Sunday, October 25, 2009

CA v. NY (the bar exam faceoff)

Since I'm still not sure exactly where I'll be next year, I have been looking into the differences between taking the California and the New York bar exam. Conclusion: nobody in their right mind would take the California bar exam unless they were really, positively, absolutely sure that they were going to practice law in the state for the next fifty years.

For one, the CA bar is ridiculously expensive. About $200* to register as a law student in California (and if you don't do this, you can't take the bar). Then there's about $500 for the moral character application. (Get this in quick, folks, the price goes up in January) Which seems a little expensive, given that the government does a way more intensive check when it does security clearances and doesn't charge you a dime, tax dollars aside. Then there's the test itself - somewhere in the range of $800. Add another $150 if you want to use your laptop.**

The New York Bar, by way of comparison, costs about $250 as far as I can tell, plus a $100 laptop fee. Incidentally, in both cases, the laptop fee seems to be to cover the license for the ExamSoft software. I'm having trouble believing that the software costs $50 more on the west coast.

Of course, you have to fly out to Albany to take the exam. Which starts at 6 am Pacific time. Plus, unless you're lucky enough to have relatives in the area, you'll be staying at a hotel and eating cheap take-out - not exactly ideal test taking conditions. On the upside, the NY bar exam is only two days long. There are less essay questions, and they're shorter. On the downside, classes at Boalt don't cover NY law for the most part, so you'll have to learn all the state specific stuff during BarBri. On the upside, BarBri does offer a NY course out here.

Both the NY and the CA bar exams are notoriously tough, so it's a pretty even draw there - although NY does have a slightly higher pass rate. All in all, it seems like NY is probably a better bet if you've got a job lined up that gives you the flexibility to choose.

Any alums who've taken both have any thoughts on the matter?

* All numbers are approximated from the online research I did yesterday. If you want to get the actual figures, you're probably better off checking the official websites rather than relying on me.

**What I want to know is, where is all this money going? Does the head of the bar association have a really nice wine cellar funded by law student dollars? Or do they actually do something useful with it, like scholarships or legal aid clinic funding?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

California is also an extra (painful) day of testing.

And I think a lot of people, even if they do have relatives in CA, end up staying at a hotel nearby the test site.

10/25/2009 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the more important question that Bekki raises is this: say you're a 3L with no idea what you're doing next. You don't know where you'll be working, you have nothing lined up yet, and frankly, you think this might just go down to the wire. Do you take the CA bar? NY? Another random state? Wait until you actually have a job?

10/25/2009 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering that California currently has a 12% unemployment rate, vs. 8.8% in New York (according to Google), job prospects may be somewhat better in New York. The legal unemployment rate may not be comparable, of course.

Of course, that would probably be heresy to the vast majority of Boalties, who would never dream of leaving their blessed state...

10/25/2009 2:54 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

The cost thing is pretty moot, as BarBri costs around 4k regardless of where you choose to go.

10/25/2009 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you work for a firm, these costs will be reimbursed. But if you're making this decision, presumably you don't know where you'll be next year.

So, if you're going to take a bar exam to just TAKE one, don't take California for heaven's sake. Not only is it super hard, 3 days long, and expensive--but you can't transfer it anywhere except D.C. So unless you DO end up employed in Cali, you have to taken another one anyway. Might as well just wait until you know and then take that jurisdictions.

Also, if you don't HAVE to be in a certain city next year and you don't have a job yet, maybe you should consider applying to those secondary markets and hope you land something before this decision has to be made. Limiting yourself to NY and CA may limit the job options.

10/25/2009 5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently NY lets you waive in after 5 years of practice in certain states (CA is not one of them). So if you take the CA bar and waive into DC immediately, then you have at least CA and DC as options. Then, after five years, you can practice in NY without taking the NY bar. Then you'll have CA, DC, NY under your belt.

Thoughts anyone? This is what was advised to me, and I'm in a similar predicament.

10/25/2009 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't have to take the NY Bar up in Albany. There's a location in Manhattan too--and Buffalo, if you're into that sort of thing.

10/26/2009 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NCBE expects that, by July 2010, at least 10 states will adopt a "universal bar exam." Not sure whether CA or NY are part of this (doubt it) but, I think its a good idea.

IMO, you take the exam of the state in which you'd ultimately rather see yourself/end up. Pretty easy.

10/26/2009 10:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

From someone who has come to believe she did this ass backward... take CA. NY lets you use your multistate score from another bar exam sitting (ie you can skip a whole day of testing -- taking you down to just a one day test of essays). No such system in CA -- you take all three days regardless.

10/26/2009 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Folks, you're aiming to practice law. Getting all worked up over where to take the bar exam, how much you'll have to fork over, the difficulty of the exam itself, and the probing paperwork demanded by the moral character exam application is not the way to go. The level of anxiety and detailed analysis here is excessive. It's a cliché, but don't fret. Identify the problems, solve them, and move on. Really.

10/26/2009 12:01 PM  
Blogger trentblase said...

