There isn’t just one way to determine which state has the easiest bar admission requirements for aspiring attorneys. It all depends on which part of the process you find most difficult. For some it may be the bar exam; for others it can be the three long years in law school, while some may find a state bar association’s character and fitness evaluation to be the most nerve-racking of all.
Easiest Bar Exam
Passing the bar exam undoubtedly can be the biggest obstacle to practicing law. Although it wouldn’t be accurate to say that South Dakota has the easiest bar exam, a passing rate of 94 percent is well above the national average of 69 percent. This may be the result of the relatively low score required on the Multistate Bar Exam, or MBE, which makes up half the bar exam in South Dakota. Additionally, South Dakota doesn’t test state-specific law on its exam.
Law School Not Required
Even though the California bar exam only has around a 50 percent passing rate, you may consider it the easiest state to become an attorney if skipping three years of law school is a priority. California has the most lenient educational requirements for eligibility to sit for the bar exam. Instead of attending an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school, which a large number of states require, California’s legal education requirements can be satisfied by graduating from a non-accredited law school, taking an online or correspondence course and even by working in a law office for four years.
To maintain integrity in the legal profession, state bar associations will incorporate a thorough background check into your application for admission to the bar. But some states are more forgiving than others regarding criminal records, bad credit or a history of substance abuse. The state bar associations in Indiana, Minnesota and Nevada allow for conditional admittance to the bar when a character and fitness evaluation reveals a mental disability, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, excessive debt or a criminal history.
Admission by Motion
Once you’re admitted to the bar in one state, you may want to be admitted in one of the jurisdictions that allow for admission by motion, which means filing a documentary request in the state’s court. Connecticut is the easiest state to gain admission by motion because it doesn’t require a degree from an ABA accredited law school. Moreover, your motion only needs to show that you practiced law for five of the last 10 years rather than for five of the last seven, a requirement in many other states. For purposes of accumulating five years of legal practice, Connecticut will count the time you were employed with a government agency, the military, a judicial court, as in-house counsel for a corporation and even teaching legal courses.
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.