Bar Examination

Attaining your J.D. degree is the first step to practicing law. Many students attend law school and receive their degree without intending to practice law. Those students want to use their degree in a myriad of ways from running their own businesses, working with non-profit organizations, or running for political office.

The majority of law students, however, wish to practice law. That is, they wish to represent clients, whether before courts or in business transactions or in other settings. To practice law, an attorney must have a law license.

Book cover for clearing the last hurdle

All UMKC Law students use Professor Wanda Temm’s book, Clearing the Last Hurdle: Mapping Success on the Bar Exam, which spells out how to develop your game plan for tackling bar exam preparation and provides strategies and tactics for how to answer essay and multiple-choice questions. This book is not meant to be the only source of material for the substantive law.  Use in conjunction with a commercial provider’s course. Clearing the Last Hurdle is provided to all UMKC Law students as part of their tuition and fees beginning with December 2023 graduates.

If you are not a UMKC Law graduate, be sure to check out Professor Wanda Temm’s book:

Buy the book

Licensing and bar exam information

A license to practice law is not a national license. Each state outlines its own requirements to obtain a license in that state. When becoming licensed, that license is to practice law in only that state. Most licensing requirements have two major components: a determination of character and fitness to practice law and the passage of that state’s bar examination. Character and fitness requirements also include passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam.

Each state sets its own requirements regarding citizenship, education, and past criminal records. Missouri requires admittees to “be a citizen or national of the United States, an immigrant alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States, or an alien otherwise authorized to work lawfully in the United States.” Kansas has no such requirement.

Missouri Requirements

Kansas Requirements

Rule 707: Application Processing Fees - KS Courts

One resource to locate information about a specific jurisdiction’s licensing requirements is the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) website— . It includes links to every jurisdiction’s licensing authority’s website.

If you are a graduate of a foreign law school, this chart provides citizenship and education requirements for all U.S. jurisdictions:

An attorney represents clients and owe those clients a fiduciary duty. In addition, attorneys are also officers of the court. The goal of a character and fitness determination is “to assure the protection of the public and safeguard the justice system.”[1]  To do that, the Board of Bar Examiners in each jurisdiction determines an applicant’s character and fitness through an investigation.

Each jurisdiction will define “character and fitness” for itself. A typical definition is that an applicant must possess the “traits, including honesty, trustworthiness, diligence and reliability that are relevant to and have a rational connection with the applicant’s present fitness to practice law.”[2]  Boards of bar examiners are concerned the most with an applicant’s criminal record, untreated mental illness and substance abuse, lack of candor, and irresponsibility.[3]  Each board will have its own guidelines on each of these concerns.

[1] Mont. R. Pro. on Comm’n on Character and Fitness (available at

[2] Minn. R. for Admission to the Bar 2A(6).

[3] Lori E. Shaw, What Does it Take to Satisfy Character & Fitness Requirements?, 37 Student Lawyer, October 2008 (available at does take.pdf).

The actual exam is typically two or three days. Each state determines for itself how its examination is constructed. Typical components include multiple choice questions, essay questions, and performance tests.

Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)

The MBE consists of one hundred multiple choice questions in a three-hour time period in the morning and another one hundred multiple choice questions in a three-hour time period in the afternoon. The MBE tests seven topics:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Property
  • Torts


Essay questions

Essays require analyzing a set of facts, recalling the rule from memory, applying that law, and then communicating that analysis in written form. Jurisdictions may write their own essays or may adopt the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), written by the NCBE. As of February 2024, forty-seven jurisdictions utilize MEE questions. These are six 30-minute questions. Other states may have hour-long essays and include different topics. The MEE topics that are used on the UBE and thus in both Missouri and Kansas are:

  • Agency and Partnership
  • Civil Procedure
  • Conflicts of Law
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Corporations and Limited Liability Companies
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Decedents’ Estates (Wills)
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Property
  • Torts
  • Trusts and Future Interests
  • Uniform Commercial Code: Secured Transactions

Performance Tests

In a performance test, an applicant is to draft a document that a beginning lawyer should be able to accomplish. A performance test is unlike an essay question in that no memorization is required. An applicant is provided the law they are to analyze. A performance test is designed to test the applicant’s ability to use fundamental lawyering skills in a more realistic situation to what an attorney actually does.

UMKC is well-positioned to prepare you for the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). The UMKC Bar Prep Program has the most experience nationwide with the UBE as Missouri was one of the first two states to adopt the UBE. As of the February 2024 exam administration, forty-one jurisdictions have adopted the UBE.[1]  Both Missouri and Kansas have adopted the UBE.

