When I first started law school, the bar exam seemed so far away, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. I was terrified by the process – so terrified, in fact, that I never asked what the admissions process was like.
I had been to New York just once as an adult. So why did I choose to take the bar there? Simple: the UBE. New York had just moved to the UBE, and Massachusetts (where I went to law school) would be moving to it soon. My logic was that I could take the exam in New York and then transfer my score to the state I really wanted to live in. Also, it was the cheapest exam. A lot of my friends were forking out almost a thousand dollars to take the bar, and I only had to pay $250.
I passed in February of 2018, and it took until January of 2019 to finally be sworn in. What I realized going through this process is how shrouded in secrecy it all is. Everything I learned beforehand was contradicting. Now that I’ve lived through it, I decided to outline the whole process, that way it won’t feel like you’re playing a game of Jumanji with a blindfold on your face.
In order to be admitted in New York, you have to have completed 50 hours of pro-bono work. (Check with your law school on ways to get it done.)
2. Sign Up for the Bar Exam
The New York bar exam registration process is probably the easiest part of the entire endeavor. You fill in a very basic information sheet online and pay the required fee. That’s it.
3. Study, Take, Pass the Bar
Pretty self-explanatory. You get 9-10 weeks to study for the bar (more if you aren’t taking it straight out of law school). After the exam, take deep breaths, and think positive, but don’t ruminate on it.
Take my advice and take this exam early in law school. Most people take it the last semester and if you fail, you have to take it again, and you can’t apply to be sworn in until you pass.
I took the exam before my third year started and passed. Some people in my test group didn’t pass, but they at least had two more tries before graduation.
5. New York Law Course & New York Law Exam
The NYLC is a video course on specific New York law. You can sign up for this before the bar exam, or after. The videos are about 15 hours, and you have to watch them from start to finish, no fast-forwarding (the software knows how much of the video you actually watched). In addition, the videos will stop here and there to ask you a question based on the material. Don’t fret if you get the question wrong – the video will restart at the place where that particular material was covered.
When you finish the NYLC, you are able to sign up for the NYLE. This exam is an open book test that is administered online a few times a year. But please don’t underestimate this exam. I did and almost failed. I heard “open book,” familiarized myself with topic headings, and then had no time to run around and look for answers.
When you pass the bar, the state assigns you to a particular department based on the last address you provided. Applications will vary depending on the department you are assigned to.
The application will ask you for all of your past jobs, whether they are in the legal profession or not. Anything that is related to legal work, including research assistant positions in law school, require a signed affidavit from the supervisor. In addition, you’ll be asked to have people write character references for you and have your law school send over your transcripts and other items (I learned at my character and fitness interview that they actually send over your personal statement from your law school application).
Don’t worry, they will notify you if any pages are missing or additional signatures are required.
7. Character and Fitness Interview & Swearing-In Ceremony
Once the application is completed, you will be assigned a date for the character and fitness interview. Generally, this takes about a month (but can take up to two) and your date can be a month (or three) after that. The interview will take place right before the swearing in ceremony, (or a day before in my case).
The interview is straight forward, unless you’ve included something in your application that needs to be discussed (credit problems, police record, etc.). I know some of my friends spent it talking about fishing, others talked about their kids, but most didn’t even remember what they discussed.
My interview consisted of me trying to explain what positive psychology was, discussing my law school application personal statement, and then about the interviewer’s work as a divorce attorney and how I might find a job in upstate New York. Then she looked at her phone and said, “gotta get the next contestant. Congratulations!” And I was on my way.
The following morning, my mother, best friend and I headed over to The Egg in Albany for the swearing-in ceremony. I have never been more excited to be an attorney as I was that day. I made an oath to uphold the constitution, and it was the first time in my life I recognized what an honor it is to do what we do. Being an attorney is not about the money – it’s about being of service and helping others.
I hope this look behind the curtain helps calm some of your nerves. You can make it through, and when you do, the swearing-in ceremony should be relished because it is the culmination of all your hard work. And remember, the earlier you get these steps done, the faster the turn-around time between passing the bar and being sworn in is.