Although it is hard to see it sometimes, law school does eventually end. Unfortunately, you are not out of the “grind” when you graduate. While you will have your “JD,” you still have some more steps to earn those “Esq” letters after your name. You still need to think about the bar exam and your bar application. Everyone knows that becoming an attorney is not an easy or inexpensive task. There are numerous steps, fees, and costs that many people do not think about. As a first generation college student, I was very concerned about the cost of becoming an attorney. Now as a 3L I am in the process of submitting my application and documents to character and fitness. Through this process, I have discovered that the cost of becoming an attorney is more than just bar exam fees. This piece focuses on the true cost of the bar. As I am applying in the state of Michigan, I have the most information on this state. Each jurisdiction has their own set costs and fees, so there may be differences which I will try to address.
One thing that you may not think about is the cost of your education in relation to becoming an attorney. In order to be eligible for admission via the bar exam, you usually have at least an undergraduate degree and have graduated from a law school (sometimes jurisdictions require ABA accreditation/proof of law school credentials). The average undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board cost is $21,370-$48,510 per year. The average cost for just law school tuition is $26,864-$47,112 per year.
An important cost to consider when thinking about the bar exam is bar prep. There are numerous companies and individuals that provide bar prep courses. Each company or individual chooses the cost of the program and typically offers a variety of resources and courses. The most well-known commercial bar prep review providers are Themis, Barbri and Kaplan. The base price to their prep course (before any shipping, fees, or discounts) is: $2,195 (Themis), $3,795-$4,095 (Babri), $2,299-$3,999 (Kaplan).
Most states require a passing MPRE score as part of your bar application. The MPRE is an exam that consists of 60 multiple-choice questions but only 50 questions are graded on a scaled basis. The MPRE stands for Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam which tests the Model Professional Responsibility Rules. The cost of this test is currently $125. You can get more information on this test at the NCBE website.
Shocking to no one, the bar exam itself costs a good amount of money. The bar exam is a two or three day exam that consists of a multiple choice portion and essay portion that tests a variety of subjects chosen by your prospective state’s bar. Since the bar exam differs by state, the cost also varies. The cost of the bar exam for first-time test takers can range from $150-$1500. If you would like to take the essay portion on a laptop, it will cost you more! (in most states). To make sure you do not have access to the internet or your computer’s files, you are required purchase or download certain software that allows for laptop testing. The cost varies by state but can range anywhere from $0 to $175. For more information on bar exam and laptop fees, visit the NCBE website.
Character and Fitness Filing Fees
Another additional cost for your bar application is typically called “investigation fees.” These fees are associated with the investigation that will be conducted by the character and fitness department in your jurisdiction. Some states (e.g. Alabama) utilize the NCBE for their character and fitness processing. The character and fitness report for first-time bar examinees through NCBE is $355. However, some states utilize their own processing departments and have different fees. For example first-time bar examinees pay $375 in investigation fees in Michigan.
Third Party Documents
After you go through the stress of completing the first part of your bar application with your affidavit of personal history, many jurisdictions require additional documentation for the character and fitness process. This typically includes criminal records and driving records from all states and countries that you have lived in, reference letters and other documents. In order to get your criminal records, many states require your fingerprints. This will cost you anywhere from $50-$90, depending on what company you go through and what kind of prints are required (digital vs ink) and if they need to go through a state-approved vendor. Certified driving records are also typically required, these can also range in price depending on your state. For example, in Michigan, it will cost you $12 for certified records but only $5 in California. Also, any of the documents that you send to your applicable character and fitness department will cost you money too. Most jurisdictions recommend you send documents through certified U.S. mail. The rate for certified mail (excluding cost of envelopes, printing, etc) is $3.50 per piece of mail.
Being a Lawyer Can Be Expensive
Not really surprisingly, becoming and being a lawyer can be very expensive. Not only do you have to put yourself through 7+ years of school (with all associated expenses), you will incur fees for applying to the bar, taking the bar exam, and admission to the bar. This can be overwhelming for any law student (especially those in their last years!) However, if you make yourself aware of what the costs may be and plan ahead, you will set yourself up to handle your finances successfully while being able to accomplish your dreams.