What is the Board of Law Examiners?

Terry Masters

The Board of Law Examiners is the judicial entity responsible for controlling the process by which a candidate gains a license to practice law. In the U.S., the judiciary of each state regulates the practice of law within the state’s jurisdiction. To become a licensed lawyer, law school graduates must pass a state exam, called a bar exam, and a character and fitness evaluation. Both of these exams are overseen by the Board of Law Examiners.

Legal library.
Legal library.

All Board of Law Examiners are an extension of a state's judiciary system, but how they are set up differs from state to state. In some states, the Board is an office or committee of the highest court of the state that controls both bar admission and continuing membership. Other states separate bar admissions from membership, maintaining offices for each within the judiciary. In a third scenario, some states have established a unified bar association for admission and membership as a separate public corporation controlled by the judiciary and to which all lawyers in the state must belong. The Board of Law Examiners of a state with a unified bar association is a committee or division of the public corporation.

A courthouse.
A courthouse.

Each state judiciary establishes rules for admission to the bar of the state. The Board of Law Examiners is responsible for applying those rules. A state bar examination is administered at regular intervals to identify candidates qualified to practice law in the state. If the candidate passes the exam, the Board of Law Examiners then evaluates the candidate’s educational background, credentials, and character and fitness to practice law.

Typically, the Board of Law Examiners of a state is comprised of at least seven members of the bar that are appointed to the position by the highest court in the state. The examiners serve for a set term and can usually be reappointed. The office of the law examiners performs administrative and applicative functions, including setting dates for the administration of the bar exam, processing bar applications, certifying candidates to the state supreme court for licensing, and conducting swearing in ceremonies.

To standardize the admission to the bar across states, each state Board to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The NCBE is a nonprofit organization that works to establish uniform standards of education and character for admission to the practice of law. The organization provides standardized testing material and conducts character and fitness investigations for the Board of Law Examiners of participating states. The NCBE also provides training and continuing education to the members of state Boards and prepares and disseminates information on bar admission standards and practices across states.

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