California Bar Exam for Foreign Attorneys

The California Bar

The California Bar Exam is a three-day exam that is administered twice a year at the end of February and July. The first day consists of three, one-hour long essays, followed by a three-hour performance test. The second day consists of the 200 question Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) that is administered by most states across the country. The third and final day mimics the first day and consists of three, one hour long essays, followed by a three-hour performance test. In all, the exam includes 18 full hours of testing. Scores for all three parts of the exam are combined and the applicant must receive a minimum score of 1440 overall to pass the California Bar Exam.

Requirements to Take the California Bar Exam

As of February 2008, foreign attorneys have two options for qualifying to take the California Bar Exam. Foreign applicants:

1. Must hold a first degree in law from their home country and have completed one year of approved legal education at an ABA accredited law school or California accredited law school. Approved legal education for foreign attorneys is often the completion of an LLM in U.S. Law or another approved area of study.


2. Must have legal education from a foreign law school without a first degree in law, have completed the general education requirements for all applicants and have passed the First-Year Law Students’ Examination.

While some testing accommodations are available to applicants as a result of physical disabilities, the exam is only offered in English and all applicants are held to the same standards for writing and reading comprehension.

California Bar Pass Rate for Foreign Attorneys

Because the State Bar of California modified the rules with respect to foreign attorney applicants taking the California bar in 2008, statistics are only available from 2009 to 2012. Pass rates for the February 2013 bar exam will be available in late May 2013.

From 2009 to 2012 the State Bar of California has broken down the pass rate for foreign attorneys into two categories: foreign law students who have obtained an LL.M. from an accredited law school and foreign attorneys.

For foreign law students with an LLM the pass rate has been under 20% since the State Bar of California started tracking this particular group of applicants. The pass rates for the last 4 years are as follows:

February Bar Exam Pass Rate July Bar Exam Pass Rate
2012 16.3% 2012 12.4%
2011 13.8% 2011 15.3%
2010 19.4% 2010 14.5%
2009 15.9% 2009 10.9%

For foreign attorney applicants, the bar pass rate has not exceeded 26% between 2009 and 2012. The pass rates for the last 4 years are as follows:

February Bar Exam Pass Rate July Bar Exam Pass Rate
2012 25.5% 2012 12.8%
2011 20.3% 2011 14.1%
2010 12.6% 2010 12.4%
2009 16.3% 2009 15.6%

While these passage rates are statistically low, they are not surprising considering the low pass rate for law students and attorneys who have studied in the U.S. The California Bar exam is notorious for being the most difficult bar exam in the U.S. With that said, we still encourage you to consider taking the California Bar Exam if it will further your career goals and compliment your prior legal education.

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