About the Bar

General Information

When are the upcoming California bar exams?

The California bar exam is administered twice a year, once in February and once in July. The State Bar website provides general information about upcoming exams, including a list of the test sites, calendar of dates, etc. .

Why do I have to take the bar exam in order to practice law in California?

The State Bar of California is responsible for protecting the public from lawyers who have not achieved a standard of "minimum competency" to practice law in California. The bar exam is that test of "minimum competency." The State Bar website provides the complete rules regulating admission to practice law in California .

What is the bar exam?

The bar exam is a basic test of two things. First, the bar exam tests whether you have the minimum competency to practice law in California. It tests your ability to "think like a lawyer" by evaluating whether you can spot the legal issues, recall and apply the appropriate rules of law to the given facts, present relevant arguments, and write in a concise lawyer-like manner.

Second, the bar exam tests your knowledge of the rules of law in 13 topics: Business Associations, Civil Procedure, Community Property, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Remedies, Torts, Trusts, and Wills and Succession. The State Bar website provides information about the scope of coverage in some of the topics , as well as the new subject areas added in July 2007 . The State Bar is in the process of completing similar scope of coverage outlines for the remaining subjects.

What is the format of the bar exam?

The General Bar Exam consists of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), six essay questions and two performance tests (PTs). On days 1 and 3, applicants will be given three hours in the morning session for 3 essay questions and 3 hours in the afternoon session for a PT. On Day 2, the MBE will be administered.

The Attorneys Exam consists of six essay questions and two performance tests, essentially Days 1 and 3 of the GBE. Read a general description of the bar exam .

Applying to take the California Bar Exam

When do I apply to sit for the bar exam?

For the February bar exam, the application period begins on October 1. Late fees begin in November with a final filing deadline of mid-January. For the July bar exam, the application period begins on March 1 with late fees applying after April 1. The final filing deadline is in mid-July.

How do I apply to sit for the bar exam?

What if I did not register with the State Bar as a first year law student?

Simply register now and pay a late registration fee.

Which testing site should I choose to take the bar exam?

The State Bar has four locations where the bar exam is administered — San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, Los Angeles area, and San Diego. The State Bar website provides a list of the specific test centers .

Most students choose the testing site closest to the area where they will be living during bar review. Some students, who want to be away from their classmates, choose to take the bar exam in another area.

What if I plan to move after graduation?

You should use your current address on the application form unless you already know where you will be living after graduation, i.e. returning to your family residence. After you determine your new address, file a change of address form with the State Bar. Also, try to settle into your new residence as soon as possible so that you will not be distracted during the bar preparation period.

Is it better to handwrite or type the bar exam?

The State Bar has found no difference in the pass rates of writers and typists. Also, there is no advantage in being able to type faster since the bar graders do not grade based on word count. They are looking for concise well written exams. Ultimately, the decision is one of personal preference.

If I decide to use a laptop, is there anything I need to know?

Yes. First of all, be sure you have a reliable laptop. You do not want to be distracted by worrying about whether your laptop will work or crash. Be sure your laptop complies with the specifications for using the Softest software , particularly the operating system.

What should I do if I am assigned to a testing site not near my home?

Unless you live within a short drive of the test site, you should plan on staying at a hotel near the test site. The State Bar can provide you with a list of hotels near your test site that offer bar exam discounts.

Moral Character Application

What else do I have to do to practice law in California?

In addition to passing the bar exam, you will also need to:
  1. pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) ;
  2. obtain a Moral Character clearance ; and
  3. complete the other minor requirements that you can find at the State Bar website.

Why do I have to complete the Moral Character Application form?

The State Bar, in a consumer protection role, wants to be sure that you are of good moral character before allowing you to practice law in California. The process seeks to determine if you have "qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, respect for and obedience to the laws of the state and the nation, and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process."

When do I need to file a Moral Character Application form?

There is no deadline, however, it will take a minimum of six months to complete the Moral Character check. You cannot be sworn in nor practice law in California without a Moral Character clearance, even though you have passed the bar exam. In other words, if you plan to take the July bar exam, be sure to submit your application by the end of April of that year. If you are taking the February bar exam, submit your application no later than October of the prior year.

How long does it take to complete the Moral Character Application?

It could take a few hours to a few weeks to complete. There are some very detailed questions, such as every place you have lived since you were 18 years old. Some of the questions may require you to search for the information. The State Bar expects you to use reasonable efforts to provide the information or documentation. Additional information about completing the Moral Character Application is available on the State Bar website.

Who should I use as references?

It doesnt matter as long as the references know you. Unlike a job reference where the employer calls each person and spends a few minutes interviewing them, the State Bar randomly selects a few of your references and sends them a one page, front and back, questionnaire that can be completed in a couple of minutes. The questionnaire asks questions similar to the Moral Character Application. They are looking to determine if you have been honest and candid about your answers. If there are any discrepancies between your answers and your references, the State Bar will investigate.

What if I cannot remember all the places I have lived?

You do need to take reasonable efforts to provide the information. You may have to ask relatives, friends, and former classmates, search through your records, visit the locations yourself or ask someone who lives nearby. If you still cannot obtain the information, describe your efforts and provide any information you can.

What if the building where I lived no longer exists?

Write a narrative explaining the circumstances and provide as much of the information requested as possible.

What if I forgot a few of my employers?

Check your tax returns, ask family and friends, or contact the Social Security Administration and complete Form 7050 to obtain a print-out of your former employers.

What if my former employer has been taken over by another company or no longer exists?

Write a narrative explaining the circumstances and provide as much of the information requested as possible.

What if I have been convicted of a crime?

Be sure to report it on the Moral Application Form. If you fail to do so and the State Bar discovers it, the conviction may be considered evidence of misconduct or moral turpitude. Also, you will compound the Moral Character investigation process by raising questions about your honesty, candor and trustworthiness.

Will a criminal conviction preclude me from becoming a lawyer?

"Involvement in activity that constitutes an act of misconduct or an act of moral turpitude does not necessarily preclude an applicant from admission to practice law in California." The State Bar weighs a number of factors including the nature of the crime and your age when the crime occurred. The State Bar website details the factors considered to determine whether moral character has been reformed and rehabilitated .

Where do I get fingerprinted?

The State Bar does not offer fingerprinting services. However, California Dept. of Justice provides a list of acceptable Live Scan fingerprinting services .

California Bar Disabilities

What if I need accommodations for a disability?

Submit your Petition for Accommodations as early as possible. It may take several discussions with the State Bar to provide the proper documentation needed to receive a determination.

What do I need to document?

There are two factors that you will need to support. First, you must substantiate that you have a disability. Second, you need to prove that the accommodations you are requesting are appropriate for your disability. Many people forget to prove the second factor assuming that the disability alone would justify the accommodations requested.

What if I received accommodations in law school?

It is helpful if you have been receiving accommodations in law school. But that fact alone is not enough to justify accommodations on the bar exam. Law schools and the State Bar may have different standards for evaluating accommodation requests.