Passing the New York Bar exam is a goal that is at once both admirable and daunting. Not only is the exam itself incredibly challenging, it also presents an uphill task in navigating the sea of eligibility requirements on your own. If you do decide to brave the rough waters, you stand to receive the coveted license to become a practicing lawyer in New York, whilst adding an impressive credential to your profile, serving as proof of your knowledge of American law.
The overwhelming amount of information available online can be unnerving for the best of us, but institutions such as Boston University provide ample resources to students to prepare them for both the form and substance of the bar. In the following post, we have put together a brief guide on the New York bar, with curated insights from an LLM alumna of BU Law.
Setting the Stage: Eligibility Requirements
The New York Bar exam takes place twice a year, once at the end of February and then at the end of July.
To be eligible to take the bar, during your LLM you are required to take a stipulated number of courses on (i) Professional Responsibility, (ii) Legal Research, Writing and Analysis, and (iii) American legal studies, the American legal system or a similar course designed to introduce students to U.S. law, alongside specialized courses in subjects tested by the bar exam. In addition, you must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and the New York Law Exam (NYLE).
The MPRE is a multiple choice exam, lasting two hours, designed to test students on their knowledge of the “established standards related to a lawyer’s professional conduct”. In New York, the MPRE takes place in March, August, and November, with a passing score of 85. It is important to note that the MPRE exam results are only valid for four years, therefore if taking the MPRE before the bar, it is crucial to ensure your MPRE results are still valid when you’re taking the bar.
In terms of the NYLE, this exam is a culmination of an online course called the New York Law Course (NYLC), a mandatory requirement for those seeking admission to New York Bar. This exam is conducted on the 12 topics covered during the NYLC courses, relating to the specifics of New York law including Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice and Procedure, amongst others. As the New York bar’s website succinctly states, “although the NYLE is an open book exam, it will be a rigorous one. Time will not permit an applicant to research the materials for the answer to every question. Preparation for the NYLE by taking the NYLC and studying the Course Materials will be necessary.”
Lastly, there is a Character & Fitness evaluation, where the examiners assess each candidate’s background. According to BU Law, as part of the Character & Fitness Evaluation, states may ask you about your “educational history and disciplinary actions, employment history, criminal history, financial history, litigation history, mental health and substance abuse, and driving history”. As such, candidates are advised to begin gathering documents such as transcripts and employment records as soon as possible to get a firm foothold on the application process.
Echoing this sentiment, Anmol Sheth, a BU alumna who has recently passed the New York bar exam, mentions, “when you join BU, which will be sometime in September for the Fall Semester, [that] is around the time that the New York bar will expect you to send in your credentials from your law school. So your first step will be to submit your law school credentials from [your country of origin].”
Using Your Resources: The Process
If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry, there are always resources available to you to ensure you’re meeting the eligibility requirements! For example, Anmol explains that when you join BU as an LLM student, the university “provides a Professional Development handbook that will outline every single thing [required] for every different state bar.” BU Law’s guidance is not limited to preparation for the NY Bar, and extends to overall career development and guidance for internships and jobs.
The preparatory process for the bar begins with choosing the right courses upon joining the LLM program, in order to meet the mandatory course requirement imposed by the NY Bar. “At the beginning of your semester you’ll have these consultations where they’ll help you choose your courses based on what you want to take, based on the motivations you have,” Anmol reassures. She further elaborates that you can devise a course list in consultation with the director of your LLM program, and develop a personalized plan focused towards meeting the requirements for the bar.
At BU Law, the American Law Program is geared towards equipping foreign attorneys with the right tools for taking the bar exam not only in New York, but also Massachusetts, California, and Washington, D.C. “I’m totally biased towards the American Law Program”, reiterated Anmol when asked about the ideal choice of specialization for international students who intend to take the bar. The “Fundamentals Track”, as part of BU’s spring semester goes the extra mile to provide specially tailored courses to aid LLM candidates in their preparation for the bar.
Alongside an Introduction to American Law course, you must also enroll in the Professional Responsibility and Ethics Course. Beyond these two courses, there are a certain number of credits outlined by the bar which students must complete - but you can choose the remaining courses depending on your interests.
As a proxy indicator, the commitment towards bar preparation at BU Law is evidenced from its track record of producing JD candidates that have successfully passed the bar. According to the BU’s 2019 Ultimate Bar Passage results, 91.52% of BU's JD Class of 2018 successfully passed their chosen jurisdiction's exam in their first attempt – a result significantly above the national ABA weighted average pass rate of 77.15%. As a caveat, these statistics do not represent the pass rates for LLM candidates, and only speak to the benefits that students may receive in their bar preparation by participating in JD classrooms.
Once you have completed the required courses, and passed the MPRE and NYLE exams, you should be set to take the bar.
What are the Benefits of Passing the Bar? What if I don’t Plan on Working in the US?
One of the chief benefits of passing the New York bar exam is that you obtain a license to practise in the state of New York. Having the ability to practice in the jurisdiction where you have studied and built your network would certainly facilitate your job hunt. Anmol, who’s currently working as a Law Clerk with Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, reiterates the importance of clearing the bar in a job hunt, “...I would just say that for people who are still looking for jobs…the bar exam is a huge plus in getting a job”.
Beyond the shores of the United States, passing the bar also creates potential avenues for employment for those of you who plan to pursue a career in other jurisdictions. Passing the New York bar exam is in itself an incredible accomplishment, one that is recognized and reputed throughout the world. Having this credential in your roster, therefore, stands as a testament to your abilities as a lawyer even as you pursue employment opportunities far away from New York. For example, according to Jayant Malik, an LLM graduate of Cornell, “the New York bar qualification would be very helpful for students, especially from India when it comes to showing their international credentials. This is also very helpful if you’re considering applying for jobs in the Middle East or even in Singapore for that matter.”
Furthermore, if you are already licensed in your home country, being a dual-licensed lawyer makes you an asset to any law firm, as you bring a wider range both in terms of geography and your knowledge of the law. At a minimum, it demonstrates a baseline knowledge of the American legal system, which is valuable to most corporations with offices outside of the US.
While taking the NY Bar is arguably one of the most challenging experiences in any lawyer’s career, BU Law equips you with the tools you need to navigate the exam’s complex landscape. During your LLM, we recommend that you remain engaged with the program directors, ensure you are taking the right courses, and stay on top of the paperwork to make your bar journey a seamless one.
Once you pass the bar, you can explore opportunities both within New York and around the world.
This post contains snippets from CollegeIt’s live session with Boston University School of Law. You can watch the complete session here.