State Bar of California

The State Bar of California is California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

's official bar association
Bar association
A bar association is a professional body of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both...

. It is responsible for managing the admission of lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

s to the practice of law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

, investigating complaints of professional misconduct, and prescribing appropriate discipline. It is directly responsible to the Supreme Court of California
Supreme Court of California
The Supreme Court of California is the highest state court in California. It is headquartered in San Francisco and regularly holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.-Composition:...

; all attorney admissions and disbarments are issued as recommendations of the State Bar, which are then routinely ratified by the Supreme Court. The State Bar was legally established on July 29, 1927, when the State Bar Act went into effect.

Today, the State Bar of California is the largest state bar association in the United States, with 216,000-plus members as of June 2008, of whom over 160,000 are on active status. Just like the Supreme Court of California, it is headquartered in San Francisco, with branch offices in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

 and Sacramento
Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the county seat of Sacramento County. It is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in the northern portion of California's expansive Central Valley. With a population of 466,488 at the 2010 census,...


Legal status

California is among the majority of American states
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 that operate an integrated (mandatory) bar, in which the statewide bar association is integrated with the judiciary
The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

 and active membership therein is required in order to practice law. Article 6, Section 9 of the California Constitution
California Constitution
The document that establishes and describes the duties, powers, structure and function of the government of the U.S. state of California. The original constitution, adopted in November 1849 in advance of California attaining U.S. statehood in 1850, was superseded by the current constitution, which...

 is as follows:
The State Bar acts as the administrative arm of the California Supreme Court in matters involving the admission, regulation, and discipline of attorneys. Its' structure, responsibilities and powers are further elaborated upon in the State Bar Act at Sections 6000-6238 of the Business and Professions Code. Anyone who practices law in the state of California must be a member of the State Bar, or else he or she will be guilty of the crime of unauthorized practice of law. The only exceptions are for patent attorney
Patent attorney
A patent attorney is an attorney who has the specialized qualifications necessary for representing clients in obtaining patents and acting in all matters and procedures relating to patent law and practice, such as filing an opposition...

s who restrict their practice to the prosecution of patent applications (i.e., the process of obtaining a patent before the United States Patent and Trademark Office
United States Patent and Trademark Office
The United States Patent and Trademark Office is an agency in the United States Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.The USPTO is based in Alexandria, Virginia,...

); attorneys who practice areas of law exclusively regulated by the federal government (such as immigration) under a U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 decision in 1963 that prohibited states from restricting the practice of exclusively federal areas of law; and attorneys from other states who have applied to the California courts for temporary admission pro hac vice
Pro hac vice
Pro hac vice , Latin: "for this occasion" or "for this event", is a legal term usually referring to a lawyer who has not been admitted to practice in a certain jurisdiction but has been allowed to participate in a particular case in that jurisdiction.The right to appear pro hac vice is not...

to work on a single California case in collaboration with a member of the State Bar.

Formation of the State Bar

The State Bar's predecessor was a voluntary state bar association known as the California Bar Association. The leader of the effort to establish an integrated bar was Judge Jeremiah F. Sullivan, who first proposed the concept at the CBA's Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is the county seat of Santa Barbara County, California, United States. Situated on an east-west trending section of coastline, the longest such section on the West Coast of the United States, the city lies between the steeply-rising Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean...

 convention in September 1917, and provided the CBA with a copy of the relevant Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 statute as a model. However, at that time, the CBA did not take the proposal seriously.

It took almost ten years to establish an integrated bar in California. Sullivan, who was also the President of the Bar Association of San Francisco, organized BASF committees to draft and propose appropriate legislation. Both BASF-drafted bills died in the California Legislature, in 1919 and 1921. In 1922, Sullivan finally persuaded the CBA to take action on his proposal; the CBA drafted a new bill, lobbied lawyers and legislators around the state for their support, and persuaded the Legislature to pass the bill in 1925. That bill died by pocket veto
Pocket veto
A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to veto a bill indirectly.The U.S. Constitution limits the President's period for decision on whether to sign or veto any legislation to ten days while the United States Congress is in session...

; that is, Governor Friend Richardson
Friend Richardson
Friend William Richardson , was an American newspaper publisher and politician. A member of the Progressive Party and later the Republican Party, Richardson was elected as the California State Treasurer from 1915 to 1923, and shortly afterwards as the 25th governor of California from 1923 to 1927...

 did not formally veto it, but the legislative session expired before the time limit was reached by which the bill automatically would have become law without his signature.

