Understanding the Bar Exam Character and Fitness Process

By Hemant Chauhan, Legal Coordinator, BARBRI

If you are thinking about sitting a U.S. bar exam to qualify as an attorney in the United States with your current legal credentials or after obtaining your LL.M. degree from a U.S. law school, you should know that there is something that will test your character and fitness (beyond the bar exam itself). No, you won’t be required to prove you can run a mile without collapsing or debate your ability to exercise good judgment. However, you will be expected to show by clear and convincing evidence that you should be admitted to practice law in any U.S. jurisdiction.

The bar exam can differ greatly from state to state, but one common thread is that all applicants to the bar are required to complete an attorney application―as it is a privilege to practice law. For California, you will need to also complete a moral character application after sitting the bar exam and prior to becoming sworn in as a fully licensed U.S. attorney. These requirements are designed to protect the public from individuals whose past conduct demonstrates they may not be sound lawyers and to protect the legal profession’s reputation of integrity and trustworthiness.

When it comes to the character and fitness process, New York doesn’t begin the inquiry until after the bar exam is taken. Other states, such as California, begin the character and fitness screening when the applicant signs up to take the bar exam, usually at the end of law school.

The free BARBRI Extended U.S. Bar Prep Exam Digest can give you all you need to know about every bar exam in every state. Here, we’ll focus on what to expect and how to best approach your character and fitness portion of the exam.

Candor is Critical

It is often said that honesty is the best policy, but I would emphasize that honesty is the only policy when it comes to answering the character and fitness questions. I’ve had attorneys within BARBRI tell me they’ve had to go so far as to list every credit card they’ve ever had and the current balance on each of those cards.

Suffice it to say that the character and fitness questionnaire can vary by jurisdiction, but the typical questionnaire will ask about:

  • Criminal and civil violations, including everything from convictions down to traffic tickets that led to fines or a suspension of your driver’s license
  • Academic attendance records
  • Exact addresses of where you have lived
  • Compliance with court orders
  • Mental health or substance abuse issues
  • Financial irregularities with regard to student loans, past due accounts, and more
  • Disciplinary actions during employment or in other professional situations

What you included in your law school application addendums will be scrutinized against what is found in your bar application and independent review. Nothing will send up a red flag to a character and fitness committee more than discovering you failed to disclose any past misconduct in your application.

If the character and fitness questionnaire raises concerns about your character, the bar admissions board may decide to conduct a more in-depth investigation. Usually, this is a face-to-face interview during which you will be required to produce evidence demonstrating current good moral character.

Don’t panic if you have something to report. If you are candid during the character and fitness process, can show that you have accepted responsibility for your actions, and have no immediate issues pending, then past missteps should not be a barrier to admission. If you have questions about whether or not to include something in your character and fitness application, the BARBRI team can help guide you. You can also contact the bar examiners in the state in which you plan to sit the bar.

Project a Positive Presence

This probably goes without saying, but your social behavior—the image you convey online―is extremely important. Before entering the bar application process, or law school for that matter, make sure nothing you present publicly would call your character into question. Your social media presence should not raise any concerns about your character, professionalism, integrity, or overall fitness to join the legal community. To the extent there are any red flags, such as an ill-advised photograph or a misguided comment, now is the time to clean up your act.

The character and fitness process can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be a hurdle in qualifying as a U.S. attorney. By being open and honest on the character and fitness questionnaire, you can show that you are poised to become a respected and valuable member of the U.S. legal profession.

New York Bar Exam: How to Apply for Eligibility without a 3-Year Law Degree

By Aoife Keenan, LL.B., LL.M.
Legal Advisor, BARBRI 

I started working with BARBRI in 2015. At the time, I was not aware of the U.S. route to qualification. Naturally, as a law student, I was intrigued. The thought of qualifying in two jurisdictions was really appealing to me. I had always been interested in working at an international level. A qualification from one of the most influential countries in the world was something I thought would increase my employ-ability outside of my home jurisdiction of Ireland.

