This article will provide you with an overview of the New York Bar Exam, and tips for international students seeking to qualify as a US attorney through this route.
To practice law in the United States, any and all lawyers – foreign or domestic – must be admitted to the bar association of the state in which they wish to practice. Each state in US, however, has its own rules for bar admission. Some states have made the process easier than others and New York is one such state. Taking the New York bar as a foreign lawyer is one of the most popular routes since it does not require an applicant to have received their degree necessarily from a school accredited by the American Bar Association.
In general, you are eligible to take the bar exam if you have a qualifying law degree that is corresponding in duration and substance to a JD degree in the US. A full-time, three-year LLB degree in common law countries (e.g. Australia, England, Hong Kong) is generally considered sufficient. But if you completed your law degree in a civil law country, you may need to do a LLM in the US to be eligible.
If a foreign-educated lawyer thinks that he or she meets these standards and is eligible they must begin their application to sit for the New York bar examination by completing the online Foreign Evaluation Form at the New York State Board of Examiners website. Once eligibility has been confirmed, foreign applicants will need to register for the exam. To sit the July exam, applicants need to register between April 1st – 30th. To sit the February exam, applicants need to register between November 1st – 30th. There are no exceptions/late filing deadlines. There is an application fee of $750. There is an option to defer your registration fee to the next sitting of the exam.
Structure & Format of the Assessments
The New York Bar Exam consists of three main components:
- Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)
- Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
- Online New York law course (NYLC) and exam (NYLE)
Uniform Bar Examination (UBE)
The UBE is administered two times per year (in February and July), and it consists of three separate sections:
- The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) – includes 200 multiple choice questions that are to be answered in 6 hours across 8 subjects and these questions account for 50% of the total UBE score. The topics assessed during this examination include Federal Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts/ Sales, Criminal Law & Procedure, Evidence, Real Property & Torts.
- The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) – consists of two 90-minute skills questions covering legal analysis, fact analysis, problem solving, resolution of ethical dilemmas, organization and management of a lawyering task, and communication. This section tests the practical element of being a lawyer and all information required to complete the questions is supplied in the examination questions itself. These questions account for 20% of the total UBE score.
- The Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) – includes 6 essay questions that are to be answered in 3 hours and these questions account for 30% of the total UBE score. The topics assessed during this examination include Business Association; Agency & Partnership, Corporation, Limited Liability Companies, Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Trust & Estates; Wills & Trusts, Future Interests, Uniform Commercial Code.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
In addition to the UBE, you also have to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The MPRE is a two-hour exam containing 60 MCQs that are designed to test the knowledge of established standards related to a lawyer’s professional conduct. The MPRE is based on the law governing the conduct of lawyers, including the disciplinary rules of professional conduct currently articulated in the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) and the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct (CJC), as well as controlling constitutional decisions and generally accepted principles established in leading federal and state cases and in procedural and evidentiary rules. The exam is administered three times per year (in March, August and November), and the passing score in New York for the MPRE is 85 on a 150 point scale.
New York Law Course (NYLC) and New York Law Exam (NYLE)
An applicant for admission in New York, must also take and complete an online course in New York-specific law, known as the New York Law Course (NYLC), and must take and pass an online examination, known as the New York Law Exam (NYLE).
This is perhaps the easiest component of the whole New York qualification process. The NYLC is an on-demand course on important and unique principles of New York law. The NYLC consists of approximately 17 hours of recorded lectures with embedded questions which must be answered correctly before an applicant may continue viewing the lecture. An applicant may complete the NYLC up to one year before, or within three years subsequent to, taking the UBE. The New York Law Course prepares you for the exam and can be found free of charge on the New York Bar website (www.nybarexam.org).
An applicant must complete all of the videos before the applicant may register for the NYLE. After an applicant has successfully completed the NYLC, the deadline to register for the NYLE is 30 days prior to the date of the NYLE. NYLE comprises of 50 multiple-choice questions. It is a two-hour open-book test and can be completed online. You can sit this exam four times annually. It can be completed one year before the bar exam or three years after. The pass mark is 30/50.
Additional Requirements for admission
After you have passed the relevant exams, you may apply for the NY bar admission. As part of the admission process, you will need to show compliance with the following additional requirements.
- Skills Competency
Applicants seeking admission in New York are required to establish that they have acquired skills and professional values necessary to competently practice law. Applicants may satisfy this requirement by completing one of the five separate pathways as described in section 520.18 to the Rules for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law: (1) law school certification of competence in skills and professional values; (2) 15 credits of experiential learning; (3) completion of the Pro Bono Scholars Program; (4) completion of a post-graduate apprenticeship; or (5) practice in another jurisdiction for a specific period.
- Pro Bono Requirement
Another requirement for admission is 50-hours of pro bono work. The work should be legal in nature and must be unpaid. The work must be signed off by a practicing lawyer, in the jurisdiction the work is completed in. The 50 hours of pro bono service are independent of any hours credited towards the skills competency and professional values requirement.
- Character and Fitness Review
In addition to passing the relevant exams and meeting the pro bono and skills competency requirements discussed above, an applicant must also undergo an assessment of their Character and Fitness as a part of the application process to be admitted to the NY bar.
Evaluating the pros and cons
There are important reasons to reflect on whether taking the NY bar will be helpful for you. For those hoping to practice law in New York for the long-term, NY bar admission is essential. Some employers also look for students planning to take the bar exam as a sign of commitment to the US market. It can also be useful for students hoping to work for a US-based law firm overseas, whereby the NY bar can be an asset (though not always a requirement).
However, you may also wish to take into consideration the costs associated with seeking bar admission, such as fees for applying to sit for the exam, the cost of a bar study course as well as living expenses during the time that you will be studying for and taking the exam. Further, it is important to note that it is one of the toughest exams in the world and the pass rate for foreign-educated candidates qualifying the New York Bar is marginally less.
That being said, this is not to say you should not apply for the New York Bar. New York is the biggest and most profitable legal market in the world and a lot of the high-end transactions and deals take place in the state and therefore a New York qualification will more likely than not open more possibilities for you in the future. But, it requires a lot of consistent effort and discipline to pass the examinations.
Nirali graduated with a Distinction upon studying the full-time Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP University. She is currently working as an in-house Legal Advisor for a company in the Middle East.
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