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The legal profession has defined the perimeters of the practice of law and carefully controlled entrance into the bar. Recall the lockstep of the profession as it now operates. The process begins after college, when LSAT scores and GPAs largely determine who is accepted into law school. There the refining process continues with study and examinations designed to test the same qualities that were measured on the LSAT. Finally, at the end of law school, there is, for those who wish to practice law, a bar examination, which reviews fitness to practice by testing for the same qualities as did the LSAT and the law school examinations.

In the United States, the possession of a law degree does not automatically entitle someone to practice law. Because a lawyer is technically a court official, he or she must, in addition to legal training, be admitted to the practice of law by a court. Historically, there were no criteria for admission to the bar, and it depended a great deal on the charity or leniency of a local judge. In most instances, to be admitted by one court was sufficient to practice before any court in a state, for each judge respected her or his colleagues’ actions in admission proceedings. As a result, the standards of the most lenient judge in a state became the minimum standard for admission (Hurst, 1950).

This lack of stringent standards attracted the attention of the ABA and state bars. Their concern was twofold. First, easy admission into the bar permitted the entry of unqualified and unscrupulous lawyers whose work blemished the reputation of all lawyers. Second, and more selfishly, easy entrance into the legal profession allowed more lawyers to compete for the available legal business and thus reduced the income of lawyers.

The ABA and state bar associations used several means to restrict entry into the legal profession. In particular, they obtained legislation to lengthen the required training before application for admission could be accepted, and they also persuaded state legislatures to require applicants to pass a standardized bar examination.

Bar examinations had their desired impact in reducing admission to the legal profession and increasing the standards of the profession The bar exam is a test administered by state bar organizations, which law school graduates must pass before being licensed to practice law. In some states, there may be other requirements, such as having completed 3 years of legal education. Each state’s bar exam is unique but almost all states use a 2-day format incorporating the nationally administered Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), a 6-hour, 200 multiple-choice question examination as a component of their test. State-specific law is often tested on a second day, usually in essay format. In most jurisdictions, the bar exam is offered twice a year, in February and in July. The school’s bar passage rate is also part of the ranking and recruitment process, and many guides rank law schools also on the best first-time bar passages rates.

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