Should You Take This Bar Exam or That Bar Exam?

Which oneI recently got an email from a bar taker asking me if he should take the Illinois bar exam or the California bar exam. He had failed the Illinois bar exam once and was currently in Illinois, but at some point he wanted to practice law in California. So, what should he do?

Or what about these scenarios? I spoke to someone who lived in northern Tennessee, and she told me that frequently attorneys will get licensed in an adjacent state and then eventually get waived into the Tennessee bar in order not to have to sit for that state’s bar exam. I can see how that could make sense for some folks, especially given the close proximity of other states to her location.

I also knew a student for whom English was a second language. She sat for the California bar exam and failed. So she went to New York and sat for the New York bar exam and passed. She said the difference was that the writing wasn’t weighted as heavily in New York as in California (in California approximately 2/3 of the bar exam is writing). So perhaps it made sense for her to take the exam of another state.

This question of changing jurisdictions comes up more often than one would think. After a bar exam failure, many people wonder if they should cut and run and try out a new jurisdiction. There are pros and cons to this. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when deciding which bar exam to take.

Are you willing to practice law in another jurisdiction or move to another jurisdiction? 

Some law graduates are not set on living in one place. If you don’t have anything tying you down, moving can open up new opportunities with the bar exam and with other work. But make sure you think carefully about this! Passing an individual bar exam does tie you down quite a bit.

Now that the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is gaining in popularity though, moving between jurisdictions is getting easier and easier wherever the UBE is accepted. Do your research and see if moving is the right decision for you.

What if you are trying to get a job where your bar exam membership doesn’t matter? Sometimes attorneys want to be licensed somewhere but don’t intend to practice law. Or they get a job with the federal government where it doesn’t matter which jurisdiction you are licensed in. Since most of us want to take only one bar exam in our legal careers if we can help it, choose wisely when thinking about location and job requirements.

Can you get waived into your desired jurisdiction without re-examination once you pass? 

Did you know that some states will admit an attorney who has been admitted in another state without requiring the attorney to take the entire exam again? Is this a possibility for you? If so, then I would take the easiest bar possible and then see if you can be waived in. But do your research to make sure this is a viable option for you.

Is there a reason that a particular bar exam is especially hard for you? 

As with the story in the post, some bar exams may be more difficult than others for some individuals. Perhaps it is the weight of the writing portion. Or perhaps it is the availability of getting testing accommodations. If an exam just seems impossible for you, then you may want to investigate taking a different state’s bar exam.

But taking a new bar exam will come with its own set of challenges. 

You will need to learn new state-specific law. 

Remember all that state-specific law you studied for your last exam? If you switch jurisdictions, you are going to have to start all over again. Doesn’t that sound like a pain? Well, it is! This means that your study time will involve more substantive review than if you studied for the same jurisdiction over again. Depending on how much time you have to study for the exam, this may make changing jurisdictions overwhelming for you.

It might be more expensive to prepare (you will need to purchase state-specific preparation materials). 

And with studying new laws, come new preparation materials. Depending on which jurisdiction you are going to study for, you might need to purchase another preparation program to help you learn all this new state-specific law. And, if you are taking an exam like the California bar, the essays and performance tests may look different from those of any other state. Think through whether you are willing to take on the added expense and work of learning the law for an entirely new jurisdiction.

Deciding which bar exam to take is a challenging decision to make. Weighing the pros and cons of each possible plan will help you make a decision you can be happy with.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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2 comments on “Should You Take This Bar Exam or That Bar Exam?

  • I would reevaluate why I failed the Illinois bar first and possibly take that one again first if that is where I currently lived. Personally I don’t feel it is a bad thing to have passed in multiple jurisdictions, so if you take another bar in CA, what is the harm (although it is expensive, time consuming, etc). But if that is what you want to do down the road, I think it doesn’t hurt to be barred in Illinois and CA. Myself, I took the WA bar after failing CA’s, although I reside in CA. For me at the time, the WA bar was easier for me to do while working full time in a non-legal job. It was all writing (multiple choice was my weakness). It was also a different format of essay than CA’s and probably graded differently. Thus, I passed WA’s easily while working full time, but still struggle with CA’s exam with it being a bit lengthier and the grading being harder. I keep an eye out for federal jobs that I may qualify for though and also federal-related jobs at firms (immigration, etc.) I will take CA’s again at some point though when I feel ready since I am pretty tied here with my current job and family life and it will make it easier to find a legal job.

  • Oh and I also don’t have to take the multiple choice section for CA any longer since enough time has passed for me to be considered an attorney examiner, so now I can just focus on the writing portion. Another plus for me.

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