Bar Exams & Bar Admission

Bar Exam Information, 2015-16

This note was sent to 3Ls in September 2015 to outline initial steps they should take to meet bar deadlines and to plan for preparing for the bar.  For additional questions, contact the Office of Student Affairs or Career Center.

Bar Exam Overview

If you plan on practicing as a lawyer, you will need to take and pass a bar exam - offered yearly in every state in February and July. All states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories require passage of a bar exam before a lawyer is admitted to practice law in that jurisdiction or state. Most Duke graduates take the bar in July after graduation.

All juridictions require law students or graduates to register for the bar exam and to submit an application before taking the bar exam. Most state bar applications require letters of recommendation, references, and other personal informationand charge an application fee. Additional supporting documents may be required in the applicant's review.

Registration deadlines vary by state and change periodically, so it is important that you look at your state's bar exam deadlines soon. Fortunately, this is very easy to do. The National Conference of Bar Examiner's website has all the information you need, plus links to every state's own website. Start at and find your state's Bar Examiner. The "Comprehensive Guide" on that web page has information on all the states in summary form.

Model Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

Most states require students to pass the MPRE in order to be admitted to practice law. Students may take the MPRE before the end of their third year, and Duke 3Ls often take it in November. Please note: some states requires you to take the MPRE before taking the rest of the bar, so be sure to check your state's requirements.

In the past, students who wait until the deadlines to register have had to travel to Raleigh to take the test, while others are often able to take it in Durham. Go to the National Conference of Bar Examiners MPRE page to get more information about future test dates, or to the Online Registration Page.

Character and Fitness

All states have a critical "Character and Fitness" portion of the bar application. It is important to review this section as early as possible and if you have questions or concerns, please contact the Office of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs or Career Center.

Start Early

Again, it is critical to review your state's requirements now, as they vary widely and may need lead time. If you do not have a specific state yet, then note the requirements of your leading candidates. Please feel free to speak with the Career Center to discuss your specific situation if you are uncertain how to proceed. To give you a brief idea of how widely requirements vary by state, note the three recent examples:

  • State A: In order to apply, you must hold a "valid certification of fitness". Part of getting the certification involves completing 2 fingerprint cards that you get from the state. Thus, in order to apply by the deadline, you need to have started well in advance to have these cards completed.
  • State B: February 1 is the "regular filing deadline" for the July bar exam. However, State B requires that you need to have taken and received a certain score on the MPRE "prior to sitting for" the bar examination. Thus, you must take the MPRE before the Bar in State B.
  • State C: State C only offers a window of 30 days in which applications are accepted - not before, and not after.

Preparing for the Bar

General Preparation

You do not need to pull out hornbooks and outlines to prepare for the bar exam. Most people around the country prepare for the bar in the state in which they will be taking the bar, and many use commercial bar preparation companies in that state. Most states' exams last at least two days and consist of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), which is a multiple choice exam, and a state specific exam, which is generally an essay exam.

Pro Bono Hours Requirements for Admission to the New York Bar

There is now a 50-hour pro bono service requirement for applicants for admission to the New York bar. If you intend to practice law in New York after graduation, or if you plan to seek admission to the New York bar for reciprocal practice in another jurisdiction such as Washington, D.C., the new pro bono requirement will apply to you. Even if you are not planning to seek admission to the New York bar, you should be aware that other states currently are considering adopting a similar requirement.

Studying in Durham

There are options for taking a course and preparing for the bar outside of your state. Some companies sell everything including books and audio, and possibly other video products that you can purchase. While we are not endorsing Bar-Bri, they are one of the biggest and most national providers and often make it relatively easy to prepare in a class room setting outside of your state. Most summers, about 60 students study for New York in Durham, watching Bar-Bri videos in a room in the Law School or elsewhere at Duke; 20-30 students do the same for California. Video or live instruction typically doesn't matter for most students - there are no questions asked in the live sessions, in any case. One difference that students have noted in the past is that live sessions may start and end up to a week earlier than the video sessions, meaning there is less time after graduation to move to where you will be studying but more time after bar review classes end to finish up your preparation.

State Bars and Bar Associations

Lawyers within a state jurisdiction are typically required to be members of the state's licensing and disciplinary organization, which is a mandatory bar. This mandatory bar is called the State Bar, the state's bar association, or it is run by the state's highest court, depending on the state.These entities publicize information about admission to practice, requirements for law school students (some states require law students to register with the state bar while they are in law school if they intend to become licensed there), whether the state allows reciprocity for lawyers licensed in other jurisdictions, the rules for continuing legal education, and the rules governing the practice of law in that jurisdiction.

In addition to the mandatory organization, most states have voluntary bar associations, including: a voluntary state bar association; women’s or minority bar associations; practice focused associations such as trial or defense bars and groups for criminal defense lawyers or prosecutors; and local bar associations for a city or region.

Both mandatory and voluntary bar organizations can be excellent resources for information on local lawyers and employers.Information to the public is usually available through their websites and they may allow student memberships at no cost or for a nominal fee.The organizations often have groups or sections devoted to particular practice areas (ex. Real estate, health care, employment) so that students with an interest in a particular area can seek out the lawyers who work in that practice area for purposes of informational interviews, networking or applying for jobs.

Key Links

If you have further questions about the bar exam, please go to:

Bar Review Program Links

Patent Bar

The Patent Bar Exam is required in order to practice before the United States Patent and Trade Organization. A JD degree is not required to sit for the 1 day, 100 question, multiple choice exam.Those without a JD are patent agents and those with a JD are patent attorneys.If you pass the exam prior to passing a state bar exam, you will be a patent agent, but upon passage of a state bar exam you can transfer your registration to become a patent attorney. The exam is offered every business day in over 460 locations throughout the United States.

Patent Bar Applications and Information