Barbitrage in Vermont. A wacky idea for people trying to get a jump on bar membership.

Posted 5 months ago

For enterprising law students who want to start practicing law the day they graduate from law school, the Green Mountain State provides an interesting opportunity.  Here’s how: unlike most states, which require students to be law school grads before sitting, in Vermont, a law student can sit for the bar after only five semesters of law school.  Vermont is also one of the 34 states that now uses the Uniform Bar Examination.  UBE states allow for score portability with other UBE jurisdictions.  Thus, a student with a sufficient UBE score in Vermont could automatically become a member of the Rhode Island, Connecticut, or Maine bars with no additional tests.  Others UBE states include Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and, beginning in 2019, Illinois (these require a relatively easy state-specific test on top of the UBE).  

Vermont only charges $300 to sit for their bar.  So, a law student can make the trip to Burlington, at the end of February, take an actual bar exam for little more than the cost of a test exam.  In 2018, Vermont reported its February results on April 16.  Given that law school graduation is typically in mid-May, this would give students from states that accept the UBE several weeks to request the score transfer and meet the local requirements (which typically include the requirement of graduating law school) before getting to work.

Why does this matter?  It means being available 3 months before classmates to work; the ability to work as a lawyer for the federal government (or other jobs that just require admission to any bar); it means avoiding a stressful summer of studying, followed by 2-3 stressful months of awaiting results; it means being able to work in 34 states with little-to-no further requirement; it means saving several thousand dollars on bar prep courses.

What’s the downside? Less than $1000 for people within driving distance of Vermont (assuming $300 for the bar exam; 2 nights hotel in Burlington, meals, and throw in a one-day ski pass to unwind the next day), but, at a minimum, they get the experience of a “practice” bar exam under real conditions.  Seems like a good option for self-starters with a big upside.