Admission to the practice of law (admission to the bar of a state) is governed by rules and regulations promulgated solely by a state's courts, legislatures, and/or bar association. The rules must not violate the constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection in the Fourteenth Amendment or be unrelated to one's ability to practice law.
The general requirements for admission to the bar are similar throughout the fifty states. An applicant must have good moral character, be a resident (or employed) in the state, have graduated from an accredited/certified law school, and pass a bar examination. Exceptions to these general requirements are occasionally made.
State bar examinations generally consist of two parts. The first part is a Multistate Bar Examination which tests one's knowledge in basic areas of the law. The second part is specifically focused on the law of the individual state. A number of states also require the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), which tests knowledge of professional ethics. An applicant who is rejected for admission to the bar is normally entitled to an appeals process through the court system of the state.
Upon admission to the bar an attorney normally must take an oath declaring their obligations to the court, state, and country as an officer of the court; register with the court; and receive a license to practice. A member of the bar of one state may be permitted to practice in another without further certification. Some states waive the examination requirement for attorneys who are already a member of another bar.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]
menu of sources
State Judicial Decisions
- N.Y. Court of Appeals:
- New York Bar Association
Key Internet Sources
- NCBE & ABA Directory of State Bar Admission Offices
- NCBE & ABA Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements (2009 ed.)
- National Conference of Bar Examiners
- ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
Useful Offnet (or Subscription - $) Sources
- Good Starting Point in Print: Guide To Bar Admission Requirements - 2009, American Bar Assoc., Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and the National Conference of Bar Examiners.