The Cost of Taking the Texas Bar Exam

Most people, including us, study for the bar full-time for ten weeks. That means no work and no income—and a lot of expenses.

Photo credit: Jonathan Trumbull, CC BY 2.0.

Last month, my partner and I took the Texas Bar Exam in Austin. The well of student loan funds had all but dried up, and we were living on $4,000 that my partner had astoundingly managed to squirrel away during law school and a loan from my parents. The $4,000 had to move us across the country from Boston to Texas, get us settled in our new home, and—thanks to a weird school schedule that necessitated moving before we actually graduated—fly back from Texas to Boston for our graduation.

Graduation from law school felt anti-climactic for both of us, because looming on the other side of finally becoming a J.D. was the most insurmountable obstacle before becoming a lawyer: the bar exam. We knew the bar exam would be emotionally and physically taxing, but we didn’t realize quite how financially burdensome it would be.

In Texas, the bar exam is a three-day long marathon that includes a simulated legal writing and research assignment, 40 short answer questions, 200 multiple choice questions, and 12 essays. Most people, including us, study for the bar full-time for ten weeks. That means no work and no income. It also, for most people, means spending upwards of $3,000 on a bar prep course because very little of the information you need to know to pass the bar exam is information you actually learn in law school.

In Texas, the bar is administered only in a couple of cities, and none of those cities are the city in which I live. We ended up signing up to take the exam in Austin, a quick eight-hour drive from our home. Between prep materials, travel, and actual registration costs, the bar exam cost us a small fortune during a time when neither of us had an income. Both of us taking the bar exam at the same time was both a blessing and a curse; testing together meant we saved on things like hotel rooms and gas and let us commiserate with each other about studying, but it also meant that neither of us could bring in any income and our combined finances had to pay for both of our bar expenses.

Here’s the cost breakdown for both my partner and me:

Bar Prep Course: $580

Almost everyone takes a commercial bar preparation course to study for the bar. This was especially integral for us because we were taking the bar exam in a new state, which meant that we weren’t familiar with many of the Texas law distinctions that would be tested. The quickest way to get familiar with what we needed to know was to take the course. Because there were no live classes in our city, we opted for an online course.

Normally, this would have cost us $3,995 each. Luckily, both my partner and I were on-campus representatives for this particular bar review course during law school, which ostensibly meant that we each received free access to the class, but in actuality cost us $580. This cost came from down payments we each made during our 1L year to “lock-in” our cost before we became reps.

Shipping for the 42 pounds of books provided by our bar review course: $50

CriticalPass Flashcards: $100

The almost $4,000 bar prep course does not actually include everything you might need to learn the black letter law, so we supplemented with reviewed study aids.

Law in a Flash Flashcards: $36.05

This seemed like a great price for two large boxes of flashcards designed to drill in the most tested nuances.

MBE Book: $41.87

The 200-question multiple choice test, known as the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) is notoriously difficult, and I could not for the life of me seem to hit target scores on any property law questions. Fear caused me to shell out for an MBE strategy book that actually did help me improve my scores.

Application for Admission to the Texas Bar: $300

$150 each.

Fee to get fingerprinted as required by the Texas Board of Bar Examiners: $80

$40 each.

Fee charged by the Texas Character and Fitness committee for the mandatory inquiry into our character and fitness to become lawyers: $300

$150 each.

Fee to take the actual bar exam: $190

$95 each.

Late Filing Fee: $300

$150 each, because my Texas job offer didn’t come until after the regular application deadline had already passed.

Fee to apply to take the exam with an approved laptop: $50

$25 each.

Fee to use the mandatory testing software on my laptop during the examination: $250

$125 each.

Office Supplies: approximately $300

Turns out studying for 10–12 hours a day requires that you have a heavily stocked office supply stash. When we first started studying, I set up a study kit for each of us that included two binders, a pencil case filled with pens, #2 pencils, highlighters, a pencil sharpener, an eraser, and post-its. We also went through six packs of 200 index cards, four 4-subject notebooks; four boxes of pens, 2 boxes of pen refills, a Costco-size set of post-its, four binders, four packs of highlighters, a bag of rubber bands, and two packs of loose-leaf paper.

Prescription for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome I developed during studying: $14

Prescription for the panic attacks that worsened exponentially during studying: $6

Gas to and from Austin: $95

Gas was about $1.80 and we have a minivan, so we didn’t get the best mileage.

Hotel in Ft. Stockton, Texas: $91

Because we were nervous about getting to Austin, we made it a two-day trip at the last minute. We left on a Sunday and stayed overnight in Ft. Stockton, halfway to Austin.

Hotel for seven days in Austin: $550

This felt like a really good deal. We skipped the hotels recommended by the board of law examiners, all of which were over $120 a night and instead opted to stay a little further away for a much cheaper price. We were delighted to find that the hotel was in the midst of a renovation that meant that although the outside was ugly, our room was a brand-new, huge suite with a mini kitchen, which meant we had lots of room to study and to store the food we brought with us. We opted to tack a few days on the front and back of the exam to minimize stress and give us a chance to enjoy Austin.

Food for road trip: $85

Instead of stopping for fast food and Starbucks on our drive, we opted to grocery shop beforehand and pack a cooler. We splurged on healthy snacks and cold brew coffee from the grocery store to keep us energized.

Cooler for road trip snacks: $24

Testing lunches: $115

Instead of trying to venture out each day for lunch, we went to Whole Foods on our first night in Austin, bought lunch and snacks for each testing day, and kept them in the cooler in our car.

Parking: $24

It cost $8 per day to park at the convention center where we were testing.

Meals out in Austin: Approximately $120

Drinks at a fancy cocktail bar after the exam was over: $21

ACTUAL COST: $3,698.92

This doesn’t include any of the various life expenses we had to keep paying during studying, but I suppose I could also include the post-bar shopping spree we went on in Austin ($160) and the adoption fee for the puppy we rewarded ourselves with since a “bar trip” was out of the question ($50). Also, the coffee we bought so we could get out of the house and study at Starbucks every once in a while (approximately $80). That would bring the total to $3,988.92.

Bea Bischoff is a civil rights lawyer and writer living in Texas. She tweets at @bea_bisch.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.