Notice: This guide has been expanded for 2020
In California, attorneys who are licensed in another jurisdiction for at least four consecutive years are eligible to take what is known as the “California Attorneys Exam”. This exam is no different than the California Bar Exam except that qualifying out-of-state attorneys do not have to take the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The multistate bar exam is a 200-question multiple choice exam covering seven substantive areas of law. Rather than endure a two-day exam, attorneys can enjoy “the one and done” California attorneys’ exam. Unfortunately, the pass rate among out-of-state attorneys taking the one day California Attorney’s exam might suggest otherwise. On average, attorneys take this exam more than once, which begs the question whether the multistate bar exam is an attractive option for out-of-state attorneys.
The California Bar Exam consists of three sections: a multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), five essay questions and one performance test. The State Bar of California tells us that the written sections are designed to assess an applicant’s ability to apply legal knowledge to practical tests. The written portion of the exam (essay and performance test questions) and the MBE were weighted equally.
The Attorneys’ Examination consists of the essay and performance test sections of the General Bar Exam and is open to attorneys who have been admitted to the active practice of law and are in good standing for at least four years in another U.S. jurisdiction. These seasoned attorneys however have difficulty passing this exam. For example, of the 602 attorneys who completed the February 2018 Attorneys’ Examination in California, 261 (43.4 percent) passed. Interestingly enough, in July of 2018 of the 522 attorneys who completed the Attorneys’ Examination, only 169 (32.4 percent) passed.
We usually see a higher general bar exam pass rate in July than we do in February, so whether the MBE plays into these statistics certainly merits further inquiry.
We have to start with the assumption that attorney applicants are good multiple-choice test takers. They had to take the MBE in order to become a lawyer, so we know they passed because they are licensed. Logic would dictate that if you are able to do well on one standardized test then taking that same standardized test in the future should yield just about the same result. But now we have to throw reality into the mix. Attorney applicants are busy. They are working for the most part full time and cannot allocate countless hours to studying for the California Bar Exam. Couple that with the temporary amnesia we all suffer after taking a bar exam and we could presumably be back to ground zero. Just because we knew it coming out of law school does not mean that we can repeat it now.
If an attorney happens to be a good multiple-choice test taker, then the MBE may help raise their overall score. The problem is that many out-of-state attorneys are working while they are studying for the exam and simply cannot dedicate the additional hours necessary to achieve a high MBE score. It stands to reason then that time is the ultimate determiner. If an attorney applicant can allocate let’s say four hours a day over a three to fourth month time span, then it is certainly possible to re-gain those multiple-choice test taking skills and do well on the bar exam. If, however, and probably the more likely scenario, an attorney can allocate only about one hour of study time per day then taking the MBE is not the best idea. A custom-tailored approach to studying seems to be the best option. Attorneys are busy, and very rarely can an attorney applicant take off the time necessary to study for the California Attorney’s exam. With well over 17 substantive areas of law to master, an out-of-state attorney must allocate his/her precious time in the most efficient manner possible. A customized bar review program that implements a one-on-one approach dedicated to attorneys only is the best option.
Focusing on how the exam is tested, and practicing the written section is a great place to start. Experts in the field of the California Bar Exam like Executive Bar Review know how to navigate the tricky waters of the these tests and help ensure that attorneys work only on the materials necessary for their specific exam. That way, the focus becomes on what you must know for the attorney’s exam versus having to weed out the information not necessary to that part of the exam. The MBE then may not be the best choice for attorneys if they are preparing the right way.
Best of luck to all attorneys on the upcoming California Bar Exam. We look forward to welcoming our attorney applicants to the practice of law in California.