Taking the bar exam costs a lot of money. There are fees for the exam itself, fees to file for a license, and more fees to maintain your standing as a lawyer. Whether you're still in law school or have already graduated, it's important to know how much money you'll need to spend in order to become a licensed attorney.
Preparing for the Bar
Your law school tuition and fees were just the beginning. Many experts recommend weeks of study and review prior to taking the bar exam. Test-prep companies like Kaplan offer both in-class and online study options, but they're not cheap. Kaplan, for example, charges anywhere from $1,800 to $2,400 or more for its services.
Barbri, another testing organization, changes about $2,800. Bar-review apps BarMax are less expensive, but can still cost $1,000 to study for the exam in California. Textbooks, tutoring sessions, flashcards, and other review materials can add hundreds, if not thousands, more to the bottom line.
Sitting for the Exam
It is not cheap to sit for the bar exam. Fees for first-timers vary widely from state to state, from less than $200 in Washington D.C. and North Dakota to as much as $1,450 in Illinois, as of March 2018. In addition, about a dozen states, including California and Texas, impose filing fees that can range from $50 to $250. If you plan to use a laptop to take the bar exam, something many experts recommend, nearly all states tack on an additional fee, usually about $100.
If you fail to pass the bar exam, you'll need to retake it, meaning you'll have to pay another round of fees that are typically as expensive as it is for first-time test takers. In addition, a handful of states (California, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, and Rhode Island) tack on additional exam fees that range from $350 to $1,500.
Many states offer reciprocity, meaning that lawyers licensed in one state can practice in another state. However, this doesn't apply nationwide. If you're a lawyer licensed in New York, you'll need to take the bar exam in California if you want to practice there, too. Fees for attorneys taking the bar exam are similar to those for first-time students. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) offers a comprehensive list of fees for all 50 states and U.S. territories on their website.
In addition, most jurisdictions also require you to take the MPRE, which has its own costs as well. So be sure to research the cost to sit for the bar exam in your jurisdiction. Doing so will help you plan ahead and feel confident in financial planning for this experience.
You may also have to pay filing fees to your state bar in addition to the costs to take the test. For example, California imposes a "moral character application," similar to a criminal background check, that lawyers must renew every three years. The cost as of 2018 is $640. Other states such as Georgia and Illinois also impose similar fees of several hundred dollars. Other states increase the fee amount depending on how far ahead of the filing deadline you register. The NCBE website details many of these fees as well.
Lastly, don't forget what is it going to cost to live and to study for the bar exam. If you are not working while studying, you may have to take out additional loans (sometimes called a bar loan) to help pay for your living expenses. Even after you've passed the bar and been licensed, many states require practicing lawyers to take annual Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses to stay current. Fees vary widely for these tests.