Security clearances actually run in the thousands of dollars. Yes, if you are working for a government entity, the taxpayers foot that bill. But if you are sponsored by a private organization, they usually have to factor that into the cost of hiring you.

10/26/2009 1:37 PM  
Blogger Tacitus said...

You take the bar exam where you think you might want to live and work immediately post-graduation. Choose one and focus on it. If you're clerking, you can punt this decision off for a year.

FWIW, I think the NY law job market is going to rebound better, in the short term, than Cali.

Also, as one of those people who is a member of the bar in multiple jurisdictions, let me tell you first: you only one state to practice, and you never really practice in more than one state at a time. Trying to maintain bar memberships in multiple jurisdictions is a real pain (different CLE requirements, more bureaucracy, etc.). Try to figure out where you want to practice now. If you want to move in three to five years, you may be able to waive in, you may have to sit for the exam again. Either way, cross that bridge when you get there.

10/26/2009 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a copy of Yudof's letter regarding the increase in fees?

The link in the email from the registrar doesn't work.

10/26/2009 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one where he says both that a mid-year fee increase is the last thing that he wants to do, AND something about having suggested the fee increase to the Regents? (Not exact quotes because I don't have it in front of me, but I'm pretty sure both statements were in there.) I didn't think to save a copy, but the link was working earlier this afternoon. It's not working for me either now.

10/26/2009 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I am going to clerk next year, what are the pros/cons of taking the bar right after graduation? If I have a job lined up for after clerking, is it normal for them to pay for the bar if I take it before clerking?

10/27/2009 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:49, it is normal for the firm to pay your bar expenses assuming your judge does not object. I took the bar immediately after graduting before heading to clerk. The pros are obvious, you're still in school mode, you're not working, and if you fail, you still have three more chances to pass before you would likely get fired from the firm. The cons are you miss out on a chance to decompress after law school and a chance to have another fun summer. The biggest con to me, however, was that I had to deal with all the stress and craziness that comes from studying and taking the bar with my classmates (and recent grades in general), unnecessarily so. I think it would have been a much better study experience if I had taken it off schedule, so to speak, after all my classmates had already passed, and with people I did not know. But that's just me.

10/27/2009 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura - CA does have something for practicing attorneys where you only take days 1 and 3 of the bar and use an old MBE score. Does this require a certain number of years of practice?

10/27/2009 5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A guy I sat next to in BarBri had to re-take the multi-state portion because he'd only practiced a year or two in his former state.

10/27/2009 9:47 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I think I'm just going to pick a random state. How about ... New Hampshire?

10/27/2009 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Hampshire wouldn't be too bad - the living there part, that is. Don't know about the test. How about Vermont?

10/27/2009 11:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

5:55 -- Really? That would be great.

Where are you getting your info? All I've found on the CA bar website are statements like "CA does not accept the transfer of MBE scores from other jurisdictions." But perhaps there are exceptions I don't know about, in which case please fill me in.

10/28/2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger tj said...


CA doesn't accept MBE scores from other jurisdictions because attorney-applicants don't need them.

An attorney-applicant only sits for days 1 and 3 and is thus only scored on the essays and performance exam answers.

Many attorney-applicants don't find this a good thing - essays/PEs are often harder than MBEs to prepare for.

10/29/2009 12:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

View the change in California Unemployment Trends over the last six months using Heat Maps:
California Unemployment this month (BLS data):
versus California Unemployment levels six months ago:

10/29/2009 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Attorney-applicants have to have practiced in another state for something like 5 years. So if you want to take CA after only, say, 2 years in NY, you'll still have to take the MBE (all 3 days).

10/31/2009 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I just passed NY yesterday so that makes me one of those weird people who has actually sat for both NY and CA. I have to say the lack of reciprocity is annoying. I agree with those who say NY for the win unless you know you want to stay in CA.

11/06/2009 9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CA is more expensive than NY. However, choosing which bar to sit for merely because of costs is a pretty ridiculous deciding factor. I'm from CA but am a 3L from a NY school. When I first began to decide which bar to take, I did consider costs. About 5 minutes after putting the cost factor on my pros/cons list, I realized that a few hundred dollars is a really stupid consideration when planning out the beginning of my career and life.

If you're seriously broke and think that you are going to fail at life, then maybe the whole about $500 difference should come into play. If you have any kind of common sense, cost is irrelevant.

1/28/2010 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I passed the July 2009 California Bar Exam and am about to take the Feb 2010 NYS Bar. If you take the California Bar first you can transfer your MBE score to NY so that you need only sit for one day in NY. It doesn't matter what your MBE score was so long as you passed the entire California Bar Exam. If you failed the California Exam, it wouldn't matter if you scored perfectly on the MBE; you can't transfer it. It used to be, when you tried to take NYS and then Cali back to back that you would have to take the MBE. My friend is doing this now. Apparently, you can write a letter to the Cali Bar asking them to accept your MBE score. A certain Bar Review course misinformed him about this and now he has to take the MBE again!

2/01/2010 8:22 PM  
Blogger Sophia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/05/2012 1:20 AM  

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