As you wrap up your 2L year, take a moment to reflect on how far you are on your journey to law school. You are so close to the finish line! Although you may not be ready to think about your final year of law school and the bar exam, now is the perfect time to think about the year ahead and the different steps you will have to complete to get through it.
The process of applying for the Bar, Personality and Physical Fitness exam is a complex process, with various deadlines and associated fees. Without proper planning, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, incur extra fees, and miss downtime that can affect your ability to sit for the bar exam. So take some time now to see what to expect over the next year and take control of the process so you can adjust your time, energy, and expenses accordingly.
Research the bar licensing requirements in your jurisdiction
When looking forward to your 3L year, one of the first resources you should consult is the website of the Board of Law Examiners for the jurisdiction (or jurisdictions) in which you plan to obtain a license. (You can find contact information for your state’s attorney admissions agency here.) Each jurisdiction’s website details the licensing process, including eligibility requirements to take the bar exam, application procedures, and other licensing requirements.
In addition to registering for the bar exam, there are several other common prerequisites, such as completing a personality and physical fitness assessment, obtaining a law school certification, and achieving a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). Some jurisdictions also have state-specific requirements, such as passing a component of state law or completing a minimum number of free hours.
Calendar key dates and your time budget
Once you have reviewed the requirements and understand the procedures, you can begin to determine when you need to complete each step of the process. Pay close attention to important dates and deadlines. Add these details to your calendar (along with any associated fees) and set reminders.
Some aspects of the process will take longer due to the administrative workload required. For example, as part of your application or character and fitness assessment, you will need to provide your residential and employment history – which often goes back to when you were 18. Other requirements may involve a significant amount of additional effort, such as studying for an MPRE or completing a state law component. Once you have an idea of the labor required and the completion timeline, you can schedule components that require additional preparation time accordingly.
Create a bar licensing budget
As you assess deadlines and the costs associated with them, you’ll notice that expenses start to add up, so it’s essential to have a plan for financing your licensing process. Remember to factor in additional expenses, such as travel to and from the exam site, software fees for using your laptop for the bar exam, preparatory program for lawyers, and living expenses while you study.
If you already have a plan in place, make sure that your strategy remains on track and that you will get the funding you need as various deadlines approach. If you haven’t, now is the time to create a plan or consider getting a loan to study law (read on for the nitty-gritty!).
The MPRE is offered three times a year – usually in March, August and November – so you have some flexibility about when to take the exam. Although most jurisdictions will accept an MPRE score obtained before or after taking the bar exam, it is best if you want to complete this requirement before You sit at the bar.
Achieving a passing MPRE score during law school is beneficial for several reasons. First, it will boost your confidence before you take the bar exam because you will have already passed an exam that is part of the licensing process. Second, it removes this important requirement from your to-do list before the bar exam (and let’s be honest, you don’t want to study for the MPRE right away after spending months preparing for the bar exam). Finally, if you wait until after you have taken the bar exam and have not received a passing score on the MPRE, it may delay your admission to the bar.
Before you take the MPRE exam, it is highly recommended that you take an ethics or professional responsibility course at a law school. These courses will provide the foundation for key concepts, such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and the client-attorney relationship, which are vigorously tested on the exam. This foundation will make it much easier for you to prepare for and pass the MPRE exam.
Additionally, consider what your summer and final year of law school will look like when deciding which MPRE department to take on. If you have a demanding summer assistant position and know you will be busy on moot court in the spring, you may consider accepting the November administration with the March administration as a backup option. If your fall semester was crowded with law review, a heavy course load, or clinic, you might want to take the August MPRE exam this summer to get it out of the way.
If you’ve already planned ahead and achieved a passing MPRE score as a 2L – well done! Clear this task from your to-do list.
Focus on the bar exam you plan to take
When you think about the licensing process and the bar exam, try not to get distracted or nervous when you hear law school faculty or students mention the NextGen Bar Exam that’s in development. Although the format of the bar exam may change, these changes will not take effect until 2026 – and only in jurisdictions that adopt this version of the bar exam.
Many schools have started making changes to their curricula in anticipation of a new format for the bar exam, but these changes are really intended to support students who will sit for the bar exam starting in 2026 – primarily law school students in fall 2023. If you’re taking the bar exam in 2024 (or even 2025), you don’t have to worry about the NextGen Bar Exam. Instead, stay focused on the expectations and format of the bar exam you will be taking.
No matter where you plan to practice law, the attorney licensing process has multiple steps, different deadlines, and a wide range of fees. Take the time to do a little research and planning now so you know what to expect, when to take important steps in the process, and how to allocate your time, energy, and resources accordingly. Then enjoy a smoother – and hopefully less stressful – year for your 3L!
Kimberly Wallenberg He is the Managing Director of Helix Bar Review Engagement. She has nearly 20 years of experience working with law students from around the country in the areas of legal research and writing, succeeding in law school, and preparing for the MPRE and Bar exams.