Right now, the July 2017 bar exam probably feels pretty far off. But there are a lot of logistics to get through before you ever start studying, and checking those items off your list this fall can save you a lot of time and stress when you need to focus on the actual exam. Here are 8 questions you should get answers to this fall.
1. Where are you taking the exam?
Your bar exam plans can’t really begin until you know what exam you’ll be taking. Are you taking it in the state where you currently attend school? Are you taking more than one exam? Are you taking the Uniform Bar Exam? If you haven’t decided yet, you need to make that decision soon, so start Do You Know the Way to San Jose: The Time I Took the Bar Exam in Silicon Valley Without Going Broke researching your options and what exam or exams will be the best choice for your employment plans.
2. Do you really understand the UBE?
As it becomes more prevalent and states like New York adopt it, the Uniform Bar Exam is becoming an increasingly popular option. Some students take the UBE exclusively, while others take it in addition to a state-specific exam. Either way, the UBE can be a great way to become licensed to practice in many states, but it’s not quite that simple. First, remember that admissions are not automatic, so you still need to apply for admission to the bar of any state where you wish to practice, and your admission is up to each jurisdiction. More importantly, while the UBE is uniformly administered, graded, and scored, each jurisdiction has the authority to set their own passing score and can require applicants to take a course or pass an additional test on jurisdiction-specific law. The UBE can still be a great choice, but make sure you understand how it works and the requirements of each jurisdiction where you hope to use it for admission.
3. What prep program will you take?
Since BARBRI used to be the only game in town, it has long since been synonymous with bar prep. But today’s students have varied options ranging from large companies like BARBRI to smaller local companies offering small group classes and more tailored assistance to individual Bar Exam tutors. It’s important to explore the options available to you and decide which is the best fit for your learning style and needs. The right preparation can be the difference between passing and failing so this is not a choice you want to make lightly or at the last minute.
4. What’s your budget?
The bar exam has a lot of fees and costs. There’s your prep course, your application fee, a fee for laptop testing, fees to get copies of your driving record, fees to get fingerprinted, the cost of a hotel if you need to travel to take the exam, and possibly more depending on your jurisdiction. Start figuring out exactly what all of this will cost you and how you will be paying for it so that you can create a budget and stick to it. The last thing you need is sudden financial stress right before the exam.
5. What help does your school offer?
Many schools have bar preparation programs now. Some offer classes (either for academic credit or as voluntary workshops) during your 3L year to jump start your study efforts (if your school offers this I highly recommend taking advantage of it because the data on these classes suggests they can be highly beneficial), some offer supplemental preparation during the summer to complement your formal prep program, and some help walk you through the application process. See what your school can do to assist you and lessen some of the burden of the logistics of bar prep.
6. Do you need any exam accommodations?
The ABA Commission on Disability Rights maintains a directory detailing the process for seeking bar examination accommodations for each state, including links to forms, deadlines, and additional information about the process. If you plan to seek an accommodation for the exam such as needing extra time, make sure you look into these procedures as soon as possible.
7. What do you need to do for your application and for Character and Fitness?
Many 3Ls get overwhelmed by the application process for the bar exam, especially with the Character and Fitness requirements. Make sure you know all of the dates and deadlines, but even if it’s too early to turn anything in, make a list of what you need to gather, since some things can take a while. A criminal history, fingerprinting, your driving record, a list of all of your past residences and places of employment (WITH contact information) and other requests can be a lot to compile in the weeks before everything is due. See if you can start now or at least have your checklist ready.
8. Do you need to make any disclosures to your law school?
It’s a good idea to read over all of the questions for Character and Fitness and make sure your answers will match up with what is on file with your law school application. If they won’t, you need to meet with your Dean of Students to discuss amending your application. This may sound terrifying, but it usually isn’t, and it happens a lot more than you might realize.
Here’s a classic example: Senior year of college you apply to law school and are elated when you get admitted to your first choice in February. In April, you are visiting a friend who lives on campus and you get caught violating some policy about alcohol on campus. You’re 21 so you haven’t broken any laws and the violation is not a serious offense, but you have to meet with your advisor to discuss the incident and attend a one-hour alcohol education meeting on campus. It isn’t a big deal and there are no lasting consequences, so you forget all about it. But now it’s time to fill out your Character and Fitness questionnaire and they ask if you have ever been found to be in violation of a school policy from high school onward. Answering that question honestly and revealing the senior year incident is not going to raise any red flags or prevent you from being admitted to practice. HOWEVER, if your law school application asked the same or a similar question and you answered “no” (because when you applied the incident had not yet occurred), THAT will raise a red flag because your applications do not match up and it may appear that you tried to hide this incident from your school. In reality, you likely didn’t think to report the incident to your law school because it didn’t seem serious and you may not have known that you needed to update them.
You might be reading this and freaking out, but there’s no need to panic. You just need to meet with your Dean of Students and explain the situation. Hopefully, this will be a quick process where the school adds an amendment to your law school application and is prepared to tell the Character and Fitness committee (if asked) that they still would have accepted you had they known about the incident when it happened, and they are not taking any disciplinary action or planning to deny you your degree. That’s the likely scenario if the undisclosed incident closely mirrors what was described above. If it was more akin to embezzling millions of dollars from your undergraduate institution, things might get a bit more complicated. The one thing you should NOT do is keep the incident off of your Character and Fitness Application and hope that since the applications will match up, no one will ever know and you’ll save yourself the hassle of the above process. Remember that honesty is paramount for Character and Fitness.
Basically, just remember that you are required to disclose any updates to the questions on your law school admissions application to your school, even if it’s 3L year. Taking care of it now will hopefully prevent delays in your Character and Fitness approval so you’re not stuck doing it in early July when you’re deep in study mode and receive a letter from Character and Fitness asking why a discrepancy exists between your two applications.
Remember, the bar exam is coming faster than you think and while there’s no reason to be terrified, there’s also no reason to make the experience any more stressful than it already is by waiting until the last minute to take care of the logistics. So start going through these questions now and save yourself a lot of time and frustration later!
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Thinking Ahead: Don’t Let the Bar Exam Catch You By Surprise
- What to Expect from Law School Bar Prep
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Can Studying Early Help You Pass the Bar Exam?
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