In the United States, lawyers are often highly regarded as one of the most respected professions. Having family members, especially children who work as lawyers will bring much prestige and admiration for many parents.

It is common knowledge that lawyers receive high salaries. And one of the reasons people choose to enter the profession is because of the high salaries so they can raise their standard of living.

A law degree is also highly versatile as there are numerous career options for law school graduates besides lawyers or judges. But before you start thinking about pursuing a law degree, you should understand the basics of how getting a law degree works.

Closeup shot of a brown wooden gavel.
Before you can go on to work as a lawyer, you must pass the Bar Exam. (Image source: Unsplash).

Process of Getting a Law Degree

The process of becoming a lawyer in the United States takes many years. When you complete law school, you will receive a JD, also known as Juris doctor degree. But before you can even apply to get into law school, you need to obtain your bachelor’s degree first.

The American Bar Association does not have a list of recommended bachelor’s degrees that will help you get into law school. Instead, you are encouraged to study what you are interested in as people with all types of undergraduate backgrounds have been admitted into law school.

After you complete your bachelor’s degree, you will have to write the LSAT. The LSAT stands for law school admissions test and the score you receive will be used by admission officers to admit you to study law. If you are admitted, you will be spending the next three years studying for your JD full-time.

After finishing law school, you will need to pass the bar exam. The bar exam is a two-day test and all aspiring lawyers must pass this exam before they are allowed to work as an associate lawyer. Learn more about taking the Bar Exam in this article below.

Bar Exam Overview

In the United States, the Bar Exam is administered by each state and will be slightly different depending on the state. But generally, it consists of two parts that are designed to be taken over the course of two separate days.

The first part of the Bar Exam is called the Multistate Bar Examination, often abbreviated as MBE. The MBE is designed and created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is the same no matter which state you take the Bar Exam in, except for the state of Louisiana. The MBE is available to be taken twice a year.

In the second part of the law exam, you will be tested on knowledge relevant to the state you are interested in practicing law in. Since each state will have unique aspects in their own laws, the location you take your bar exam also determines which state you are allowed to practice in. This portion of the exam will be tested in an essay format.

The third part of the Bar Exam is called the Multistate Performance Test, often abbreviated as MPT. It is designed to test a future lawyer’s ability to use their skills in realistic situations and to complete a task that a new and inexperienced lawyer should be able to accomplish.

Not every jurisdiction in the United States requires you to take this MPT portion.

Man in suit standing next to a set of stairs.
The Bar Exam is the last step that stands in the way between a law student and the law profession. (Image source: Unsplash).

State Reciprocity of the Bar Exam

Because the law in each U.S. state differs, you may not be allowed to practice in a state unless you have passed the Bar Exam requirements required by that state.

It is a good idea to look out-of-state to give yourself more options and an edge when you are searching for a job as a new lawyer. This is highly beneficial in today’s competitive job market, where more lawyers are graduating from law school than there are job openings available for associate lawyers.

Reciprocity of a state allows you to practice law in that state without passing the Bar Exam specific to that state. It is a good idea to always contact the state’s bar association to ensure you are qualified to practice there, even if the state has reciprocity.

Some aspiring lawyers or practicing attorneys also choose to take multiple Bar Exams right after the completion of law school. This helps them maximize their employability and so they can take clients from different states.

It is also a highly useful plan for attorneys who live in metropolitan areas such as New York and New Jersey that spans into other states.

Man walking down a hallway in a black suit.
State reciprocity refers to what state you are allowed to practice after passing the Bar Exam. (Image source: Unsplash).

How Much Time Do You Need to Study for the Bar Exam?

One of the important skills you need when studying for a major exam like the Bar Exam is time budgeting. You need to know exactly how much time you have, how much time you will need to spend studying for the exam, and then budget enough time so you can finish all your study goals so you’ll feel 100% prepared for your big day.

For the Bar Exam, you should plan to study for around 400 hours before you will feel fully prepared. Within that 400 hours, plan to dedicate half that time to learning and memorizing important facts and laws, and the other half of your time doing practice Bar Exam questions.

If you are a full-time student, then plan to dedicate around 40 to 50 hours per week to studying. This means you should begin studying for the exam at least nine weeks before the day of the exam to meet the 400 hours of total study time.

For part-time students studying for 20 hours a week, plan to start studying 15 to 20 weeks before the exam to meet this timeline.

Tips on Studying for the Bar Exam

If you have survived four years of undergraduate education and another three years of law school education, you will have taken numerous exams at this point in your life. You can apply the tips and tricks you have used in the past, or continue reading below for a quick refresher on some study tips.

Quality Over Quantity

We outlined how many hours you should expect to spend on studying for the Bar Exam. However, you should not base your entire studying process on these timelines. In fact, it's better to take notice of how much quality studying you are doing compared to simply adding up the quantity of time you spend studying.

If you find yourself staring mindlessly into space during one of your study sessions, then you are not using your time wisely. It's better to take a break to do something else before coming back to your studies. This way, you will guarantee that the time you are spending on studying law is quality study time.

Delete Distracting Applications

Whether you are just browsing on social media to see the latest posts from your friends or going online shopping on the shopping apps of your favorite store, these activities take away from you spending quality studying time to focus on law.

Instead of losing to these temptations, consider deleting distracting applications off of your smartphone or tablet altogether. And before you panic, worry not! The delete does not have to be permanent and you can still download all of them back after you pass your exams.

Review Past Exams

You cannot predict which questions will show up on your Bar Exam, but you can review what type of questions have shown up in the previous year's exams by either talking to people who have taken them or reviewing practice questions.

The best way to practice is to pretend you are actually taking the Bar Exam, set yourself a time limit to complete these practice questions, and get to work. You will find that with practice, you may even feel less nervous during your actual Bar Exam and perform better.

Consider Hiring a Bar Exam Tutor

If you really find yourself struggling or if you'd like to consult the advice of a professional, you can definitely look into hiring a tutor who can provide you with expert tips and advice on how best to approach taking the exam. If you schedule weekly sessions with your tutor, it will also help you keep yourself accountable for your study progress as you will have somebody to report back to each week.

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Former high-school tutor with a passion for science and technology, I now work in the software industry and enjoy reading and learning about all kinds of topics.