After two more years of lobbying, the CBA tried again. Governor C. C. Young
C. C. Young
Clement Calhoun Young was an American teacher and politician who was affiliated with the original Progressive Party and later the Republican Party. He was elected to five consecutive terms in the California State Assembly, serving from 1909 to 1919, then as the 28th lieutenant governor of...

 signed the State Bar Act into law on March 16, 1927. On May 12, 1927, the Supreme Court of California appointed the State Bar Commission, which in turn established the State Bar of California as an operating entity with offices at 519 California Street in San Francisco on July 30, 1927. The State Bar immediately mailed out registration forms (demanding a $3 preorganization fee as authorized by the Act) to all California attorneys. Identification numbers were assigned to each attorney as they registered; notably, State Bar Number 1 went to Chief Justice William H. Waste
William H. Waste
William H. Waste was the 21st Chief Justice of California.Born near Chico, California, Waste graduated from the University of California in 1891 and Hastings Law School in San Francisco in 1894. He practiced law in Oakland and later in Berkeley...


By October 1, 1927, 7,872 lawyers had registered. These lawyers then voted by mail for the State Bar's first Board of Governors. On November 17, the State Bar held a preorganization dinner at the Palace Hotel
Palace Hotel, San Francisco
The Palace Hotel is a landmark historic hotel in San Francisco, California, located at the SW corner of Market and New Montgomery streets. Also referred to as the "New" Palace Hotel to distinguish it from the original 1875 Palace Hotel that it was built to replace, the present...

 in San Francisco, followed by the formal organization meeting the next day. By the time the dinner started, 9,602 lawyers had registered. The next morning, during the State Bar's organization meeting, the CBA yielded to its successor by winding up its affairs and ending its corporate existence.

Member fee authorization process

The State Bar of California is one of a small number of integrated bar associations where much of its member fee structure must be ratified annually by both the legislature
California State Legislature
The California State Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of California. It is a bicameral body consisting of the lower house, the California State Assembly, with 80 members, and the upper house, the California State Senate, with 40 members...

 and the governor
Governor of California
The Governor of California is the chief executive of the California state government, whose responsibilities include making annual State of the State addresses to the California State Legislature, submitting the budget, and ensuring that state laws are enforced...

. Without such annual reauthorization, it can charge California lawyers only $77 per year.

In October 1997, Governor Pete Wilson
Pete Wilson
Peter Barton "Pete" Wilson is an American politician from California. Wilson, a Republican, served as the 36th Governor of California , the culmination of more than three decades in the public arena that included eight years as a United States Senator , eleven years as Mayor of San Diego and...

 vetoed the fee authorization bill for that year. He pointed out that California's bar had the highest annual fee in the country at $478. He also stated that the State Bar had become bloated and inefficient and criticized its Conference of Delegates for taking positions on divisive political issues like abortion
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

. The State Bar's political and lobbying activities, combined with the compulsory nature of its dues, had already resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the State Bar was forced to allow attorneys to opt out of paying dues to support positions that they found abhorrent, Keller v. State Bar of California
Keller v. State Bar of California
Keller v. State Bar of California, 496 U.S. 1 , was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that attorneys who are required to be members of a state bar association have a First Amendment right to refrain from subsidizing the organization’s political or ideological activities.-...

, .

As a result, the State Bar was forced to lay off 500 of its 700 personnel on June 26, 1998. For six months, the State Bar's attorney disciplinary system was nonfunctional. On December 3, 1998, the Supreme Court of California unanimously held that it had the power to impose an emergency annual fee of $171.44 on all California lawyers to fund the attorney disciplinary system. See In re Attorney Disciplinary System, 19 Cal. 4th 582 (1998). By then, the backlog of unprocessed complaints had soared to 6,000.

On September 7, 1999, Governor Gray Davis
Gray Davis
Joseph Graham "Gray" Davis, Jr. is an American Democratic politician who served as California's 37th Governor from 1999 until being recalled in 2003...

 signed a bill that set the annual fee for the State Bar at $395, thus ending the funding crisis. Since then, the State Bar has undertaken several reforms to improve the efficiency of its operations. It also split off the controversial Conference of Delegates into a separate volunteer organization.

On October 11, 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American former professional bodybuilder, actor, businessman, investor, and politician. Schwarzenegger served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011....

 vetoed the fee authorization bill for 2010. In his veto message accompanying the return of the unsigned bill to the Legislature, he explained that just as in 1997, the State Bar had again become inefficient, scandal-ridden, and excessively politicized.

Lawyer admissions

The task of deciding whom to admit to the bar is performed by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Office of Admissions under procedures set out in the State Bar Act.

Prior to law schools in the U.S., the only way to become an attorney was to "read" for the law. Usually this was done by reading Blackstone
William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone KC SL was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke...

's Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

as a textbook, and by interning for a judge or a lawyer for a prescribed period. The Bar candidate would then be questioned by a panel of court justices and accepted or rejected as an officer of the court. If accepted, the candidate was sworn into the Bar.

Becoming an attorney in California

California requires two years of pre-legal education before beginning the study of law. Once the pre-legal education is met, California has different paths to become a licensed attorney:
  1. Attending a law school accredited by the American Bar Association
    American Bar Association
    The American Bar Association , founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. The ABA's most important stated activities are the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation...

     or the Committee of Bar Examiners and passing the California Bar Examination (bar exam).
  2. Study law for at least four years by:
    * Attending an unaccredited law school authorized by the State of California to award professional degrees but that is not accredited by the State Bar of California or ABA. (including online law school
    Online law school
    A correspondence law school is a school that offers legal education by distance education, either by correspondence or online by use of the internet, or a combination thereof.-Germany:...

    s) and pass the bar exam, or
    * Participating in an approved course of study in a law office or the chambers of a judge and pass the bar exam. ("Law Office Study Program"; see below.)
  3. Already being licensed in another state or foreign jurisdiction and taking the California bar exam. Lawyers who are already licensed (and have been active for four or more years) in another jurisdiction may be able to waive out of taking the Multistate Bar Examination portion of the bar exam.

Regardless of the path one takes to becoming a licensed attorney, most bar applicants take a special preparation course for the bar exam immediately following their graduation from law school.

There is no citizenship requirement for admission to the California bar exam; a person can be a citizen of any country and be admitted to practice in California. No particular type of visa, including a green card
United States Permanent Resident Card
United States lawful permanent residency refers to a person's immigration status: the person is authorized to live and work in the United States of America on a permanent basis....

, is required for admission to the bar
Admission to the bar
An admission to practice law, also called admission to the bar, is acquired when a lawyer receives a license to practice law. Becoming a lawyer is a widely varied process around the world. Common to all jurisdictions are requirements of age and competence; some jurisdictions also require citizenship...

. However, applicants must have a Social Security Number
Social Security number
In the United States, a Social Security number is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents under section 205 of the Social Security Act, codified as . The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration, an independent...

 to apply. Applicants are able to petition for an exception to the latter rule depending on circumstances.

Prospective applicants must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination
The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination is a one hundred twenty five minute, sixty question, multiple-choice examination designed to measure the knowledge and understanding of established standards related to a lawyer's professional conduct...

 and undergo an extensive background check to determine if the applicant has the "good moral character
Good moral character
Good moral character is a defined legal concept in United States law that details requirements for consideration for certain benefits or positions. The term is chiefly used by the federal government in immigration law, but it can also be a requirement for a particular position of employment or...

" necessary to practice law in California. A prospective applicant must receive a "positive determination" as to the inquiry on their "moral character" in addition to satisfying all other educational requirements and exam passages to be granted a license to practice law in California.

Accredited law school study

The majority of prospective lawyers studying for the California Bar attend law schools accredited by the ABA or the CBE. Once they receive their J.D. degree from these schools, they are eligible to take the bar exam.

Unaccredited law school study

Students may choose to become a licensed attorney through law schools that are not accredited by the ABA or the State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners. Students attending these schools must also complete the First-Year Law Students' Examination (FYLSE, popularly known as the "Baby Bar Examination") before receiving credit for their law study.

Students should pass the FYLSE within three administrations after first becoming eligible to take the examination (which usually occurs upon completion of the first year of law study) in order to receive credit for law study undertaken up to the point of passage. It is possible for a student to pass the test after the first three administrations, but such a student will only receive credit for their first year of law study and nothing more. No additional courses beyond the first year will be credited if a student takes more law school classes and passes the Baby Bar thereafter.

California State Bar Law Office Study Program

The California State Bar Law Office Study Program allows California residents to become California attorneys without graduating from college or law school, assuming they meet basic pre-legal educational requirements. (If the candidate has no college degree, he or she may take and pass the College Level Examination Program
College Level Examination Program
The College Level Examination Program is a group of standardized tests that assess college-level knowledge in several subject areas. Many colleges grant credit to students who meet their minimum qualifying score. Qualifying scores vary by school but are typically 50...

