Hawaii Bar Exam

Written by: Will Bond

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Passing the Hawaii bar exam is an essential part of being admitted into the state’s bar and beginning a successful career practicing law.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to get started, including:

  • The bar exam’s eligibility criteria, content, and structure;
  • The steps you can take in order to give yourself the best chance of passing on your first attempt; and
  • The additional requirements you’ll need to satisfy in order to become admitted into the state’s bar

We’ll also briefly look at the requirements you’ll need to satisfy to maintain your attorney license

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Hawaii Bar Exam Overview

The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners (the Board) — a body appointed by the state’s Supreme Court — administers the bar exam and oversees the general bar admission process.

The Hawaii bar exam typically takes place on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week of February and July. In order to take the February or July bar exam, you must submit an application by November 1 for the February exam cycle or April 1 for the July exam cycle.

Along with your application, you’ll need to pay a $500 bar exam fee. Since there’s no late filing deadline in Hawaii, the Board will reject your application if you submit it after the dates listed above.

Keep in mind that in order to qualify for the Hawaii bar exam, you will need to satisfy the following eligibility requirements under Rule 1.3 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii:

  1. Legal Education: All applicants must have graduated with either a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from a law school accredited by the Council of the American Bar Association on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. Graduate degrees in law — such as a Master of Laws (LLM), a Master of Comparative Law (MCL), or a Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) — won’t satisfy this requirement.
  2. Good Character and Fitness: Each candidate must demonstrate a record of conduct that warrants the trust of the courts, clients, and other professionals in this industry.

Note: To learn more about how to apply for the Hawaii bar, refer to the Hawaii Bar Application Instructions or keep reading on for a more succinct overview.

Hawaii Exam Structure

While Hawaii hasn’t adopted the Universal Bar Exam (UBE), the proprietary assessment it uses instead includes many of the same components.

In Hawaii, the bar exam adheres to the following structure:

Day 1:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): Two 90-Minute Multistate Performance Test Questions
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): Six 30-Minute Multistate Essay Exam Questions
  • Hawaii Legal Ethics Examination: A 15-Question, Multiple-Choice Exam

Day 2:

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): A 200-Question, Multiple-Choice Exam

In addition to the Hawaii bar exam, all candidates must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) with a score of 85 or higher in order to be eligible for the Hawaii bar.

Below, we’ve broken down the content and structure of each exam-related requirement in more detail.

Hawaii Legal Ethics Examination

The Hawaii Legal Ethics Examination is a 30-minute test with 15 multiple-choice questions. It tests candidates on their knowledge and understanding of the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct (HRPC).

The HRPC is the set of rules establishing the ethical standards and professional obligations that lawyers must uphold while practicing law in the state. While the specific content tested on the exam will vary each year, some key areas it’ll likely cover include:

  • Duties to Clients: This encompasses topics like confidentiality, competence, loyalty, conflict of interest, communication, and fee agreements
  • Duties to the Profession: This includes professional integrity, declining or terminating representation, upholding the law, and avoiding misconduct
  • Duties to the Public: This covers topics like pro bono work, advertising, and prohibiting discrimination
  • Candor Toward the Tribunal: This includes truthfulness, disclosing legal authority, and avoiding frivolous arguments

This exam component typically occurs on the Tuesday morning of the exam cycle.

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Multistate Performance Test (MPT)

The MPT is made up of two 90-minute parts, and the materials for each part contain a “File” and a “Library.”

The File consists of source documents that contain all of the facts of a specific case.

As the examinee, the assignment that you will need to complete will be described in a memorandum from a supervising attorney.

The File can also include things like transcripts of interviews, depositions, pleadings, trials, client documents, newspaper articles, police reports, and any other similar documents.

Keep in mind that irrelevant information is generally included, and facts are sometimes incomplete, ambiguous, or even conflicting.

This is meant to mirror legal practice, in which a client’s or supervising attorney’s version of events may be unreliable or entirely incomplete. In such a scenario, you will be expected to recognize when facts are inconsistent or missing in the exam and identify sources of additional facts.

