Jill Kolodner | September 8, 2020 | Maryland Law
It is hard to rate each state’s bar exam’s difficulty, as there is no standard metric for measuring difficulty. You can look at the pass/fail rates, but you can have a state with an incredibly difficult test and well-prepared participants that will skew the numbers. Overall, Maryland ranks in the bottom one-fourth of the country with a passing rate of 58%.
According to the Magoosh Uniform Bar Exam blog, Maryland ranks 9th in difficulty. The weight given to the state-specific essay portion is the cause attributed to the difficulty ranking. Given that state laws change year to year, keeping track of changing laws in the time before taking the bar exam is crucial.
What’s Involved in the Maryland Bar Exam?
Maryland requires students to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) before sitting for the bar. Most students take this test while still in law school, usually after completing their Professional Responsibility course. The scaled score on this test, for Maryland, is 85 or above.
The State Board of Examiners administers the bar exam in Maryland, and the state uses the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). The UBE lasts for two days, and like most states, it takes place twice a year. The essay portion of the test can cover a range of law topics, including:
- Constitutional law
- Secured transactions
- Family law
- Civil law
- Real property
- Criminal law
Maryland adds in a required element to the bar exam, the Maryland Law Component (MLC), a multiple-choice test that can be taken online. The MLC requires a score of 40 out of 50 in a 90-minute attempt.
The Character and Fitness Review Process
Maryland has a very detailed and strict character and fitness review process that determines who qualifies for admittance to the Maryland bar. Three separate entities evaluate the applicant’s character and fitness. The three entities are the Character Committee, the State Board of Law Examiners, and the Maryland Court of Appeals.
The Maryland Court of Appeals appoints members to the Character Committee in each judicial circuit. A member of the Committee must interview every applicant seeking admission to the bar. If the member of the Character Committee concludes there are possible grounds for denying a bar application, the candidate will be notified in writing.
If that happens, the candidate will have a hearing before a full Character Committee. At the hearing, a candidate will be allowed to testify, to present evidence and other testimony, and has the right to be represented by counsel. Upon completion of the hearing, the Character Committee will make a recommendation.
That recommendation then goes to the State Board of Law Examiners. If the State Board decides to deny admission to the board, the applicant is given notice and an opportunity to withdraw their application. If the applicant does not withdraw, the findings will go to the Board of Appeals.
Common Reasons for Problems With the Character and Fitness Portion
There are any number of reasons that candidates can encounter issues with the character and fitness portion of being admitted to the bar. One important thing to remember is that honesty is always the best policy, and the act of omission or failure to disclose information will be viewed as dishonest. There have been many candidates denied bar admission, not because of past behavior, but because they failed to offer full disclosure.
Some of the most common issues that arise in the character and fitness assessment include:
- Academic misconduct
- Misconduct in employment
- False statements, which include omissions
- Acts involving fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
- Abuse of the legal process
- Violating court orders
- Evidence of mental or emotional instability
- Neglect of financial responsibilities
- Criminal history
- Substance abuse issues
There are only a few states that disqualify those with felonies from admittance to the bar. Jurisdictions allow for the possibility of admitting those with a criminal history, but it will depend on the crime committed and the most recent behavior of the applicant.
Ethics experts contend that the most important decisions of the character and fitness assessments focus on the risk to the general public, and the honest and ethical behavior of the applicant. That can be a bit more challenging when the cause for concern is not one incident, but a combination of smaller issues.
Practicing Law in Maryland
To practice law in Maryland, an attorney will have completed the pre-legal education and been admitted to an American Bar Association-approved law school. Then they must graduate from the approved law school and pass the bar exam. The attorney will also have proven that they are of good moral character and fitness and completed a mandatory professionalism course.
The strenuous requirements for Maryland attorneys are to ensure that the public can trust that attorneys in the state are competent in the practice of law.