Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in Colorado
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Pursue your Colorado Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- Find Law Schools in Colorado
- Take the Colorado State Bar Exam and become an Attorney
- Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Colorado Bar
Colorado Law Career Info
The Colorado Bar Association reports 18,000 members, totaling 73 percent of all active attorneys in the state. Members practice in a wide variety of legal specializations, including agricultural/rural law, business law, communications/technology law, criminal law, disability law, environmental law, family law, immigration law, juvenile law, labor/employment law, real estate law, trust/estate law, and water law. The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) of the U.S. Department of Labor reports the annual mean salary of Colorado lawyers in May 2011 at $131,800. There are 5.19 lawyers per 1000 people in Colorado. If you would like to become one of them, keep reading.
Pursue Your Colorado Undergraduate Pre-Law Major
The Colorado Supreme Court Board of Law Examiners has not ruled that applicants to the state bar have any pre-legal education. But, because you must graduate from an American Bar Association (ABA) – accredited law school in order to become a bar member, you must have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree. ABA-approved law schools require this for entrance.
Your undergraduate institution must be accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Requirements and Standards
Law schools encourage undergraduate study in any field, with no undergraduate major being better suited for future law school students than another. The ABA has recommended (but does not require) certain coursework that may help pre-law students. This includes:
- Political Science
You must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to enter an ABA-accredited law school. The major of your degree is not specified, but any major taken from or related to the above coursework would be helpful to your future in law school.
Take the Colorado LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
All ABA-accredited law schools insist that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to enrollment. The six-hour test is offered four times annually at testing centers around the globe.
How to prepare
The LSAT website offers a variety of free study resources and materials to help you prepare for the LSAT. Other options for LSAT preparation include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Colorado:
- LSAT Test Prep, Kaplan Testing Center, University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Denver
- LSAT Prep Classes, GetPrepped!, University of Colorado at Boulder, Metropolitan State College of Denver and Colorado State University in Fort Collins
- LSAT Prep Course, TestMasters, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins
- LSAT Prep, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
- Low Cost LSAT Prep Course, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
The LSAT is engineered to test abilities and skills that are necessary to be a success in law school and in your future career as a lawyer. These skills include:
- Reading and comprehending complex texts
- Verbal reasoning skills
- Organizing and managing information
- Drawing inferences from texts
- Thinking critically
- Analyzing and evaluating others’ arguments and reasoning
You must apply online to take the LSAT and pay the examination fee of $160. The test is given on Wednesdays and Saturdays in December, October, June and February. These testing centers in Colorado administer the LSAT:
- University of Colorado, 20 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309
- Pikes Peak Community College, 5675 S. Academy Blvd, Colorado Springs, CO 80906
- University of Denver Sturm College of Law, 2255 East Evans Avenue, Denver, CO 80208
- Fort Lewis College, 1000 Rim Drive, Durango, CO 81301
- Colorado Mountain College – Edwards, 802 Grand Ave, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
- Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523
- Colorado Mesa University, 1100 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501-1322
- University of Northern Colorado, 501 20 St., Greeley, CO 80639
- Western State College, 600 N. Adams St., Gunnison, CO 81231
- Colorado State University – Pueblo, 2200 Bonforte Blvd, Pueblo, CO 81001-4901
Receiving Your Score
The Law School Admission Council will email your LSAT scores to you about 21 days after you take the exam. The following are the median LSAT scores for students applying to Colorado law schools:
- University of Colorado School of Law: 164
- University of Denver Sturm College of Law: 159
Go to Law School in Colorado
Passing the LSAT places you at the next step in the process of becoming a lawyer in Colorado. Now, you may apply to ABA-approved law schools. There are over 200 ABA-approved law schools in the United States, and each of them requires different things when you apply. