Bar Exam and MPRE Preparation
State Bar Application And Admissions
The application application can be somewhat time consuming. It requires gathering some documentation and listing dates and contact information for prior residences and employers, but is not brain surgery. Applicants should make sure everything is correct and internally consistent – if dates for jobs and addresses don’t match due to inadvertent error, reviewers will ask about that. Their main concern is to make sure an applicant isn’t covering something up. For people with prior criminal convictions or who have been a party to civil litigation, the process may take longer as the applicant may need to obtain or unseal records. State bars require applicants to pass their character and fitness requirements. Most states will make this determination prior to the applicant taking bar exam. One exception is New York, which has applicants take the exam first.
Early Application Discounts at Start of Law School: Many states offer substantial early application discounts for law students; a few states even require early registration. These discounts can save up to several hundred dollars. Discount deadlines are often as early as the start of law school. If a student is fairly sure he or she wants to practice in that state, these are a good deal. One downside is that the early applicant may be required to keep updated address and employment records with the bar throughout law school.
State Bar Exam
The bar is not as big an ordeal as popular press makes it out to be, at least not compared to the time and effort that go into preparing for several law school exams at the end of the semester. It does take a substantial amount of preparation. Normally students study between their law school graduation and the date of the bar exam, usually around 3 months. A student who studies and takes the test seriously will most likely pass. State bar exams scores are typically important only to the extent an applicant does or does not pass. As long as a score is high enough to pass, there is little benefit to doing better. Unlike grades, employers almost never ever ask about bar exam scores.
Portions of the bar exam
Multistate Bar Exam (MBE): The MBE is a standardized bar exam that most states use for about 50% of the total exam score. It is completely multiple choice and is based on the general common law rules and model or federal versions of rules where applicable. For example, civil procedure questions or evidence questions both rely on the applicable federal rules while tort or contract questions would rely on restatements and general common law rules taught in most law schools. The MBE questions from old tests are generally not released to the public at any time. The MBE tests 6 major areas: torts, contracts, real property, evidence, criminal law, and constitutional law.
State Portion: Most states include their own state portion on their bar exams. This state portion may contain both essays and multiple choice questions. It is usually worth around 50% of the total score. It tests on state-specific law, often on areas similar to the ones tested on the MBE. Additionally, there may be areas like state constitutional law that are not on the MBE.
Old State Questions Sometimes Published: Many state bars publish old bar essay questions and will sometimes even publish model answers for the essays. Study these questions as the ones on the bar will often cover similar fact scenarios and similar applications of law. Some states also publish their old multiple choice questions. Please note, however, that state bars usually do not offer substantial test preparation materials beyond these old questions and a lists of topics covered. They usually do not offer preparation courses or preparation books. These state bar materials are a good starting point for preparation but are not sufficient by themselves.
Commercial Bar Preparation Options
BarBri: The most popular bar preparation company is BarBri. They charge somewhere around $2700 to enroll in their program, which includes bar preparation books and online lectures. They publish materials for each state’s bar examination. Many large law firms will pay all or part of the bar exam preparation expenses. In that situation, bar applicants would be wise to take the course.
For all other students whose employers are not funding their bar preparation, it is not necessary to take the BarBri class. Scan buy used BarBri materials from the last few years. Materials can be found online, or from asking around law schools. Students should make sure that their state’s bar exam hasn’t changed significantly since the materials were published. They year for BarBri materials is printed in the upper right corner; BarBri also uses different colored covers for each year’s edition. The most important materials are the “Conviser Mini-Review” book(s), which are either 1 or 2 volumes, depending on the state; and the “lecture handouts”, materials distributed in a work-book, intended to be torn out. These lecture handouts are a concise summary of an area of law, with blanks to be filled in during the online lectures. Students buying used books should make sure the person whose materials they are buying filled in the blanks when watching the online lectures, since students buying these used books won’t have access to these lectures.
Kaplan/PMBR: Kaplan publishes books for the multi-state portion (MBE) only. These books are sold under the Professional Multi-state Bar Review (PMBR) brand name. They are available from directly from the source, or can be purchased used online or from textbook stores. Since there is some overlap between the general rules tested on the MBE and state-specific law on the state portion, studying for the MBE will help on the state section as well.
For students studying on their own, they may want to start several months in advance, typically a week or two after they graduate. They should study a section each day, possibly breaking up longer sections. They should test their comprehension using some questions from the sample test question books on that area. They should check answers and explanations as they answer each question to get immediate feedback and avoid learning something incorrectly.
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) is a nationwide standardized exam testing knowledge of the rules of professional conduct, informally known as “legal ethics”, that govern lawyers. Almost every state bar requires applicants to pass this exam. The exam is based on American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC). It does not cover the rules adopted by any particular state, however, almost all states have adopted variations of these ABA rules. The test is graded on a 50 to 150 scale, with an average of about 100. Most states require scaled score of around 80 to pass. Getting this score requires getting less than 50% of the questions correct.
Some test questions aren’t actually that easy – they ask about borderline situations where conflicting policies or legitimate considerations on both sides are present. But due to the low percentage needed to get a passing score, it is not difficult to pass this exam. Unlike law school exam grades, MPRE scores are unimportant as long as they are high enough to meet the threshold set by the relevant state bar associations. Employers generally don’t ask about MPRE scores.
MPRE Review Materials: BarBri and Kaplan/PMBR each publish a book for the MPRE. The Kaplan book can be bought new or used online or in textbook stores. The BarBri book is available new from BarBri as part of an MPRE course that also includes an online lecture. It is also sold used online. The ABA Model Rules are available free online or in paper copy in book stores. Students relying on the ABA Rules should read the comments in detail as they explain how the rules are applied in unclear situations.
A half day of review with any of these materials should be sufficient. It can be helpful to have taken your law school’s ethics/professional responsibility class prior to the MPRE but it is not necessary. The MPRE cares that you know how to apply the approaches the ABA Model Rules have chosen, but, unlike a law school exam, it does not test how well students can reason an argument for or against these approaches.
Other Resources: A variety of publishers make guides for the MBE, such as Emanuel’s “Bar in a Box” books and lectures. Several regional or local publishers and/or bar associations publish guides for the state-specific portions of the bar exam. Some students will also give away or sell their own outlines, so asking around can be quite helpful.
The patent bar, officially known as the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) “Registration Examination,” must be taken and passed in order to prosecute patents before the USPTO. Applicants must have a technical degree or significant technical coursework. The patent bar exam can be taken anytime while a student is in law school. Many practitioners recommend taking the patent bar while still in law school, so that it doesn’t conflict with preparations for a state bar exam after law school graduation. Applicants must first apply to the USPTO. Once they are approved, they then must schedule the exam. The exam is given by computer at a test company’s offices around the country. A paper-and-pencil version is also given at the USPTO headquarters once a year.
The exam consists of two 3-hour portions. Each portion contains 50 multiple choice questions on patent law and procedure. Of the 100 total questions, 90 count towards the score; the others are experimental questions that don’t count. Exam takers are not told which questions are experimental. To pass, one must get 70% of the 90 questions correct. There is no penalty for guessing, so exam takers should answer every question. The exam is generally considered very difficult; passage rates are often below 50%, a surprising statistic given the high qualifications of those taking the test.
While it is necessary to pass the patent bar to prosecute patents before the USPTO, the patent bar is not necessary to litigate or do transactional work involving patents or other intellectual property. By contrast, state bar membership is not required to prosecute patents before the USPTO, but is necessary to litigate or do transactional work.