Bar Application: What You Should Know Before You Apply

You’ve spent three years studying law and now there’s only one thing standing between you and being a licensed attorney—the dreaded bar exam. While I know you’re eager to apply and get the bar over with, there are a few things you should know before you submit your bar application. In particular, you need to consider the time you have to study, deadlines for applying, and where you’d like to practice law.

Ensure you have enough time to study

Before you submit your bar application, you need to decide when you’ll be taking the exam, February or July. There are pros and cons to each administration. The biggest factor to consider is the amount of time you’ll have to study. As you probably know, you’ll need at least two months to study, and you’ll need to study for at least 8 hours, 5-7 days a week during these two months.

Most law students take the July bar exam because they graduate in May, giving them two to three months off to study. If you’re planning to graduate in May, I’d highly recommend you sign up to take the July bar exam. Most likely, you won’t have enough time and energy to properly study for the February exam while you are finishing your fall semester classes.

Many students think they will have enough time to study over the winter break. Trust me: you will not have enough time. Preparing for the bar exam is a full time job over two to three months. You should sign up for the February bar exam only if you are graduating in December or if you are moving from another state and will have sufficient time to prepare in the months leading up to the February exam.

Another factor to consider when deciding between the February and July bar exams is that the July exam usually has a lot more test takers. The amount of test takers can affect the curve, but most importantly, it can affect the test site itself. If you have a lot of bar exam anxiety and are overwhelmed by a large room full of hundreds of anxious test takers, you may want to consider the February exam. However, you still need to ensure you will have sufficient time to study, so adjust your class load if you do decide to take the February exam.

Now that you know you need to decide between the February and the July exam, you should know you have another big decision looming—where you want to practice law.

Know where you want to practice law

Where you plan to work typically dictates which bar exam you’ll need to take. And, clearly, a first step to completing the bar exam application is knowing where you plan to practice law. If you already have a job offer, congrats! Well, congrats times two! You have a paid gig lined up already and you know which bar exam to sign up for.

For everyone else, you need to dedicate some time, if you haven’t already, to considering where you want to live after law school. Do you want to return home? Do you want to take advantage of the connections you made in law school and try to get a job in the same state?

Take the time now to consider where you want to live and practice, so you don’t have to take the bar exam twice. If you’re really not sure, consider taking the Uniform Bar Exam—it’s accepted in twenty-six jurisdictions! The passing score does vary by state, so you can’t just take one score and get into every UBE state. However, by signing up for and taking the UBE, you will be able to keep your options open as you apply for jobs.

Know the bar application deadlines

The bar application deadlines vary by state so you need to check with your state’s board of bar examiners to know the exact deadlines. To help you get a sense of the deadlines, we’ve put together a basic outline for the February and July bar exam below. Note: for the UBE, the exam is always administered on the last Tuesday and Wednesday in both February and July every year.  The Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) are always administered on Tuesday. The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is always administered on Wednesday.

February Bar Exam Timeline

The February bar exam is always administered during the last week of February. The filing deadlines for the February bar exam are as early as August 30th and as late as January 10th, so be sure to check with your jurisdiction or the NCBE jurisdiction chart for the exact date.  

For the February bar exam, you should plan to start studying at the end of December to allow yourself at least eight weeks to sufficiently prepare for the exam. This means you have to block off the entire month of January and February to studying, so do not plan to take the February bar if you have any trips planned over the winter break. You cannot afford to miss a single day of bar studying!

July Bar Exam Deadlines

The July bar exam is always administered the last week of July. Like the February bar exam, the filing deadlines vary greatly—the earliest deadline is January 10th and the latest deadline is June 15th. Once again, be sure to check with your state’s board of bar examiners for the particular deadlines for the year you are planning to take the bar exam. While there are late deadlines, I’d encourage you to get your application in as early as possible so you can focus on your studying. For more on setting your study schedule, check out Bar Exam Study Schedule.

Bar application basics

Now that you’ve got a sense of the time you’ll need to study for the bar and when you’ll need to apply, let’s quickly go through the bar application basics. First off, you’ll need to create an account with NCBE. By registering, you’ll receive a special NCBE number, which you’ll need in order to register with the board of bar examiners for your state. You’ll also use this number to register for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), which is administered separately from the bar exam.

You may also need to create an account with your state’s board of bar examiners, especially if your state does not administer the UBE. As with all steps of your application, get this done as early as you can in the process. Trust me, you’ll want to be able to dedicate all of the time you can to studying for the bar exam, so get all the administrative stuff done early.

Takeaway

Submitting your bar application is a huge step. Before you can even start filling out the application, you need to decide which bar exam you plan to take, February or July. And to do that you have to accurately assess how much time you have to study in the months leading up to the exam. Once you’ve decided which bar exam you want to take, you have to decide where you plan to live and practice law after law school. Finally, you’ll need to review all the filing deadlines for the state where you plan to take the bar exam to ensure you get all your materials in on time. While this process can seem overwhelming, just take the first steps and you’ll be well on your way to crushing the bar exam.  

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