The process for obtaining a law license in New York State can feel intimidating because there are a lot of requirements to meet. But, if you break it down and take things one step at a time, it is manageable. And the more you know about what to expect, the better you can prepare yourself for the journey. So, let’s walk through the various requirements that you need to complete to become a licensed attorney in the Empire State. Get ready for a lot of acronyms!
Step 1: MPRE
The first step to being admitted to practice law in New York is to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). The MPRE is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to ensure that attorneys understand the basic rules of professional conduct expected of lawyers (and judges). The MPRE is not state-specific, it tests general principles set forth in the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as relevant constitutional law, and procedural and evidentiary rules.
The MPRE consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and is administered three times a year—in March, August, and November. For more about what to expect when taking the MPRE, check out this lesson on Ask EDNA!—the powerhouse platform with free resources for your entire law school journey—or read this blog post on the best time to take the MPRE. (Create your free Ask EDNA! account here!)
In New York, you must earn at least an 85 out of a total potential score of 150 to pass. For reference, the national mean score on the MPRE is usually in the mid-90s, so shoot for average, and you’ll pass! For upcoming test dates and enrollment information, check out the NCBE’s registration website. And if you’re looking for a free prep course, check out Helix MPRE!
Step 2: New York Law Course/New York Law Exam
The next step on your journey is to take the New York Law Course (NYLC) and pass the New York Law Exam (NYLE), both designed by the New York Board of Law Examiners (BOLE) to test applicants’ knowledge of New York–specific law. (See, we promised lots of acronyms!)
The NYLC is a series of video lectures that covers the information testable on the exam. It includes approximately 17 hours of video lectures as well as a PDF packet of all testable rules to study from. There are embedded questions following each video lecture that must be answered correctly before moving on. The NYLC covers state-specific rules in the subjects of Administrative Law, Business Relationships, Civil Practice and Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Matrimonial and Family Law, Professional Responsibility, Real Property, Torts and Tort Damages, Trusts, and Wills and Estates.
The New York Law Exam is an open-book test that consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. A passing score is 60 percent or 30/50 questions correct. As you may have guessed, all the subjects that were covered in the NYLC are fair game on the exam.
Before you can even register for the NYLE, you must complete the NYLC at least 30 days prior to the date you are taking the NYLE. There is no fee to take the course, but you will have to pay $27 to ExamSoft, the company that provides the testing software when you register for the exam.
The NYLC/NYLE cannot be taken more than one year BEFORE the date you first sit for the bar exam, so most students sit for this exam in their final year of law school. If you do not pass the NYLE, you will have to retake the entire NYLC before you can attempt the NYLE again.
There’s a lot more information on the New York Law Course and New York Law Exam on the New York Board of Law Examiners’ Website.
Step 3: Uniform Bar Exam
New York, like most jurisdictions, has adopted the Uniform Bar Exam. The UBE is created by the NCBE and is designed to test concepts and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law. The UBE is offered twice a year, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday in February and July.
The UBE is made up of three test components—the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The MEE is the essay portion of the test and makes up 30 percent of your total score. The MPT tests practical lawyering skills and makes up 20 percent of your total score. The MBE is the multiple-choice portion of the examination and is worth 50 percent of your total score. To learn more about each of these components, check out the About the Bar Exam lesson on Ask EDNA!
Each state administers the UBE and selects the “cut score” for the jurisdiction. In New York, this passing score is 266 out of 400.
Registering for the UBE
New York’s licensure process is different than most other jurisdictions which have early registration deadlines with lengthy applications, forms, documentation, and Character and Fitness evaluations that must be submitted BEFORE sitting for the bar exam. In New York, it’s fairly fast and easy to register for the bar exam (UBE). The registration period is later and shorter than most other jurisdictions, and there are no extended deadlines available.
Applications to sit for the February UBE in New York must be completed in November.
Applications to sit for the July UBE in New York must be completed in April. To begin, go to: www.nybarexam.org/Defaul…. If you scroll all the way down, you will see an icon that says, “Online Application.” Click there and you will be on your way!
