Taking the Bar in a New State: Intolerable, Miserable, or Just Horrible?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 17, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For how difficult they are to obtain, law licenses have a ridiculously short reach. Go to law school, cram for a bar exam, jump over dozens of state bar admissions hurdles and voila, you're ready to begin your legal career -- in a single state or just a handful, depending on your original state bar's reciprocity agreements.

That means that if you want to switch from, say, lawyering in L.A. to a career in Chicago, you may need to retake the bar exam. So, just how terrible, horrible, gruesome, and horrific is taking a second state bar exam?

This Doesn't Sound Fun

First, we're not talking about retaking a bar exam after you've failed it the first time. Nor are we talking about taking two bar exams at once, the way you can hop from New York to New Jersey and get both out of the way in a three-day grind.

We're talking about taking a new state bar after you've already been admitted and practicing in another state. That would seem to add an extra level of excruciating pain to the mix, since not only are you already working as a lawyer, you may not necessarily need to take another exam. And you don't have two months after law school to devote to studying.

Thankfully, you don't have to suffer through a second sitting to know what this is like, since others have gone before you. Ruth Carter, an Arizona attorney, recently wrote about her decision to take the California bar exam. ("I am fully aware that I might be insane," she notes.) To prep, she gathered up some pieces of advice from attorneys who've done the same before her.

It sounds miserable. Many of Carter's advisors suggest treating studying like a second job: Work in the day, take a bar review class at night, and spend your weekends studying black letter law and flashcards. Then, when the bar exam is right around the corner, take a year's worth of vacation time and use it all up cramming.

Just thinking about that schedule makes us want to forsake taking another bar exam ever again.

And that's not even considering how difficult those schedules can be to pull off in practice. Kaitlin Edleman, a lawyer in New York, took a second bar exam while blogging for Vault, detailing the difficulties she encountered. Roommates made studying at home impossible, cafes closed early, and a library that worked out was a long subway ride away. Giving up her social life to study for another bar exam seemed like a bigger sacrifice the second time around.

But it worked. Edleman passed, like many other lawyers before her, doubling the states she can practice in and, presumably, the opportunities available. Hard work, after all, pays off.

But for those of us who'd rather not do that particular work again, we can always hope to waive in elsewhere, after a few years of practice at home.

Does sitting for another bar exam seem worth it to you? Let us know if the poll below.

Would You Ever Take a Second Bar Exam?
Hell No

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