Intro to the New York Bar: Everything You Need to Know
Updated: Jun 14
If you are considering qualifying in New York State you probably have a lot of questions. The process can seem far more complicated than most Canadian jurisdictions and even the UK’s split qualification system. As someone who took and passed the New York Bar in 2020, is in the process of completing the Ontario Bar, and has her eyes set on UK qualification before the end of 2021, I’m here to give you an in-depth perspective of all that’s involved to qualify in New York State and how easy or difficult it can be compared to other jurisdictions.
First Steps: Qualifying to Sit for the Bar Exam
The first thing you need to know, is that going to a US Law school is not necessarily required to sit the New York Bar. New York accepts applications from students who meet the “Required Legal Education” stipulations listed in § 520.6 of the New York Court of Appeal’s rules of Admission. While I encourage you to read the rules for yourself, these essentially boil down to:
Your legal education must have been English Common Law in nature; and
Your legal education must have been of equal length as that of an American Bar Association approved US Law School (e.g. 3 years).
If you fail to meet one of these requirements—like me—the most common “cure” is completing an LL.M program at an ABA accredited law school in the USA. You can also appeal to the court if you have been practicing in your home jurisdiction for several years and are prepared to argue that your experience as a qualified lawyer makes up for your “lack” of legal education.
Stipulation number two, above, is the most common road-block for UK applicants who have taken express law programs like the GDL or a 2-year LLB. Even if the number of credits you take in these programs is equal to that of a 3-year LL.B student, the New York Court of Appeals will insist on you spending an extra year doing an LL.M to make up for the actual gap in time required.
Before you register yourself for any expensive LL.M programs in the USA, however, it is best to submit your application to the New York Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) and confirm that completing an LL.M will, indeed, satisfy the requirements. Submitting an assessment request to BOLE is free and it generally takes about 3-6 months for the board to confirm what is required of you in writing. You can find everything you need to know on this process by visiting the BOLE’s information page here.
Required Examinations: More than just the 2-day Bar Exam
You may have heard that the New York Bar exam is a 2-day process. However, what you probably don’t know is that there are other requirements for full admission in addition to this multi-state bar exam that cover the specifics of New York State law. All of these parts must be completed before you will be formally “called to the bar” in New York State, and while it doesn’t matter what order you do them in, it is good to be aware of them for planning purposes.
The New York Bar Exam
This is the big one and probably the most talked-about part of the New York qualification process. While it’s called the “New York” Bar Exam it tests students on US-Law in general rather than state specific rules. It is a two-day exam covering a variety of legal subjects and has 3 main parts. The exam is offered in February and July of each year. In later blog posts I’ll go over each part in detail, but for now, here’s an overview:
The Multistate Essay Exam (“MEE”): On day one of the exam, you will spend 3 hours writing 6 essays which will make up 30% of your overall Bar Exam score. Essays can be on the any of the following 13 subjects and you will not know which subjections will be tested beforehand, making this a deceptively tricky section to prepare for:
All 7 MBE subjects noted above
Conflict of Laws,
Wills & Estates
The Multi-State Performance Test (“MPT”): On day one of the exam you will spend 4 hours writing 3 MPT questions worth 20% of your overall Bar Exam score. The MPT is a practical test wherein you will be given a fake client file, some case law, may be some legislation, and other documents related to the client’s issue. Each MPT will ask you to perform a practical task similar to one a partner at a law firm may assign. For example, you may be asked to write a legal research memo, or a contract, or a will. The MPT is closed-universe and requires no legal knowledge -- all the facts and the law will be made-up and provided to you in the question. The Multi-State Bar Exam (“MBE”): This section will take up the full 8 hours on day two of the exam and consists of 200 Multiple Choice Question. This section is worth 50% of your overall Bar Exam score and test the 7 core US-wide legal subjects equally:
US Civil Procedure
US Constitutional Law
Common Law Contracts & The US Uniform Commercial Code
US Criminal Law and Procedure
US Evidence Law
Common Law Real Property (e.g. Land Law)
Common Law Torts
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
this 60-question closed-book exam is offered 3 times a year and must be written in person at a Pearson testing site. This exam tests you on the US Model Code for professional responsibility. Barbri offers a free texts book and an online review course to help you prepare for this exam which is what I personally used.
The New York Law Course (NYLC) and New York Law Exam (NYLE)
This 50-question, open book, online exam offerd four times a year which tests you on the specifics of New York Law across nine subjects: Administrative Law, Business Law, Civil Practice and Procedure, Evidence, Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts, and Trusts, Wills & Estates. Before you can sit the NYLE you must complete 40 hours of online videos on these subjects formally known as the New York Law Course. You will be provided with all the materials you need upon registration. You can read my full blog on the NYLC/NYLE here.
Finally Steps: Practical Work Experience
Once you have passed the bar exam, you will then seek admission to the New York Bar itself. While I will go over the full process for this in subsequent blog posts, there are two important work-related requirements to be aware of early on.
Pro-Bono Requirement: Each NY Bar applicant needs to complete at least 50 hours of pro-bono experience and have an affidavit signed by your pro-bono supervisor to gain admission to the bar. The full requirements qualifying pro-bono work can be found in § 520.16 of the New York Court of Appeal’s rules of Admission. I personally completed this requirement during my LL.M via a one-week intensive volunteer stint at the United Nations Women offices in New York city. However, this experience need not be done in the USA; the only stipulation is that it needs to be “recent” in that it must have been completed in the last 2 years from the date you are applying for admission.
Foreign Trained Work Requirement: Because you will not have completed a full 3-year US law degree, you will also be required to have at least 6-months of law-firm work experience to qualify mee the § 520.18 Skills and Competency Requirement for admission to the bar. Again, this need not be US-work experience and I personally intend to use my Ontario Articling time as a means to satisfy this requirement.
Alternatively, students can complete a “Pro Bono Scholars Program” as outlined in the § 520.17.
And there you have it, a high level view of all that is required for full admission to the New York Bar. Again, the steps above can be done in any order, and some, in tandem with each other to speed up the process. I personally did the MPRE and NYLE during my LL.M program and planned for a summer sitting of the New York Bar exam. I received my score and permission to apply for admission to the New York Bar in December 2020 and am now waiting for the 6-month mark on my Articling to roll around before applying for full admission. So, the whole process can be done in about a year and a half if you really hustle -- shorter, perhaps, for those who do not need to do an LL.M or already have work experience.
Hopefully you found this helpful! Keep an eye out for future posts where I’ll go into more detail about each of these steps and provide my tips for preparing and succeeding.
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