Bar Exam Information

Bar Exams and Admissions

Getting licensed to practice law is the goal for virtually every law graduate, but the process can seem daunting at first.  To demystify that process, here’s a checklist organized around a time line.  You should also review the Academic Affairs Department webpage featuring videos on a variety of topics, from picking a bar prep course to applying for admission to practice.
In your 1L-2L years

  • Make sure that you’ve disclosed to the Office of Academic Affairs anything that could be construed as a record in the criminal justice system—including arrests, tickets or convictions.  This is important because the question of whether you’ve made all disclosures comes up when you apply to get licensed (in New York, it’s called the “Character and Fitness” application).
  • Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before you graduate.  It is required for admission to the bars of all but four U.S. jurisdictions.  It’s important to get this requirement out of the way because passing it is a prerequisite to applying to become admitted as an attorney. This exam can be taken any time after your first year of law school.   The CUNY Law bar prep program advises that 1L-FT students take the MPRE in their summer while 1L part time students take it during the summer following their 2L year. Not taking it early enough could delay the approval of your application to practice law – e.g., in New York, graduates who pass the bar exam but not the MPRE, are considered “uncertified” and therefore ineligible to apply for admission to practice. There’s another reason why you want to take this as soon as you can.  By 2020, the MPRE will be exclusively a computer-based test and no longer a paper and pencil one, and it is unclear what the impact of this change will have on the test itself and how test-taker experience with the computer-based test will differ from the paper and pencil one.
  • Make sure you get advice from the Office of Academic Affairs and your faculty advisor on what courses you need to take to prepare for the bar exam.

In your 2L-3L years

  • Make a list of the states where you plan to take the bar examination and practice law and review the dates for required submissions.   Click to download the Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements.  Be particularly careful in reviewing requirements in states other than New York. For instance, NJ and CA have different filing dates. There are also states with very early filing dates:  Illinois law students in their first year must file a student registration form by January 15 following the start of law studies.  Georgia requires that applicants for the July bar exam file a fitness application be filed between December-March prior to the July bar. 
  • In your 3L year, make an initial decision as to what jurisdictions you plan to practice in and be on top of the deadlines and application process for signing up to take the bar examination.  Be aware that most states require you file character and fitness papers at the same time as your application to take the exam. New York is an exception, requiring character and fitness after you’ve passed the exam.

3L year

You will be introduced to the Law School’s bar preparation program.  It is both comprehensive and highly effective in helping you pass the bar.   Visit the Office of Academic Affairs’ Bar Exam website where you will see their videos on:

  • Bar prep and Bar Support
  • Bar exam information –an overview of the NY Bar exam components
  • Bar Support Programs at the Law School
  • Bar Admission information

After You’ve Taken the Bar exam

Bar Certification and Other Related Filings

The Law School’s Office of Registration and Records is responsible for the completion of all forms relating to bar examinations and certifications of character and fitness for admission to practice law.  In addition to a bar examination, there are character, fitness, and other qualifications for admission to the bar in every U.S. jurisdiction.  Check out that Office’s page to get to specific instructions on what you need to do.

Filing for Character and Fitness in New York


Be sure to visit the Office of Academic Affairs’ Bar Exam website to review their video on Bar Admission and the NYS Court’s Admission pages.  Also, we suggest you also look at the First Department and Second Department’s pages on admission.  Note that the First and Second Departments both require you to complete an Online Orientation to the Profession program, while the other Departments don’t require that.

The application for character and fitness must be filed to become licensed to practice law in New York. The Appellate Division that handles your application is determined by the residence you indicated in your application to take the bar exam.  The vast majority of graduates reside in Brooklyn and Queens which is under the jurisdiction of the Second Department, Appellate Division. Which Department is handling your application is purely an administrative assignment.  You’re admitted to practice law in NY state anywhere regardless of which Appellate Division Department handled your application.

The application papers may be filed only after you have received notification that you have passed the examination and have been certified to the applicable Department. The application and any further materials in connection therewith required by the Appellate Division and its Committees on Character and Fitness must be filed by you within three years from the date of the letter sent by the New York State Board of Law Examiners notifying you that you have passed the Bar examination (see 22 NYCRR 520.12). IMPORTANT:  A failure to timely file the application for admission may result in the applicant having to re-sit the bar examination.

Though you can’t file your application to be admitted until you’ve passed the bar exam, there are a few things you could do in the months preceding your filing:

  • Go through the application questions to see whether there are any questions that may be problematic for your application.  By doing that you can spot possible problems and get counseling to address the any problems.
  • Gather the law related employment affidavits <pdf> and good moral character affidavits.  Employment includes paid as well as unpaid volunteer positions.  One of the biggest bottlenecks in the admissions process is getting your employment affidavits. Law-related employment means any employment in a law related workplace OR where the work itself involves the law.  The latter is self-evident but the former isn’t:  here are a few examples of law-related employment:

    • Law school clinic or externship
    • A teaching or research assistant to a law professor
    • Working in an office of a law school department—e.g., a work study position at Career Planning at CUNY Law or your work as a receptionist at a law firm.

Note that the affidavits of a current law-related employer have a shelf life of 6 months from the time you file your application. However, staleness is not an issue for affidavits from law-related employers for whom you no longer work. The takeaway: you should start to gather employment affidavits from employers with whom you are no longer employed, right after you’ve taken the bar exam, but affidavits from a current legal employer should be obtained within 6 months or earlier from the time of filing.

To facilitate the process of getting the employment affidavits done, write a short note to the employer and include following information:

  • Dates of your employment
  • A summary description of the type of work you performed for the employer.
  • Your estimate of the frequency of contact you had with the person signing the affidavit.
    It’s a good idea to give a self-addressed stamped envelope to the person doing the affidavit.

Most employers routinely fill out the form and send it back to you, but in the rare instance where they don’t, you should reach out to either the Bar Coordinators Allie Robbins or Florence Kerner, or to the Career Planning Director Sam Sue.

  • Pro bono requirement—all applicants must have completed 50 hours of pro bono service are required as defined by the New York Court Appeals.  Most CUNY graduates can meet this requirement by completing their clinical requirement. 

Resources

Go-to People for Questions about the Character and Fitness Application:

  • Ryan Dooley
  • Florence Kerner
  • Allie Robbins
  • Sam Sue
  • Franklin Siegel