:
- The dates when the bar exam application period opens and closes, and when late fees accrue.
- Any materials you need to submit along with your application.
- Any documents you will need for your moral character assessment. These may be quite extensive and it may take you some time to collect them. Be sure to note when and where these documents are to be submitted. Some states allow you to take the bar exam before your moral character application is complete, but you will not be admitted to the bar until your moral character is approved.
- If you will be asking for accommodations for the bar exam, submit your request and supporting documents early; if your request is denied, you want plenty of time to appeal.
If you need more information or are confused by any requirements, check the state’s site for a phone or email contact.