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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 myriad ways, from managing their own businesses to working with nonprofit organizations or running for political office.

However, the majority of law students want to practice law. That is, they wish to represent clients — whether before courts or in business transactions or other settings. To practice law, an attorney must have a law license, which requires passing the bar examination.

Book cover for clearing the last hurdleAll 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.

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.

View Missouri requirements  View Kansas requirements

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.

An attorney represents clients and owes 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.” 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.” 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. Each board will have its own guidelines on each of these concerns.

The bar 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 100 multiple choice questions in a three-hour time period in the morning and another 100 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, 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 2021, 41 jurisdictions use 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, therefore used in both Missouri and Kansas

  • 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 test

In a performance test an applicant drafts 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 situation similar 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 2021 exam administration, 35 jurisdictions have adopted the UBE. Both Missouri and Kansas have adopted the UBE.1

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 transferred to the second state. Thus, the applicant does not have to take two bar examinations! This increased mobility of an examination score should be more economical for an applicant as the applicant will not have to miss work and give up weekends to study for a second bar exam.

Each jurisdiction determines its own character and fitness requirements, sets its own passing scores and determines how long incoming UBE scores will be accepted, among other decisions. A jurisdiction may require applicants to complete a jurisdiction-specific educational component or pass a test on jurisdiction-specific law in addition to passing the UBE.

1Multistate tests

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.

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

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 such as 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, more than 1,500 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%. Bottom line, our students know that it’s up to them, and the program is here as their coach to help them over the finish line.