What makes up the bar exam you have to pass to become a lawyer

By Jedidiah McKeehan

To this day, if someone asks me what the hardest thing I have ever done in my life is, I answer that it was taking and passing the Bar exam to become a lawyer.

So how do you get to the point where you are taking the Bar exam anyway? So, if someone has graduated college, and then they have attended law school, and are on track to graduate, the typical next step is to practice law. That is not always the case, but 98% of the individuals graduating from law school are planning on becoming licensed lawyers next.

Since law school is normally completed in three years, during the third year of law school, students will apply to be allowed to take Bar exam. Yes, allowed. The Board of Bar Examiners may refuse to allow you to even take the Bar exam. For example, if you have an extensive criminal history, you may not be allowed to even take the Bar exam to try to become a lawyer.

However, let’s assume you get past the first hurdle and are allowed to “sit” for the Bar exam. In Tennessee, there are many parts to the Bar exam. The first part, which is generally considered the easiest part, is the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. This is essentially a test on ethics and consists of a 2-hour, 60- question, multiple choice test. This test is typically taken by law students while they are still in law school.

The Bar exam is given twice a year in Tennessee. In February and July. Most students graduate in mid-May, and then they will spend the summer studying, and then take the Bar exam in late July.

When I took the Bar exam way back in 2007, the exam took place over two, back to back, 8-hour days. The first day was 200 multiple choice questions and the second day was 12 essay questions (I have tried to block out the memory of this taxing experience, so hopefully that number is accurate).

Tennessee is in the process of adopting the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which has been adopted in 31 states, and Tennessee will roll it out for the first time in February 2019.

The UBE is prepared and coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and consists of three parts: 200 multiple choice questions, two performance test tasks (these are 90-minute exercises testing basic lawyering skills), and six essay questions.

I recall being so stressed about the Bar exam because I had gone to law school for three years, had incurred thousands of dollars in debt, had no job options other than as a lawyer, and my entire ability to pursue my chosen profession came down to passing this enormously intimidating test. Talk about pressure.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.

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