If you have a documented disability and are seeking testing accommodations, that application also must be submitted in November for the February exam or April for the July exam. Head over to the New York Board of Law Examiners website and find the “Forms” tab on the left for a test accommodations handbook and application. Make sure to review these documents carefully and if you have questions about applying for accommodations, your disability services office or academic/bar support professors should be able to assist you.
The fee to sit for the bar exam in New York is $250 plus an extra $100 charge to use your laptop. The laptop fee isn’t due at the time of registration, but if you plan to use a laptop, click “yes” when the application asks whether you want to participate in the laptop program to ensure that you are sent the logistics for laptop testing down the road.
Step 4: Skills Competency Requirement
In addition to the exams, New York has a skills competency requirement, which you have likely already completed during law school.
All applicants for admission to practice law in New York State must submit proof that they have satisfied the Skills Competency and Professional Values requirement (per section 520.18 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals). There are five potential pathways to meeting this requirement:
- Pathway 1: Law school certification of competency in skills and professional values
- Pathway 2: Law school certification of credit acquisition
- Pathway 3: Pro Bono Scholars Program
- Pathway 4: Apprenticeship
- Pathway 5: Practice in another jurisdiction
Check with your law school to see which pathway they believe you have satisfied and through which courses—for most people it will be Pathway 1 or Pathway 2 and your school’s Registrar’s Office will provide certification.
Step 5: Pro Bono Requirement
New York State also requires that applicants for admission to the bar complete 50 hours of pro bono work throughout their law school career. All 50 hours must be completed before you apply for admission to practice.
Some of the types of work that are accepted include:
- Work for legal clinics servicing indigent clients.
- Work for qualifying non-profit organizations.
- Extern/Internships with legal aid societies or government.
All the important nuances are detailed in New York Court Rule section 520.16. This is an easy step to accomplish. But if you forget about it, it can become difficult to find opportunities to get in your 50 hours in a short period of time.
Step 6: Application for Admission to the New York Bar/Character and Fitness
As your last step on the road to New York licensure, you will apply for admission to the bar and undergo the Character and Fitness evaluation. Each applicant who has furnished proof of successful completion of the NYLC, NYLE, and MPRE will be certified to the Appellate Division for Admission to the Bar and notified of that fact in writing.
You will be automatically assigned to one of the four appellate departments based on your residence address on file with the BOLE as of Mid-April (Feb Exam) or Mid-October (July Exam). Each division approaches the timing of the application differently—in the first division, you cannot apply until you’ve received your passing UBE results; the second division prefers you wait for results to file; in the third and fourth divisions, you can file before you receive your UBE results.
The application can be found on BOLE’s website and consists of questions regarding your prior employment history, academic history, financial history, history with the criminal and civil judicial systems, and more. You will also need to provide two moral character affirmations, as well as employment affirmations from supervisors at any legal employment you have held, including internships and volunteer positions.
It is VERY important that you carefully read through the instructions included as well as any information on your specific appellate division’s website. Candor is key. Past errors in judgment usually do not prevent you from becoming licensed so long as they have been disclosed, addressed, and resolved. But being deceitful or evasive on your application will cause problems—more than an appropriately divulged run-in with the law or academic discipline ever would.
You must complete all your admission requirements and file your application for admission within three years of passing the UBE. The fee to register as an attorney in New York State is $375.
Once your application is received and deemed complete, you will be assigned an interview with a member of the Character and Fitness committee. These interviews are usually short with softball questions like, “Why do you want to be an attorney?” It’s also fair game for them to follow up on specific items from your application. Again, just be yourself, be honest, and you’ll be fine!
Step 7: Finish line!
When you have successfully completed the interview, you will be invited to an admissions ceremony where you will be officially sworn in as a licensed attorney in the State of New York!
As you can see, the road to licensure in New York State takes you on a long and winding journey. But if you break it into manageable steps, you’ll be a card-carrying member of the legal profession in no time!