Washington DC Bar Exam

Written by: Nik Ventouris

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Washington DC Bar Exam

Passing the Washington DC 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
  • 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 process of getting admitted as an out-of-state attorney.

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Washington DC Bar Exam Overview

The Committee on Admissions, which operates under the authority of the DC Court of Appeals, administers the bar exam in Washington DC.

The Committee has a broad range of responsibilities, including reviewing applications for admission, conducting detailed character and fitness evaluations, and overseeing the entire bar admission process.

The bar exam takes place twice a year over two consecutive days in February and July. For the July exam, the application window opens on April 5 and closes on May 9. For the February exam, the registration period begins on November 1 and concludes on November 16.

Late applications aren’t accepted under any circumstances.

The application fee is $405 for the July session and $232 for the February session. These non-refundable and non-transferable fees are the same for both first-time takers and retake applicants.

Keep in mind that in order to be eligible for the DC bar exam, you will need to satisfy one of the following criteria per the Rules Regulating Admission to the Bar of the District of Columbia:

  1. ABA-Approved Law School Study – Juris Doctor (JD) Degree: You must have graduated from — or completed all requirements for graduation from — a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) at the time of your degree conferral.
  2. Other Law School Study: If you graduated from a law school that’s not approved by the ABA, you must successfully complete at least 26 credit hours of study in a law school that was approved by the ABA at the time of such study. These credits must be in courses substantially focused on subjects tested on the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE).

Note: An applicant who fails to earn a passing score on four separate occasions in the DC bar exam may not make another attempt unless they can show extraordinary circumstances.

Washington DC Exam Structure

In 2016, Washington DC adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which adheres to the following structure:

Day 1:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): Two 90-minute Multistate Performance Test Questions (20%)
  • Multistate Essay Examination (MEE): Six 30-minute Multistate Essay Exam questions (30%)

Day 2:

  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): 200-question multiple-choice exam (50%)

The UBE exam is scored out of 400 points, 266 of which need to be answered correctly in order for a candidate to receive a passing mark.

Moreover, candidates must achieve a scaled score of 75 or higher on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) in order to be eligible for the DC bar.

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

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
  • 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
  • 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 scores are 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.

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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.

For more information, we recommend having a look at the NCBE’s Official Sample Test Questions document. A holistic Subject Matter Outline is also offered.

How to Pass the DC Bar Exam

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

Washington DC Bar Exam Tips

Despite the infamous difficulty of DC’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 Contract Law, 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 Washington DC Bar Requirements

Apart from qualifying for and passing the Washington DC bar exam, there are several other requirements you will need to meet in order to become a licensed attorney in the state, including:

  1. Passing the Character and Fitness Evaluation
  2. Completing the DC Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Course

1. Passing the Character and Fitness Evaluation

After passing the DC bar exam, candidates will face a character and fitness evaluation. This involves a detailed investigation by the Committee on Admissions into the applicant’s past actions and professional conduct.

The Committee will scrutinize candidates on aspects that include:

  • Misconduct in employment, acts involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
  • Abuse of legal process, such as filing vexatious lawsuits, neglect of financial responsibilities, and violation of court orders, including child support orders
  • Evidence of mental health or substance use disorders that impair their fitness to practice law, denial of admission to the bar in another jurisdiction on character and fitness grounds, and disciplinary action by any professional disciplinary agency

In assessing the weight and significance of an applicant’s conduct, the Committee considers their age at the time of each occurrence, the recency and seriousness of the conduct, any evidence of rehabilitation or positive community contributions since the conduct, and the applicant’s candor and behavior throughout the general admissions process.

Applicants may be required to appear for an informal or, if necessary, a formal hearing if the Committee initially decides against certification. During a formal hearing, applicants have the right to be represented by counsel, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence relevant to their character and fitness to practice law.

These proceedings occur in private, unless otherwise requested by the applicant, and the Committee maintains records of them in order to ensure transparency.

2. Completing the DC Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice Course

Newly admitted attorneys to the DC bar must undertake a specialized course on the DC Rules of Professional Conduct and Practice as established under Rule II of the Rules Governing the Bar.

The course covers a comprehensive range of topics, including:

  • Adherence to the DC Rules of Professional Conduct and the Voluntary Standards of Civility in Professional Conduct
  • Understanding DC’s regulatory framework for attorney conduct
  • Fulfilling pro bono obligations effectively
  • Navigating DC court and administrative practices

Attorneys must complete the course and pay a non-refundable fee of $229 within the first 12 months of their admission in order to remain in good standing with the DC bar.

Note: While the DC Bar doesn’t impose mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements, it strongly encourages its members to pursue CLE voluntarily.

Admission on Motion (Reciprocity)

The DC Bar allows for the admission of members from other states or territories without the need for examination — a process commonly referred to as “admission on motion” or “reciprocity.”

This process is designed to facilitate the integration of experienced legal practitioners into the DC legal landscape, recognizing their prior accomplishments and standing in other jurisdictions.

To be eligible for admission on motion, an applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • They must have been a member in good standing of a bar or a court of general jurisdiction in any US state or territory for at least three years immediately preceding their application
  • They must possess a JD or Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from an ABA-approved law school, or, if a graduate of a non-ABA-approved law school, they must have completed at least 26 credit hours in ABA-approved law school courses
  • They must have been admitted to the practice of law in any US state or territory upon the successful completion of a written bar exam and received a scaled score of 133 or more on the MBE, deemed as part of such exam by the state or territory

Additionally, all applicants must have passed the MPRE, in line with Rule 46(c)(5), in order to be eligible for admission without examination.

For more information on the application process, please refer to the DC Court of Appeals’ Admission on Motion guidelines.

Washington DC Bar Exam FAQ

Can you take the DC bar exam without going to law school?

In Washington DC, eligibility for the bar exam requires graduation from an ABA-approved law school or, for graduates of non-ABA-approved schools, completion of at least 26 credit hours at an ABA-approved institution. For more District of Columbia bar exam information, see our Washington DC Bar Exam article.

How long is the Washington DC bar exam?

The Washington DC bar exam is conducted over two consecutive days. On the first day, candidates tackle the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) and the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). The second day then features the 200-question Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).

How hard is it to pass the Washington DC bar examination?

The Washington DC bar exam is known for its rigor, but passing it on your first attempt is undoubtedly possible with the right preparation. All in all, you should aim to start early, practice consistently, and tackle study materials methodically.

How much does the DC bar exam cost?

The application fee for the DC bar exam is $405 for the July session and $232 for the February session. These fees are non-refundable and non-transferable, applying to both first-time and retake applicants. Interested in learning more? Check out our What is the Bar Exam article.