Bar Admission in the United States

Bar Admission in the United States

The term "bar" originates from the small wall in courtrooms that separates the general public from the tables where lawyers sit and address the court. Only those that have "passed the bar" may sit where the lawyers sit, hence, "passing the bar."

In the United States, admission to the bar is permission granted by a particular court system to a lawyer to practice law in that system. Each U.S. state and related jurisdiction can and does set its own rules for bar admission, as a matter of court sovereignty. In practice, this drives to exceptions to nearly every general rule of bar admission.

Lawyers may exercise only in the state or states where they are members of the bar in good standing. However, many states will admit a lawyer to its bar if the lawyer has been admitted to the bar of another state and has practiced law actively for a certain number of years. This is known as reciprocity. States generally grant provisional bar admission for particular cases.

General qualifications for admission

Each state has its own rules which are the ultimate authority involving admission to its bar. Usually, admission to a bar needs that the applicants do the following:
  • Most candidates take the MPRE while still in law school; in fact, some states require that an aspirant pass the MPRE before being permitted to sit for the bar exam. Connecticut and New Jersey renounce the MPRE for candidates who have received a grade of C or better in a law school professional ethics class.
    In all United States jurisdictions except Washington, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, and Maryland, omits the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an examination covering the professional responsibility rules governing lawyers.

  • Earn a Juris Doctor from a law school approved by that state (frequently, but not always, this means accredited by the American Bar Association); or, where allowed, participate in an accepted Law Clerk program ("reading the law").

  • Pass a state-administered bar examination. Generally this consists of numerous parts administered over two or three days, usually including:

    • The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).
    • A professional responsibility ("ethics") exam, usually the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE);
    • State-specific examinations, such as essays in Washington, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

  • Be certified (generally by the state bar association) as having the good moral character and fitness to exercise law.

  • Apply to that state's authority responsible for licensing lawyers and pay required fees. Upon approval by that authority, the admitted takes an oath to comply with the rules governing the practice of law in that state, and receives a certificate of admission.

  • Some jurisdictions contain extra educational requirements; however, Continuing Legal Education (CLE) is usually a matter of license renovation, not admission.