Deciding which bar exam to take will probably be one of the more difficult decisions you make during your 3L year. Unlike many other careers, the exam that you take to receive this certification may tie you to practice in one specific state or allow you to transfer your score to another state after paying a hefty transfer fee. As you can imagine, this decision may strongly affect your family members who may have to be uprooted from their current location to join you in the state you’ve selected. This decision could also impact a new budding relationship, as you try to determine whether it’s worth taking the exam in your current location to pursue a more serious relationship with your significant other. These are only two of the more common considerations that 3L’s have to assess as they make this very serious decision. Although it’s a tough decision to make, I have provided some factors that you could consider to help you along the way.
What Are the Different Bar Exam Options?
Before we can jump into the factors to help your decision making process, let’s quickly go over the types of bar exams you can take. The bar exam options available are: 1) a state-specific bar exam or 2) the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). Each state has different rules and regulations regarding the type of material that will be included on its bar exam. However, a state-specific bar exam will typically include a standardized Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion, state specific essay testing that covers both federal law and state law and also a Multistate Performance Test (MPT) portion. If you decide on taking a state-specific exam be sure to read up on the specific requirements for that jurisdiction on your selected state’s bar exam site.
The UBE, on the other hand, is a standardized bar exam offered in 27 different states. This exam consists of a MBE portion and MPT portion. However, it also consists of the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). The MEE has six 30-minute essay questions that are not state specific. The UBE is a lot more flexible, as it allows you to transfer your score to any state that has adopted the UBE, and will accept your score as a passing score. However, the cost to transfer your score may be quite hefty. But this may be a small price to pay for instant reciprocity.
Ok, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s jump into the deciding factors!
If you have a job offer in hand that you plan on accepting, then your decision may already have been made. It would probably be best to sit for the bar exam within your employer’s state. The real issue however, comes up if you have a job offer in a state that you don’t want to relocate to or like many law students during their 3L year, you don’t have a job offer at all.
Do You Have a Job Offer in a State Where You do Not want to relocate?
If you have a job offer in a state that you don’t want to relocate to, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Does that state offer the UBE? If so, then you have a lot more flexibility. If you sign up for the UBE, then you could continue to seek employment in one of the other 26 UBE states. If you receive an offer in a more preferable location at a later date, then you could always transfer your UBE score to get sworn in at that new location. However, if you have an offer in a non-UBE state, your only choice may be to take the state specific bar exam offered in that state. However, bear in mind that if you want to relocate at a later date, there are attorney bar exams and state reciprocity laws that could make your transition a lot easier, as opposed to taking the entire bar exam from scratch.
Do You Not Have a Job Offer?
If you don’t have a job offer, don’t worry, you’re likely in the same position as the majority of 3Ls. Although you don’t have an offer to make your bar exam selection a lot easier, you do want to make a very careful and calculated choice. Here are some questions you could ask yourself as you try to come to a decision:
Do You Know Which State You Want to Practice in?
Typically, I would say that if you’re entirely unsure about which state you would like to practice, then take the UBE. This exam provides you with the most flexibility. Therefore, if you take the UBE in NY, and later get a job offer in DC, you could easily transfer your score to practice in the DC market. However, if you already know which state you want to practice in, that’s great! I would recommend focusing your attention on that state and applying to take the bar in that location regardless of whether they offer the UBE or a state-specific exam. Don’t get bogged down by the fact that you don’t have an offer there just yet. Instead, focus on meeting the state’s character and fitness deadlines and bar examination deadlines. If you stay committed to that location, you could definitely find a job there.
In Which State Do You Have the Most Ties?
If you don’t have an ideal state in mind, then maybe you should consider taking the exam in a state in which you previously lived or previously worked. Did you spend most of your life living in Florida and do you frequently go back to visit family members there? Did you complete most of your law school internships in California? Employers like to see that a prospective employee has family or past employment that ties them to a state. Therefore, if you’re struggling to determine which bar exam you should take, the answer may be to take your home state’s exam. The ties that you have to this location may increase your chances of securing permanent employment as an attorney there. You may not have a job offer in hand at this very moment, but if you’ve committed to taking that state’s bar, and you have prior work experience in that state, I would say your chances of obtaining employment soon are very strong.
I hope after reading these tips, you will be a step closer to making your decision!