Upon further research into the eligibility requirements, I was disappointed to discover I did not meet the criteria set out by the New York State Board of Law Examiners. Despite this fact, I was determined to apply anyway.

What I Had vs. What I Needed

A standard, full-time three-year common law degree is required to meet the eligibility requirement set out by the New York Board. I completed my undergraduate degree through law and business so I did not have enough credits in law modules. At first glance, this meant I did not meet the necessary criteria to take the New York Bar Exam.

Combining qualifications to cross the line: I wanted to find out if the New York Board was strict on the three-year law degree, so I began talking with BARBRI students (and there were some) who were deemed eligible even though they didn’t exactly meet the criteria set out by The Board. What I found was while my undergraduate degree did not meet the criteria outright, I might be considered eligible if I added my postgraduate law degree to the exam application. This can work for various reasons, but it appears consideration may come on a case-by-case basis.

My application at a glance

Documentation: Feeling a bit more optimistic, I submitted my dual-modular undergraduate degree and my postgraduate law degree to the New York Board, along with evidence that I was studying for my FE1s (Irish solicitor exams).

Employer references: I included two references with my application. The first was an academic reference. This was from my university lecturer and intern advisor. The letter referred to my grades in university and indicated that I was capable of passing the exam. Further, it referred to my legal experience at the law office based in Seattle in which I had interned. The second reference was from my current employer and referenced my legal experience, work ethic, and future ambitions.

Final touches: I submitted my own letter, along with my qualifications and references, and included the following points.

  1. A list of the criteria set by The Board, followed by details of how I met each of the criteria. Here I referenced my qualifications and experience.
  2. All of my legal experience, in particular, my work on U.S.-based cases.
  3. My future ambitions and how I planned to use the qualification upon admittance.
  4. My assumption that I could pass the bar based on my results to date.
  5. Finally, I politely requested that the New York Board grant my eligibility based on the information provided, which evidenced that I did in fact meet the criteria. I emphasized that an affirmative decision would greatly enhance my career opportunities.

I sent off this documentation in one package to ensure my information would be available at once, rather than received at intervals.

The Waiting Game

After nearly six months of waiting, I finally heard back from the New York Board. My eligibility to take the bar exam was confirmed.

As I look back, I can safely say that the extra paperwork I added to my application was certainly worth the effort. I would advise any student in a similar position to get in touch with BARBRI. We can advise on the best route for applying to the New York Board if you lack the exact criteria. A positive result can open many doors for law graduates and qualified practitioners alike.

Just remember, you may have to wait until you hear back from the New York Board of Law Examiners to start studying. So if you want to qualify sooner rather than later, make sure you give yourself plenty of time for the eligibility application.

The New York Bar Exam: A Guide for Foreign Applicants

Hemant Chauhan,
Legal Coordinator — BARBRI

So you want to be a U.S.-qualified, state of New York attorney?

Want to add a glamorous qualification to your CV? Thinking of emigrating to the states? Perhaps want to practice in New York?  You have arrived at the right place. This article will provide you an overview of the New York Bar Exam, and tips for those seeking to take this prestigious qualification.

Eligibility

Before selecting a bar preparation provider, you need to establish whether you are, indeed, eligible to undertake the examination.  If you do this straight away, you will be minimizing the fundamental risk as to whether you will be confirmed eligible, as the examination arrives nearer. I have selected a reputable, fantastic course provider, BARBRI Extended U.S. Bar Prep, that stresses upon this element, first and foremost. You should allow up to 6-months for confirmation of eligibility. It is the student’s responsibility to make a timely application.