The Library part contains things like cases, statutes, and regulations, some of which may also not be relevant to the task that you will be assigned. You will need to be able to extract the legal principles required to analyze the legal problem you’ll be presented with and perform the requested task.

For more information, you can have a look at the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Instructions for Taking the MPT document.

Free summaries of MPTs from recent examinations are also offered (e.g., MPT Summaries of 2023).

Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)

The MEE consists of six 30-minute sections that can cover a variety of legal areas, including:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Business Associations (e.g., Agency and Partnership, LLCs, Corporations, etc.)
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contract Law
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Torts
  • Secured Transactions
  • Trust and Estates

Keep in mind that questions can often include issues in more than one area of law. This means that it’ll be important to ensure that you have a “wide” range of understanding rather than a deep focus on one or two subjects.

Note: For more information, have a look at the NCBE’s official Instructions for Taking the MEE document or check out a few official MEE questions.

Multistate Bar Exam (MBE)

The MBE is made up of 200 multiple-choice questions, which are broken down into 175 scored questions and 25 unscored questions.

The exam is broken down into two three-hour sections, with one administered in the morning and one in the afternoon, both of which contain 100 questions each.

Keep in mind that there are no scheduled breaks during either one of the sections.

All 175 scored questions on the exam are distributed evenly, with 25 questions being attributed to each of the following seven topics:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Federal Civil Procedure
  • Contract Law
  • Real Property
  • Tort Law
  • Evidence
  • Criminal Law and Procedure

Each question on the MBE exam will have four potential answers. You should choose what you believe is the best answer — keep in mind that your MBE scaled score is based on the number of questions answered correctly, and points are not subtracted for answering incorrectly.

If you want to have a look at the exact format, you can have a look at the NCBE’s official MBE Sample Test Questions document.

Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)

The MPRE is made up of 60 multiple-choice questions (50 scored questions and 10 unscored questions) and is administered via Pearson VUE.

Like the MBE exam, each question offers four possible answers, one of which is correct.

The exam’s content is based on law that relates to the conduct and discipline of attorneys and judges and includes the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Model Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as important constitutional common law and generally accepted principles.

In relation to questions of professional responsibility in the context of evidentiary issues (e.g., litigation sanctions, attorney-client evidentiary privilege, etc.), the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence will apply unless otherwise stated.

Note: You will have two hours to complete the MPRE exam in its entirety, and must obtain a score of 85 or higher in order to pass.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) Official Sample Test Questions document. A holistic Subject Matter Outline is also offered.

How to Pass the Hawaii Bar Exam

In order to give yourself the best chance of passing the Hawaii exam on your first attempt, it’s important to take enough time to make sure that you are adequately prepared.

Hawaii Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of Hawaii’s bar exam, passing it on your first attempt is definitely possible with the right tools and preparation techniques.

Below, we’ve broken down a few key tips that should aid you in your licensing journey:

  • Start Strong in Your First Year: This is important due to the fundamental areas of law practice that the first year of law school generally covers, such as Contracts, Tort, and Constitutional Law
  • Leverage Academic Support: If your law school offers additional support services that are aimed at improving your preparation, we recommend utilizing these as much as possible. This can involve one-on-one tutoring, academic counseling, and mock exam programs
  • Obtain Practical Legal Experience: If possible, we recommend gaining as much practical experience as you can during law school (i.e., through summer internships, mock trials, etc.). This is because this can go a long way in cementing your legal knowledge
  • Adopt a Broad Study Approach: When studying for the bar, you should aim for a wide-ranging understanding of various subjects rather than an in-depth study of a few. This is important due to the huge amount of content that you will need to learn and/or will be tested on

Most importantly, make sure you remain consistent so that you do not have to resort to last-minute cramming.

Research has shown that we are able to retain a higher degree of information – and more easily – when revisiting old content in comparison to when learning it for the first time. This is known as Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve.

