It’s been a long three years of putting your nose to the grindstone in law school, and at long last you’ve earned your Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree. That right there is cause for celebration.
But you’re not out of the woods yet–far from it. Before you can practice law in any state, you’ll need to pass your state’s bar examination, or bar exam for short. Getting ready for this exam can be a doozy. Alongside the sheer volume of information you have to commit to memory for the test itself, it’s also easy to lose track of all the money you’ll spend to register and prepare.
The exact figure varies from state to state and as a result of individual circumstances, but from registration and filing fees to optional costs associated with preparing for the test, let’s take a look at some common costs you’ll likely pay to take your state’s bar exam.
Just like you did with the LSAT, you’ll need to study hard to ace the bar exam. With so many different options to choose from, how much you pay for a prep course can vary quite considerably. The average price, however, is usually somewhere between a few hundred and several thousand dollars. Better bust out that piggy bank!
If you’re fortunate enough to already have a position secured upon admission to your state’s bar, then your new firm’s HR department may be able to help you pay for some of the costs.
No matter who’s paying for it, though, investing in a bar exam prep course is a wise choice. Many prep courses even have lifetime access, meaning you can always come back and look over the material again if you have to take the exam a second time.
No matter which state you take the bar exam in, you’ll have to pay a registration fee. These registration fees usually go to your state’s Board of Law Examiners (or the equivalent) and can range anywhere between $100 and $1300, depending on where you live.
South Dakota, for example, charges $200 for their registration fee–a sharp contrast with other states like Illinois, which gouge their bar exam takers with a whopping $1,450 registration fee.
However, there’s an interesting twist when it comes to registration fees. If you’re already a licensed attorney and are looking to get licensed in another state, you may have to pay a higher registration fee for your new state’s bar exam.
Even though some states offer reciprocity (the ability to practice law in another state without having to take their bar exam), this is far from a nationwide thing. Check your state’s bar website to see if this reciprocity is applicable where you live, as well as the costs associated with it.
You may also need to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) depending on what state you live in. The MPRE is a two-hour, 60-question exam that tests your knowledge of ethical standards in the legal industry. It’s given three times a year and is required for bar admission in every U.S. jurisdiction except Puerto Rico and Wisconsin.
Of course, it’s wise to check your state’s guidelines themselves to see exactly how much you’ll need to pay.
Do I Have to Pay Again to Retake the Bar Exam?
Though you’ll need to pay again to retake the test if you fail, in some states hopeful bar admits who have failed the exam before may pay a lower registration fee their second time around. This is best illustrated in the state of Michigan, where the initial registration fee is $625—a number that drops to a cool $300 for second time-exam takers.
Not every state is so forgiving, though. Some, like Rhode Island, Maryland, Maine, Georgia, and California, may charge additional exam fees for second-time test takers that can shoot up to $1,500.
You may have to pay other costs in addition to the registration fees. Like registration fees, these “filing fees” differ widely from state to state. Check out the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) website to see what extra fees your state charges to take the bar exam.
An example of this is the state of California, which requires bar exam takers to fill out a “moral character application,” which is much like a criminal background check and must be filled out every three years. As of 2018, California charges $680 for this application, and other states like Georgia and Illinois have comparable prices.
Other states may adjust up this price depending on how far in advance you register for the exam, so try to register as early as yu can.
You’ll also need to take into account your daily living expenses when budgeting for the bar exam. This can include things like rent, utilities, food, transportation, and entertainment.
Fortunately, you don’t have to run yourself ragged trying to balance living and studying; a number of well-known banks offer bar study loans, which are short-term loans those preparing for the bar exam can take out to cover their living expenses.
For example, Sallie Mae offers bar study loans with variable interest rates starting at 3.02% APR and fixed rates ranging from 5.75% to 12.68% APR. However, it’s best to shop around to see which loan agreement and interest rate works best for your situation.
Before You Hit the Books
As you can see, graduating from law school isn’t the final cost incurred on your long and expensive road to becoming a lawyer. Between registration fees, filing fees, and everyday living expenses, you might end up paying another small fortune just to get licensed as a lawyer.
Fortunately, you have a couple of options when it comes to mitigating the financial burden of the bar exam. Whether it’s a bar study loan or a prep course partially subsidized by your future employer, achieving your dream of becoming a licensed lawyer doesn’t have to break the bank entirely. Best of luck with your exam prep!