Foreign applicants are required to send supporting documents to the New York State Board of Law Examiners. The New York Board of Law Examiners will request that you supply the following documents:

1.  University Transcripts

  • Request a copy from your university in a sealed stamped envelope.
  • Some universities will send the documents directly to New York, others will send them out to you and you will need to forward them to New York. NB. Do not open the transcripts before you send them to NY.
  • Transcripts must be in English/ translated into English. Ensure credits are listed on the transcripts.
  • It may be useful to request two sets of transcripts from the university. This way you can check that you are sending the correct document.
  • If your university uses an electronic transcript system, print a copy of the transcripts, and ask your university to stamp them as a true copy. Send them in a stamped sealed envelope.

2.  Copy of your Degree Certificate

3.  Practicing Certificate OR

4.  Letter from the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority/Law Society of the applicable country

Once eligibility has been confirmed, foreign applicants will need to register for the exam. To sit the July exam, register between April 1st- 30th. To sit the February exam, register between November 1st–30th. There are no exceptions/late filing deadlines. There is a fee of $750. There is an option to defer your registration fee to the next sitting of the exam. You need to contact New York directly to discuss this, in the event you have applied for eligibility less than 6 months before registering to sit the exam. You may not have your eligibility confirmed before registration.

Structure & Layout of the Bar Exam

The bar exam is a grueling, two-day examination: 6 hours each day.  Stamina and endurance under timed pressure will be crucial elements to passing the exams. There are three different components to the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE):

  • Multistate Essay Exam topics include:
    Business Association; Agency & Partnership, Corporation, Limited Liability Companies, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trust & Estates; Wills & Trusts, Future Interests, Uniform Commercial Code. These are tested on Day 1 only (+ MBE subjects listed below).
  • Multistate Performance Test
    Practical element of being a lawyer. All information needed to complete question is supplied in the question.
  • Multistate Bar Exam Topics Include:
    Federal Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts/ Sales, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Real Property & Torts. These are tested on Day 1 & 2.  200 multiple choice questions across 8 subjects. They are mixed. No labels for the question. Your mind will need to be racing through all the laws to issue-spot which area the examiners are testing.

Uniform Bar Exam Marking

The Multistate Bar Exam is worth 50%, the Multistate Essay Exam is worth 30% & the Multistate Performance Test is worth 20%. The total score is 400. New York has set the passing score at 266. Aim to get over 60% in all parts. The % pass rate varies from year to year.

On a further note, it is crucial to note that the pass rate has been reducing every year.  Statistics drop even more for foreign candidates.  In fact, pass rates are now at the very lowest in approximately 20 years.  Do not be scared.  This is just a warning that you need to be disciplined to master the material and practice, practice, practice.  Practice makes perfect.  BARBRI’s statistical evidence that 76% of students who complete 80%+ of the Personal Study Plan pass.

Admission Requirements

You will need to complete the following to fulfill the requirements for admission as a NY Attorney:

(i) New York Law Examination (NYLE):
It comprises of 50 multiple choice questions. It is a 2-hour open book test and can be completed online. You can sit this exam four times annually. The New York Law Course prepares you for the exam and can be found free of charge on the New York Bar website (www.nybarexam.org). It can be completed one year before the bar exam or three years after. The pass mark is 30/50. Subjects tested include; Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice & Procedure, Evidence, Matrimonial & Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts & Tort Damages and Trusts, Wills & Estates.

(ii) The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE):
This exam is 2 hours long and includes 60 questions. It is administered 3 times a year. It is required for admission to all state bars, apart from Maryland & Wisconsin. Passing scores are on a scale of 50-150. NY requires a scaled score of 85.

(iii) Pro Bono Requirement:
The final requirement for admission is 50 hours of Pro Bono work. The work should be legal in nature and must be unpaid. You should look for work involving legal research/ advice. The work must be signed off by a practicing lawyer, in the jurisdiction the work is completed in.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of effort, hard work, and discipline required to pass a bar exam and to fulfill the admission requirements in order to become a licensed attorney. But if you want to pursue this qualification, as I am in the midst of doing so, the rewards are great.

For further support visit BARBRI Extended U.S. Bar Prep, who can offer tailored advice on the New York Bar Exam process.