No LL.M. presentation is complete without a discussion of State Bar Exams. Becoming a lawyer in another jurisdiction, being able to practice in the U.S. or on cross-border issues from your home jurisdiction, and a competitive credential are three of the reasons I hear most often. But securing eligibility to sit for a bar exam is not the same as passing a bar exam. With so many 2021-22 LL.M. students now preparing for their bar exams, and 2022-23 incoming LL.M. students thinking about their own bar exam goals, it’s a good time to discuss bar exams & LL.M. students.
- Each State is Different: This is a confusing topic to some who think they will take a national bar exam after their LL.M. degree. Chart 4: Foreign Legal Education on the NCBE website is a popular starting point for those looking to learn more about bar admissions requirements for foreign graduates. Some States make it relatively easy to take their bar exam (e.g., if you’re already a practicing lawyer and/or from a common law jurisdiction), while others make it very difficult. Many already know which bar exam they’ll take, and ensure that they begin the process with that State as they apply to U.S. law schools. New York is a popular jurisdiction for many reasons and you can see information about taking the bar with a foreign legal education here.
- Bar Exam Pass Rates: The ABA makes it very easy to see each school’s pass rate for bar exams in the Required Disclosures. However, that is only for J.D. graduates! While it may be harder to compare LL.M. Employment Outcomes to J.D. Employment Outcomes (different goals for so many) and building an LL.M. version of the 509 Report is unlikely (schools probably do not want to post admissions rates and scholarship information), the Bar Passage Outcomes seems like the easiest one to replicate. You may need to check each individual State’s press release and/or statistics to get more information. For example, New York reported a 46% pass rate for Foreign-Educated First-Time Takers in July 2021, and a 31% pass rate for All Foreign-Educated (first-time takers and repeaters). [Note: corrected New York numbers on 5/30/2022 (was using February 2022 statistics)]
- Pass Rates by School: I like the approach that Georgia takes! At the Georgia Bar Exam Statistics page, you can see the final chart shows pass rates for LL.M. students by each school. For the July 2021 exam, 7 of 14 first-time takers passed (50%), while 1 of 10 repeat takers passed (10%). The chart shows you each of the four schools in Georgia where LL.M. students took the exam, and the MBE averages. It would be nice if more States would do this! New York could break out the Foreign-Educated group into applicants who required an LL.M. to qualify and those who did not. It would also be great if they created a chart like Georgia and I would encourage other States to do the same.
- The Bar Exam Versus The Bar Exam Process: While it is tempting to think of the bar exam as a two-day marathon in late July or late February, speak with recent LL.M. graduates about the bar exam process. It involves multiple tests (e.g., research the MPRE!). In some States, it may also require an online course, and other tests. There may be additional requirements that make a big difference in choosing when to study in an LL.M. program (e.g., New York’s Skills Pathways), as well as additional actions to take (e.g., New York’s pro bono requirement). Between a commercial bar company, registering for a bar exam, and other requirements, the bar exam focus of the LL.M. process can be as time-consuming as the academic and job search portions. It can cost thousands of dollars between the bar prep, registrations, and additional rent, and I think adding (at least) $5,000 USD to the overall cost-of-attendance is crucial for those taking a bar exam.
- LL.M. Students and Law School/Course Selection: How important should bar exam focus be for your decision which school to attend. The answer depends on you and you should speak with schools, attorneys in your network, and others to determine what makes the most sense for you. Some LL.M. students are focused on coursework that will help in their job searches and careers more than subjects they won’t practice in (e.g., a corporate lawyer taking Mergers & Acquisitions instead of Property). Others will load up on as many bar-tested subjects, focusing on MBE subjects that will help them “double dip” on the MEE (for UBE jurisdictions especially). Does the school offer bar prep support specifically for foreign-educated LL.M. students focused on the testing/language competency/overview of subjects not studied? Is bar prep support folded into J.D. bar prep support? Does the school mostly leave bar prep to the commercial companies? And how important is that to you in the overall calculus?
- LL.M. Students & Bar Exam Prep Strategy: The summer or winter after graduation will be a busy time. Ideally, finalizing your post-LL.M. plans before graduation for work to begin in August or March alleviates some (but not all) stress. But not everyone is able to finalize their plans that early. Balancing bar prep, the job search, and other professional and personal tasks is difficult and you’ll need to rely on support networks, both at the school, among your colleagues, and your wider community. Even for those who have already secured a job, there may be pressure to begin work earlier (e.g., to begin earning money again). Understanding the timeline is important for building your one-year schedule, and why some pay more money for a more comprehensive bar prep company that assists throughout the year to avoid leaving everything until the summer or winter after graduation.
Good luck to all the foreign-educated LL.M. students in my network sitting for bar exams in July 2022! And I hope all the 2022-23 LL.M. students planning to sit for bar exams are able to use this information as they build their one-year plans!