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Other Hawaii Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Hawaii bar exam, you’ll need to meet several other requirements in order to become — and remain — a licensed attorney in the state. These include:

  1. Meeting the Standard of Good Character and Fitness
  2. Taking the Mandatory Hawaii Professionalism Course
  3. Satisfying the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Requirements

1. Meeting the Standard of Good Character and Fitness

In order to gain admission to the Hawaii bar, all candidates must demonstrate a record that indicates they’re worthy of the trust of clients, courts, and any other individuals with professional duties in this industry.

The burden of proof will rest on each candidate’s shoulders to show they meet this good character and fitness standard expected of all Hawaii attorneys. In order to verify this, the Board, and any of its delegated committees, will conduct an investigation into each candidate’s past conduct after they submit their bar application.

In particular, the Board may consider a record that demonstrates a distinct lack of the following qualities as sufficient grounds to deny your application:

  • Diligence
  • Financial Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Reliability
  • Respect for the Law
  • Trustworthiness

If you receive a negative recommendation regarding your character and fitness to practice law, you’ll have 20 days from the date you received this notification to file a petition for review with the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

2. Taking the Mandatory Hawaii Professionalism Course

Following statutory changes in 2001, all newly licensed Hawaii attorneys must complete the Hawaii Professional Course by December 31 of the year following their admission to the state bar.

This course — jointly administered by the Hawaii State Bar Association and the Supreme Court of Hawaii — includes three online, pre recorded webinars that should cover topics similar to the following:

  • Professionalism Standards and Expectations
  • Client Communication and Relationships
  • Courtroom Etiquette and Practice
  • Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility
  • Stress Management and Well-Being for Lawyers
  • Best Practices for Starting a Legal Career in Hawaii

You’ll have two opportunities each year to take this course: once in June and again in November. If you fail to submit proof of compliance by the December 31 deadline, you’ll be automatically suspended from practicing law.

Note: Completing this course will grant you three CLE credits you can use toward your ethics CLE requirement.

3. Satisfying the CLE Requirements

According to Rule 22 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii, all active members of the Hawaii bar have to complete a minimum of three hours of approved CLE each calendar year in order to maintain their licenses.

As part of this requirement, members also must complete at least one hour of approved courses in ethics/professional responsibility once every three years. This hour will count toward your required CLE hours for that year.

In order to certify you’ve satisfied this annual CLE requirement, you’ll need to complete an annual registration form and outline the exact number of hours you completed that focused on ethics/professional responsibility. Because this is a self-reported form, you’ll need to maintain your own records of any approved CLE completed during the three most recent reporting periods.

You may carry forward up to three CLE hours you earn in excess of this annual requirement to the next reporting period.

Newly licensed attorneys in Hawaii are exempt from having to comply with this CLE requirement in the year in which they first gain admission to the bar.

Note: You can read more about the CLE requirements that apply to you in the Continuing Legal Education Regulations report from the Hawaii State Board of Continuing Legal Education.

Hawaii Bar Exam FAQ

Does Hawaii have reciprocity for the bar exam?

No, Hawaii doesn’t offer reciprocity or admission on motion to applicants. This means all candidates must take the Hawaii bar exam — regardless of if they’ve already been admitted to the bar of another state.

What is the passing score for the bar exam in Hawaii?

In order to pass the bar exam in Hawaii, you’ll need to obtain a score of 133 out of 200 as well as at least 85 on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). To learn more about the bar exam in this state, see our Hawaii Bar Exam article.

Which states have the hardest bar exams?

California is widely considered to have one of the toughest bar exams in the country based on its low overall pass rate. Check out our What is the Bar Exam article for information on how you can pass this exam, regardless of which state you take it in.

Does Hawaii have the Uniform Bar Exam?

No. While the Hawaii bar exam format is similar to that used in states that adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), it’s not the same. This is due to the addition of a jurisdiction-specific component called the Hawaii Legal Ethics Examination. With that said, candidates don’t often struggle with this addition and Hawaii bar exam results are often quite positive.