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Cheating on the Bar Exam: What Every Candidate Should Know


The bar exam is a grueling rite of passage for aspiring lawyers. Passing it facilitates entry into the legal profession. However, some exam takers resort to cheating despite the serious consequences of doing so. The legal profession depends on lawyers, and those wishing to become lawyers, upholding rigorous ethical standards. Cheating on the bar exam violates those key principles and can result in significant sanctions. This post examines some examples of cheating, security violations, and their potential ramifications.

Why is cheating taken so seriously? Understand that as lawyers we are granted certain status and privileges by the courts. We are allowed to hold large sums of money for people in disputes, and for clients who depend on us to act honestly regarding their money in our fiduciary capacity on their behalf. Lawyers do not need to swear to the truth of their statements and are granted status as notaries, realtors, etc. Our honesty and our willingness to put the interests of our clients, the public, and the courts is mandated and presumed. Someone willing to cheat on the bar exam is demonstrating their lack of these requisite standards.

Bringing in Unauthorized Materials

Some exam takers attempt to sneak in notes or other study material contrary to exam rules. For example, we have seen written materials hidden in clothing, under bandages, etc. Proctors are trained to notice such things, and if caught, examinees face up to a 5 year disqualification in New York before they can retake the exam. They can also be permanently banned from taking the exam I New York.

Getting Help from Others During the Exam

Some students read from other student answers or smuggle in cell phones, which are banned in New York, to search for answers. Some bar applicants were caught paying stand-ins to take the exam for them. These serious acts of dishonesty and deception can result in significant penalties, including a permanent ban.

Security Rule Violations

Another source of exam violations are inadvertent violations of the Board of Law Examiner’ Security Rules. Unintentionally bringing prohibited material into the exam room, looking at another test takers exam to see how far ahead they are, failing to stop writing when told to do so, etc. can result in your exam being voided and you being barred for a period of time before retaking the exam. Exam takers must be completely certain they understand and abide by all security protocols and rules.

The Impact of Cheating on the Bar Exam

The preamble to New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct emphasizes that “integrity and honorable conduct should characterize the profession.” Lawyers serve as fiduciaries and officers of the court, so honesty is imperative.

Every Professional Conduct regulatory scheme mandates candor and truthfulness by lawyers. ABA Model Rule 8.4 states it is professional misconduct to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Cheating demonstrates a propensity to violate the critical duty of honesty and candor expected of lawyers. As officers of the court and an integral part of our system of justice, lawyers must have respect for all laws, rules and regulations. Law students who fail in this regard will be sanctioned.

Cheating also indicates a serious character flaw in law applicants. Applicants who cheat on the Bar Exam are likely as lawyers to ignore their ethical obligations for self-interest. Lawyers are charged with putting the interests of their clients above their own personal and professional interests. decisions with integrity daily. Dishonest exam tactics suggest future ethical breaches and raise serious doubts about character and fitness to join our profession.

Undermining Integrity of Exam

Cheating threatens the integrity of the bar exam itself. The test aims to ensure only ethical and competent applicants join the profession. One basic tenant of the legal profession is respecting laws and rules. Circumventing the rules via cheating jeopardizes the exam’s purpose and demonstrates a lack of respect for law. It shows willingness to violate rules for personal gain.

Consequences of Getting Caught

The repercussions of cheating on the bar exam are severe and multifaceted.

For Exam Takers

  • Failing the exam: Getting caught cheating usually results in your exam being voided without being scored.
  • Ban from retaking: Most jurisdictions impose multi-year bans on retesting after cheating.  In New York the usual ban can be between 6 months and 5 years.  This greatly delays starting one’s career, and will require re-preparing for the exam and repeating the entire exam.
  • Potential National Ban:  When an exam taker caught cheating in one jurisdiction, that information will be shared with any other jurisdiction they may have or will apply to.
  • Potential grievance:  If an admitted lawyer from an outside jurisdiction is caught cheating, that will be reported to the bar where they are admitted for disciplinary evaluation.
  • Bar admission denial: Character and fitness boards may recommend denial of admission even if the exam is eventually retaken and passed.  While that is not the norm, what is likely is a hearing by the Character and Fitness Committee to determine the applicant’s character in light of the cheating.  This will delay your admission, require retention of counsel, and the burden of proof that you have the requisite character to be admitted is on you.


As a future lawyer you must approach the exam in a professional and ethical manner.  This means you must be prepared for the exam itself.  By being fully confident in your preparation will help you avoid the temptation to cheat.

Understand that the exam proctors are trained and watching.  If they suspect you are cheating, they will document it and report you after the exam is over.  And they will be believed.  However, as humans they can make mistakes in evaluating your actions.  Avoid taking any action that, even if innocent, could be interpreted as cheating.

Read the rules.  The rules for taking the exam are extensive and detailed.  It is your responsibility to make sure you are acting within the exam rules and the security rules, as a violation can result in a significant sanction. Ignorance is no excuse.  Be prepared for the exam itself, and fully understand the rules and protocols in taking the exam before you enter the exam room.

Cheating on the bar exam can derail or seriously impair your legal career before it begins. Any exam taker hoping to join our profession must understand that getting caught cheating on the bar exam will be raised again within the character and fitness portion of the admission process, and could delay or eliminate your admission.

At McDonough & McDonough, our attorneys understand the challenges aspiring lawyers face. We assist clients in all matters related to bar admissions, character and fitness review, and professional discipline. Our goal is to help you become, and stay, a valued member of our profession.

Contact us today at 516-980-3692 for trusted guidance. McDonough & McDonough attorneys have the experience to advise law students and lawyers navigating admissions and ethics issues. Schedule a consultation and let us help you make the right choices.