 (CLEP).) The Bar candidate must study under a judge or lawyer for four years and must also pass the Baby Bar within three administrations after first becoming eligible to take the examination. They are then eligible to take the California Bar Examination.

Out-of-state attorney examination

Persons already licensed as attorneys in other states may take the California Bar. Provided they have already taken the Multistate Bar Examination, they may omit that portion of the California Bar Examination. The attorneys opting to omit the Multi-State bar exam must have five years of practice in their local jurisdictions. Attorneys without the required years in practice take the General Examination, like most other applicants.

The California Bar Examination

California administers what is widely considered one of the nation's most difficult bar examination
Bar examination
A bar examination is an examination conducted at regular intervals to determine whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in a given jurisdiction.-Brazil:...

s twice each year, in February and July. Several prominent attorneys and politicians have either never passed, or had difficulty passing, the California Bar Exam. Significant among these are Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Antonio Villaraigosa
Antonio Ramón Villaraigosa , born Antonio Ramón Villar, Jr., is the 41st and current Mayor of Los Angeles, California, the third Mexican American to have ever held office in the city of Los Angeles and the first in over 130 years. He is also the current president of the United States Conference of...

 (a graduate of People's College of Law
People's College of Law
The People's College of Law is an unaccredited, private, non-profit law school located in Los Angeles, California. PCL offers a part-time, four-year evening law program centered around work in the public interest.-History:...

 who never passed the Bar exam after failing four times), Stanford law professor Kathleen Sullivan
Kathleen Sullivan
Kathleen Marie Sullivan is a professor at the Stanford Law School and name partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a litigation-only law firm with offices in California, New York, Silicon Valley, Chicago, San Francisco, Germany, London, and Tokyo where she chairs their national appellate...

 (Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School
Harvard Law School is one of the professional graduate schools of Harvard University. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world. The school is routinely ranked by the U.S...

) (who failed the bar in July 2005 but passed on her second attempt in February 2006), California Governor and former Attorney General Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown
Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Brown, Jr. is an American politician. Brown served as the 34th Governor of California , and is currently serving as the 39th California Governor...

 (Yale Law School
Yale Law School
Yale Law School, or YLS, is the law school of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Established in 1824, it offers the J.D., LL.M., J.S.D. and M.S.L. degrees in law. It also hosts visiting scholars, visiting researchers and a number of legal research centers...

, '64) (who took it twice before passing) and former California Governor Pete Wilson (UC Berkeley School of Law
UC Berkeley School of Law
The University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, commonly referred to as Berkeley Law and Boalt Hall, is one of 14 schools and colleges at the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley Law is consistently regarded as an elite and prestigious law school...

) (who passed on his fourth attempt). Unsuccessful applicants have even sued the State Bar—unsuccessfully—on the grounds that the exam is unnecessarily difficult.

The Committee of Bar Examiners does not release information on bar exam failures, so it is impossible to know who has taken and failed the exam the most times.

The California Bar Examination consists of 18 hours of examination time spread out over three days; the only other state with a longer exam is Louisiana, at 21 hours (Louisiana law
Louisiana law
Law in the State of Louisiana is based in part on civil law. Louisiana is unique among the 50 U.S. states in having a legal system partially based on French and Spanish codes and ultimately Roman law, as opposed to English common law...

, in contrast to the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 system of the other 49 states, is based partially on civil law
Civil law (legal system)
Civil law is a legal system inspired by Roman law and whose primary feature is that laws are codified into collections, as compared to common law systems that gives great precedential weight to common law on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different...

 and is one of the few exams without a multiple choice component). California's exam is administered in the following manner:
  • 1st day (Tuesday): 3 essay questions (9 am - 12 pm); 1 performance test (2 pm - 5 pm)
  • 2nd day (Wednesday): 100 Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) questions (9 am - 12 pm); 100 MBE questions (2 pm - 5 pm)
  • 3rd day (Thursday): 3 essay questions (9 am - 12 pm); 1 performance test (2 pm - 5 pm)

The exam currently tests 17 different subject areas:
  • Constitutional Law
    United States constitutional law
    United States constitutional law is the body of law governing the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution.- Introduction :United States constitutional law defines the scope and application of the terms of the Constitution...

  • Contract
    A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

    s (Common Law and Uniform Commercial Code
    Uniform Commercial Code
    The Uniform Commercial Code , first published in 1952, is one of a number of uniform acts that have been promulgated in conjunction with efforts to harmonize the law of sales and other commercial transactions in all 50 states within the United States of America.The goal of harmonizing state law is...

