Navigating The California Bar Application Process
The complexity and depth involved with the lengthy application process required for admission to the California State Bar surprises many. In this post, we break down the course stages in the California bar application process.
Navigating The California Bar Application Process
In short, there are four stages of registering for the California Bar Exam. The first stage is registering with the California State Bar. The second stage involves taking and passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. The third stage is to complete and submit the Moral Character Application. Lastly, the fourth step is completing the application for the California Bar Exam and successfully passing the exam. We’ll discuss each in more detail below.
Registering with the California Bar
The first step in the California Bar application process is to register with the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State of California. For most, this takes place while you are in law school and is called “Law Student Registration.” The State Bar of California recommends that students register with the Committee of Bar Examiners during their 1L year. Preferably, you should do this within ninety days of matriculation.
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam
Many students have no idea what the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (“MPRE”) is before entering law school. The MPRE is essentially a portion of the California Bar application that tests judicial ethics throughout the practice of law. The MPRE is generally administered three times per year in March, August, and October/November. The test itself is relatively short and is only 60 questions. Although the test contains 60 total questions, 10 questions are “experimental” and do not count towards your final score.
The MPRE will test you on the law governing the conduct of lawyers, including the rules of professional conduct in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, and controlling constitutional decisions and generally accepted principles established in leading federal and state cases. The NCBE scores the MPRE on a scale of 50 to 150. You need a score of 86 to pass the exam in California.
Many students take the MPRE after completing a professional responsibility or legal ethics class in law school. The most popular time to take the exam is during students’ 2L year. However, depending on your schedule you may choose to take the exam in your 3L year. You do not need to pass the MPRE to sit for the California Bar Exam. However, you do need it to join the California State Bar. So, although it is not recommended, some students take the MPRE after the California Bar Exam.
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The Moral Character Application
The Moral Character Application is often the longest and most time-consuming part of the California Bar application process. It is essentially an in-depth review of a student’s background dating as far back as high school. Students need to provide information on past residential addresses (including those held in college), criminal offenses, prior civil lawsuits they were involved in, and employment history (to name a few categories). The application does take some time to fill out. So, block off at least a couple of days to accurately complete it.
In California, you will be required to list at least three individuals with whom you do not share any family relationship as professional references. One of these references must be a licensed California attorney. Generally, these are other attorneys who you have worked with during a previous or current role. The California State Bar will contact these individuals in order to obtain their opinions on your moral character and background.
After submitting the Moral Character Application, students can expect to hear back roughly between six and eight months later on the status of their application. Therefore, students should submit their applications by fall of 3L year. January of 3L year should be the absolute deadline for submitting the application. After submitting the application, students have 90 days to complete the California fingerprinting requirement. They will not consider your Moral Character Application without appropriately processed fingerprints.
The California Bar Exam Application
Before sitting for the next administration of the California Bar Exam you must register to take the exam during your 3L year. The application for the California Bar Exam is available online and is a short and relatively straight forward process. Students should complete the application as soon as it is available. This will increase their chances of taking the exam at their preferred testing site.
Once a student submits the application to sit for the next administration of the California Bar Exam and the California State Bar determines the student has fulfilled the other requirements listed above – all that’s left to do is to study for and take the California Bar Exam!
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