Admission to the Bar
First-year students are strongly advised to communicate with bar admission agencies in all jurisdictions in which they may wish to practice law, in order to determine the requirements for admission to the bar of those jurisdictions (including any requirements for registration upon entering or while attending law school). Most states require applicants to have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school, to take and pass one or more written bar examinations, and to demonstrate they possess the requisite "moral character and fitness" to practice law.
Comprehensive information concerning bar admission requirements, including state-specific information and links to state bar examining agencies, is available through the website of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. For students planning to apply to the Connecticut bar, the website of the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee contains all the necessary information and forms.
The Bar Exam
Depending upon the jurisdiction, "the bar exam" is typically a two-day, written examination consisting partly of multiple-choice questions and partly of short essays. The particular format, as well as the subject matter tested, varies from state to state. In most states, one day is devoted to 200 multiple-choice questions—generally referred to as "the multistate exam"—covering several basic subjects (contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, real property, and evidence). The essay questions on the other day may or may not require knowledge of local law (Connecticut's do not). Detailed information about particular states' bar exams is available through the websites listed above.
The Connecticut Bar Examining Committee recently voted to change the essay portion of its bar examination. Beginning in February 2010, up to ½ of the essay portion of the exam will be drawn from the Multistate Essay Examination as produced by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. As a result, the CT bar examination will no longer be administered on Wednesday and Thursday, but will instead be administered on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thus, it will no longer be possible to sit for certain bar exams concurrently with CT, such as NY; however, individuals will now be able to sit concurrently in other jurisdictions where this was previously impossible, such as MA. More information can be found at: http://www.jud.ct.gov/CBEC/ .
The curricula of most law schools, including the University of Connecticut, are generally geared toward developing students' legal reasoning, analysis and other professional skills, in addition to providing them with a solid grounding in doctrinal principles. The bar exam, by contrast, primarily tests applicants' knowledge of the intricacies of substantive law. Accordingly, most students take one or more commercial "bar review" courses following graduation from law school to help them prepare for the bar exam. Information about such bar review courses is readily available to students at the Law School.
Character and Fitness
All United States jurisdictions require applicants to the bar to undergo "character and fitness" screening in addition to other admission requirements. Lawyers not only act as officers of the court but are entrusted with enormous responsibility (and sometimes vast amounts of money) by clients. The purpose of character and fitness screening is to protect the public, as well as the justice system itself, from abuses by those in whom society has vested such responsibility and trust.
State bar examiners employ a variety of criteria and procedures for determining whether applicants possess the requisite character and fitness to practice law. It is important that students begin to familiarize themselves IMMEDIATELY with the character and fitness requirements of any jurisdiction in which they are considering applying to the bar. Bar applications typically ask detailed questions about applicants' personal history and background in areas such as finances, involvement in litigation of any sort, arrests and convictions, mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, and the like. The application process also includes a formal inquiry directed to the dean of each applicant's law school, asking whether the law school has any information that may reflect adversely on the applicant's character and fitness to practice. Although relatively few people are ultimately denied admission on character and fitness grounds, a great deal of documentation may be required, and it may take quite a while to assemble it.
It should go without saying that all questions on bar applications should be answered truthfully and accurately. Moral considerations aside, applicants may run into serious trouble by failing to disclose requested information. Bar examining agencies typically regard misrepresentation on the application as a serious ethical breach, and its discovery is likely to significantly forestall, if not permanently thwart, an applicant's admission to the bar.
One question that arises frequently is how far bar examiners may go in delving into applicants' history of mental health treatment. For those interested in deepening their understanding of this issue, an article on the subject was written by UConn Law School Professor Jon Bauer. See The Character of the Questions and the Fitness of the Process: Mental Health, Bar Admissions and the Americans With Disabilities Act, 49 U.C.L.A. L.Rev. 93 (2001). A few states (including Connecticut) have developed a "conditional" admission status that enables people with certain physical or mental disabilities, who might otherwise be deemed unfit to practice law, to be admitted subject to compliance with conditions specified by bar examiners (usually involving treatment and the monitoring thereof).
Students with questions or concerns about character and fitness requirements may find it helpful to speak in confidence with a faculty or staff member who is familiar with the bar application process. The names of such persons are periodically circulated to the student body. Although these individuals generally cannot provide legal advice, they are available to provide informal guidance and, if appropriate, referrals to lawyers who specialize in counseling and otherwise representing bar applicants:
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
Most states require bar applicants to achieve a passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) as a condition of admission. Two states, Connecticut and New Jersey, currently waive this requirement for applicants who have achieved a grade of "C" or better in a law school course on legal ethics. All students at the Law School are required to take the basic legal ethics course, Legal Profession, after their first year. For students planning to apply to the bar outside of Connecticut and New Jersey, it is helpful, but not essential, to take Legal Profession prior to the MPRE. The MPRE focuses on often-fine distinctions in the rules, whereas the Legal Profession course typically focuses on larger ethical issues—many of which lie unaddressed or are addressed poorly by the rules.