  • Criminal Law
    Criminal law
    Criminal law, is the body of law that relates to crime. It might be defined as the body of rules that defines conduct that is not allowed because it is held to threaten, harm or endanger the safety and welfare of people, and that sets out the punishment to be imposed on people who do not obey...

     and Procedure
    Criminal procedure
    Criminal procedure refers to the legal process for adjudicating claims that someone has violated criminal law.-Basic rights:Currently, in many countries with a democratic system and the rule of law, criminal procedure puts the burden of proof on the prosecution – that is, it is up to the...

  • Evidence
    Evidence (law)
    The law of evidence encompasses the rules and legal principles that govern the proof of facts in a legal proceeding. These rules determine what evidence can be considered by the trier of fact in reaching its decision and, sometimes, the weight that may be given to that evidence...

     (Federal Rules of Evidence
    Federal Rules of Evidence
    The is a code of evidence law governing the admission of facts by which parties in the United States federal court system may prove their cases, both civil and criminal. The Rules were enacted in 1975, with subsequent amendments....

     and the California Evidence Code)
  • Real Property
    Real property
    In English Common Law, real property, real estate, realty, or immovable property is any subset of land that has been legally defined and the improvements to it made by human efforts: any buildings, machinery, wells, dams, ponds, mines, canals, roads, various property rights, and so forth...

  • Tort
    A tort, in common law jurisdictions, is a wrong that involves a breach of a civil duty owed to someone else. It is differentiated from a crime, which involves a breach of a duty owed to society in general...

  • Wills
    Will (law)
    A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

     (California law)
  • Trusts
    Trust law
    In common law legal systems, a trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another...

  • Civil Procedure
    Civil procedure
    Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits...

     (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
    Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
    The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...

     and the California Code of Civil Procedure)
  • Community Property
    Community property
    Community property is a marital property regime that originated in civil law jurisdictions and is now also found in some common law jurisdictions...

     (California law)
  • Professional Responsibility
    Professional responsibility
    Professional responsibility is the area of legal practice that encompasses the duties of attorneys to act in a professional manner, obey the law, avoid conflicts of interest, and put the interests of clients ahead of their own interests....

     (ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct)
  • Business Associations (Corporations, Agency, all forms of Partnerships, and Limited Liability Entities)
  • Remedies
    Legal remedy
    A legal remedy is the means with which a court of law, usually in the exercise of civil law jurisdiction, enforces a right, imposes a penalty, or makes some other court order to impose its will....

The essay section of the exam accounts for 39% of the total score. Applicants sitting for the California Bar Examination do not know which of the 17 subjects listed above will in fact be tested on the essay portion of the examination. In recent years, it has been increasingly common for one or more "crossover" questions to appear on the examination. A "crossover" question is one that tests applicants in two or perhaps three subjects in one essay question. Examples of past tested essays with sample answers are available on the California State Bar website or

California-specific legal knowledge is required only for Evidence, Civil Procedure, Wills, Community Property, and Professional Responsibility; for the other topics, either general common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 ("bar exam law") or the federal laws apply. Beginning in July 2007, applicants may be tested on the California Evidence Code and the California Code of Civil Procedure in the essay portion of the exam in addition to the Federal Rules of Evidence
Federal Rules of Evidence
The is a code of evidence law governing the admission of facts by which parties in the United States federal court system may prove their cases, both civil and criminal. The Rules were enacted in 1975, with subsequent amendments....

 and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has 7 months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the...


The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) portion of the exam is a nationally administered, 200-question multiple choice
Multiple choice
Multiple choice is a form of assessment in which respondents are asked to select the best possible answer out of the choices from a list. The multiple choice format is most frequently used in educational testing, in market research, and in elections-- when a person chooses between multiple...

 exam. As of February 2007, only 190 questions are scored, and the other 10 are unscored experimental questions used to gauge their appropriateness for future exams. The MBE covers only the topics of contracts (including sales of goods under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code
Uniform Commercial Code
The Uniform Commercial Code , first published in 1952, is one of a number of uniform acts that have been promulgated in conjunction with efforts to harmonize the law of sales and other commercial transactions in all 50 states within the United States of America.The goal of harmonizing state law is...

), real property, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, and the Federal Rules of Evidence. While the essay section of the exam may test one or more of these areas as well, the MBE section is dedicated to these subjects.