The UBE allows a score on the bar examination to be transferred to another state, allowing licensure in more than one state without taking a second bar examination. Frequently, law school graduates must choose a jurisdiction before they have secured employment. Once employed, they discover they are required to be licensed in a different jurisdiction. If both states have adopted the UBE, the first state’s score is

[1] UBE States | UBE Exam | NCBE (

Another way for an attorney licensed in one state to “transfer” their license to another state is through reciprocity—one state recognizes the license of another state and allows that attorney to practice law in the second state. States have different regulations regarding whether they will acknowledge and accept a license to practice law obtained in another state.

As with original licensing regulations, each state determines for itself whether to recognize an attorney’s license from another state. Some states do not allow reciprocity at all, including California, Florida, and Nevada. Other states allow reciprocity only from states that allow reciprocity of its own license. Both Missouri and Kansas recognize this mutuality of admission without examination.[1]

In order to be eligible for reciprocity, sometimes called admission on motion without examination, most states require a set number of years that the attorney must have been engaged in the active practice of law. Five years is a typical minimum required number of years. Some states also require the attorney to have graduated from an ABA-approved law school.

[1] Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 8.10; Kan. Sup. Ct. R. 708.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners undertook a substantial research project beginning in 2018 to identify the legal knowledge and skills entry-level attorneys are expected to have or learn within the first three years of practice, and to determine whether and how those competencies should be assessed on a bar examination. Since then, the NCBE has been working on developing and implementing a new style of bar examination—commonly referred to as the NextGen Bar Examination, shorthand for the Next Generation Bar Examination.

Starting in 2022, the NCBE anticipates a four- to five- year development process with an anticipated debut in July 2026. NextGen is not a mere revision of the current bar exam, but an almost complete reiteration. Although short essays and multiple-choice questions will be included, they will not be styled as the MEE and MBE, i.e., no 200 multiple- choice questions in one day. Some MBE-style questions will be included, but not in the same number. The MPT will be kept somewhat intact, though it will probably be shorter. The exam is intended to be all online. The exam will not be two full days, so time will be available for states to include individual components if they wish.

NextGen aims to lessen the burden on examinees by eliminating several topics and subtopics. The only substantive topics that will remain are:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts (including UCC Article 2 Sales)
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Property
  • Torts
  • Business Associations

The Bar Exam Content Scope Outlines[1] identify the subtopics to be tested and divide them into two groups. The first group is identified with a star symbol. This group requires you to rely solely on recalled knowledge, i.e., memorization of rules. The second group of subtopics may be tested with or without provision of legal resources. If no authority is provided, you are expected to have sufficient recalled knowledge to identify issues.

When jurisdictions begin adopting the NextGen exam, other jurisdictions may still use the UBE exam for a few administrations. The NCBE has announced that the UBE will also be limited to these substantive topics. The NCBE has indicated that it may begin moving to the narrower content scope outlines in the UBE sooner than the NextGen exam’s inaugural administration. Whether and when that will hap­pen is unknown.

In addition to the foundational concepts in the eight topics, the NextGen exam has identified seven foundational skills that will also be assessed:

  • Issue spotting and analysis, investigation, and evaluation
  • Client counseling and advising, negotiation and dispute resolution, client  relationship and management
  • Legal research
  • Legal writing and drafting

The NextGen exam will integrate one or more foundational skills in context of a scenario that raises one or more substantive or procedural legal issues. In addition to similar essays, multiple- choice, and performance tests as on the UBE, NextGen will add short answer question format as well as fill- in- the- blank items.

NextGen will be challenging for law schools to adapt in how to prepare their students for the bar exam, and it will be challenging for examinees with so much unknown. The NCBE’s proposed timeline for the implementation of the exam assures us that sufficient information will be provided when the time comes and UMKC School of Law will be ready.


Preparing for the bar exam is usually daunting and stressful. For UMKC law students, that stress is lessened by participating in the UMKC Bar Prep Program. The Program is a supplement to a commercial provider’s course and focuses on strategies to answer questions in each topic area, recommended study methods including mind-maps, and one-to-one interaction with professors to ask questions and lessen stress.

The UMKC Bar Prep Program is nationally recognized for its ability to improve its students’ chances of passing the bar exam on their first try. The key to our success is weekly practice essays and two to three half-day practice exams. Students are provided individualized feedback on each essay and MPT from professors and essay graders who excelled on the exam. 

UMKC graduates who actively participate in the Program have outstanding success—far exceeding the state passage rate. Indeed, active participants have reached 100% on more than one occasion. Since its inception in 2003, over 2000 students have been active participants in the UMKC Bar Prep Program. Those participants have passed the bar exam on their first try at a rate of 95.35%. Bottomline, our students know that it’s up to them and the Program is here as their coach to help them over the finish line.