If you’re an attorney who is considering an out-of-state move, you may need to take the bar exam in your new state of residence. I recently moved to Nevada and was faced with this challenging prospect nearly six years after first being admitted to practice in California, where I attended law school and started my legal career. Although it was difficult to work while studying for a second bar exam in a totally new state, with some diligence and extra time to prepare, I passed the Nevada bar exam on my first attempt.
This post will give you some factors to consider and strategies to put in place before you register for a bar exam as an attorney applicant. It may seem like an impossible task, but with a plan for success and a few months of hard work, you can pass another bar exam.
1. Do you really need to take the bar exam in your new state?
Before you do anything, make sure you understand whether you actually need to take the bar exam in your new state. A quick disclaimer: the following is intended as an overview of ethical considerations and is not legal advice. You should carefully review the applicable ethical rules in your state before making a decision about the bar exam or beginning to practice law there.
You may not need to take the bar exam if one of the following situations apply to you. If you plan to practice for a company or non-profit organization, you may be able to benefit from ethical rules that apply to out-of-state attorneys who want to practice in-house for only a single client. In some jurisdictions (such as the District of Columbia), you may be able to “waive in” to practice based on several factors (including where you are admitted and how long you have practiced law). And in states that administer the Uniform Bar Examination (or “UBE”), you may be able to transfer your previous UBE score if your score meets your new home state’s minimum score requirements.
If these situations don’t apply to you, you may need to sit for the bar exam. You may get some relief if you have been practicing for a considerable amount of time; a handful of states including California offer limited reciprocity to attorney applicants and require them to sit only for a portion of the bar exam. Unfortunately, some states like Nevada and Florida require all applicants to sit for the full bar exam regardless of how long they have been admitted to practice in another state.
2. Make a reasonable bar prep timeline.
If you determine you must take the bar exam, you need to pick which exam to take and set a reasonable study schedule. Make sure that you are aware of registration deadlines for the bar exam and work backwards from the exam date to make a bar study schedule. Also take note of deadlines for other components of admission such as the character and fitness application and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (or “MPRE”).
So, what does a bar prep schedule typically look like for an attorney applicant? Most attorney applicants must work at least part-time while they prepare for the bar exam, which means that they might have far fewer hours per week to devote to bar study than they did the first time they sat for the exam. If you need to work while studying, I recommend that you give yourself at least four months to prepare for the bar exam. You must be reasonable about how much time you can commit to preparing for the exam in light of your other commitments outside of work. Every person is different, but as a general rule of thumb, you should set aside between 300 and 400 hours of study time.
In my case, I worked while I studied for the February 2020 bar exam. I studied around three hours per weekday while working full-time in November, December, and January (and studied more on the weekends during those months). In the final weeks leading up to the exam, I worked only part-time and increased my study time to between four and six hours a day. As discussed below, I focused almost exclusively on practice and did not waste much time on video lectures or creating my own outlines.
3. Use your study time wisely.
As an attorney applicant, you have already taken and passed the bar exam at least once before. You’re already familiar with the core skills you need to pass, including issue spotting, rule memorization, and rule application. As a result, you probably don’t need to spend quite as much time learning and synthesizing the substantive law tested on the bar exam. You may be able to skip video or in-person bar lectures and use commercial outlines rather than making your own. Of course, you need to be realistic with yourself about how well you remember the subject matter from your first bar exam. But foregoing these time-consuming processes (which may not add much value) is a great way for you to save time and get to what matters most: practice.
I did not purchase a commercial test preparation package for my second bar exam. I used a BarBri Conviser Mini Review I bought on eBay for rule memorization, AdaptiBar to prepare for the Multistate Bar Examination (or “MBE”) questions, and SmartBarPrep outlines for rule memorization and review. I spent almost all of my study time practicing MBE questions, essays, and performance tests. Thankfully, Nevada releases sample answers for previous essays which I used as a grading rubric for my practice essays. This system really worked for me and gave me a confident edge going into the exam.
4. Take studying seriously.
As you know, preparing for the bar exam is difficult and requires considerable effort. You should wait to register for the bar exam until you know that you can take studying seriously. You’ll need to devote a lot of time to this, and life might be pretty stressful while you prepare. However, you’ll want to pass on your first attempt if possible, which saves time, money, and (most importantly) your sanity. Hopefully, a few months of sacrifice will pay off for you!
5. That said, you don’t need to be perfect.
You can make a few mistakes on the bar exam and still pass. Personally, I know I botched a difficult question about mortgages on the last day of Nevada’s three-day marathon exam and had to make up a few rules that I didn’t know on other essays. I agonized over these mistakes for months while I waited for my results and was thrilled to find out that I passed. This is the case for many applicants, so strive to have a passing (not perfect) understanding of the law when you go into the exam. The most important thing is to have done plenty of timed practice so that you feel prepared to handle each of the various components of the exam.
A second bar exam as an attorney is tough, but not impossible.
If you need to take the bar exam as an attorney, don’t despair! Try to think of it as a fun challenge that will open up new opportunities for you in this next chapter of your life. Although it’s definitely difficult, you can pass the bar exam as an attorney applicant with the right mindset and a strategic approach to preparation.