The MBE counts for 35 percent of the total score in California. For the essay and performance exam portions, applicants traditionally wrote them using pen and paper or typed them on a typewriter. Since 2000, applicants have had the option of using SofTest software to type those portions on a laptop computers.

The performance test portion of the exam is designed to test practical lawyering skills by presenting applicants with simulations of actual legal tasks. This section counts for 26% of the total score. The performance exam is a "closed universe" setting, meaning that the only substantive information the applicant needs to know is what is provided with the exam. Even if cases and statutes are provided, they are often different from the real law in the area at issue, so that applicants who studied that area of law in law school will have no special advantage. Each performance test is worth as many points as two regular essays.

The exam sites are usually large convention center
Convention center
A convention center is a large building that is designed to hold a convention, where individuals and groups gather to promote and share common interests. Convention centers typically offer sufficient floor area to accommodate several thousand attendees...

s in Northern
Northern California
Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area , and Sacramento as well as its metropolitan area are the main population centers...

 and Southern California
Southern California
Southern California is a megaregion, or megapolitan area, in the southern area of the U.S. state of California. Large urban areas include Greater Los Angeles and Greater San Diego. The urban area stretches along the coast from Ventura through the Southland and Inland Empire to San Diego...

. Exam security is tight. For example, proctors are assigned to stand in restrooms for the duration of the entire exam to prevent applicants from asking each other for assistance. Additionally, applicants are required to provide fingerprints, photo identification, and a handwriting sample at the testing site.

Overall bar exam pass rates tend to hover between 35% and 55%, and are always the lowest in the United States. The lowest pass rate occurred in February 1983 when 27.7% of takers passed. First-time California Bar Exam takers have a pass rate around 60%. When considering only graduates of ABA-approved schools, the average pass rate for the years 2003-2006 was 54.5%, which was 8.9% lower than the pass rate for Florida, the next lowest "large population" jurisdiction.

Professional responsibility

California is currently the only state that does not use either set of professional responsibility
Professional responsibility
Professional responsibility is the area of legal practice that encompasses the duties of attorneys to act in a professional manner, obey the law, avoid conflicts of interest, and put the interests of clients ahead of their own interests....

 rules developed by the American Bar Association. California professional responsibility law is divided among California Business & Professions Code Section 6068 (the statutory duties of an attorney), the California Rules of Professional Conduct (CRPC), and a number of uncodified cases. A few of the CRPC rules have clearly been inspired by ABA rules, though. A number of innovations in professional responsibility law have first arisen in California, such as Cumis counsel
Cumis counsel
A Cumis counsel is "an attorney employed by a defendant in a lawsuit when there is an insurance policy supposedly covering the claim, but there is a conflict of interest between the insurance company and the insured defendant."...


Of all American states, California imposes the strongest duty of confidentiality
Confidentiality is an ethical principle associated with several professions . In ethics, and in law and alternative forms of legal resolution such as mediation, some types of communication between a person and one of these professionals are "privileged" and may not be discussed or divulged to...

 upon its attorneys. There were no exceptions to the duty until 2004, when Business & Professions Code Section 6068 was amended to add a single discretionary exception to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The amendment was borrowed from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Since 2001, the Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California has been attempting a comprehensive revision of the California rules that would, among other things, convert them into a heavily modified, localized version of the Model Rules. That is, the result would look like the Model Rules, but with appropriate modifications to preserve the substance of existing California rules that better reflect local laws and customs.

However, the Commission's progress has been slow, simply because there are so many substantive and structural differences between the California rules and the Model Rules. The Commission is expected to wrap up its work sometime in 2011 or 2012. Its proposed revisions will not go into effect until approved by both the State Bar Board of Governors and the Supreme Court of California.

Lawyer discipline

The State Bar is the only bar association that operates a State Bar Court, equipped with judges who specialize in handling professional responsibility cases. Under the State Bar Act, upon receiving a complaint, the Bar may choose whether to open an investigation. If the Bar does find sufficient evidence of misconduct, decides that it has standing, and decides to take action to impose discipline, it has the power to proceed against accused attorneys either in the Supreme Court of California or in the State Bar Court. The State Bar holds that it may decline to review complaints that are not made by a Judge who heard a matter related to the complaint. Complaints of professional misconduct are usually first prosecuted in the Hearing Department of the State Bar Court. If the lawyer disagrees with an adverse decision, he or she may appeal to the Review Department of the State Bar Court, and from there to the state supreme court.

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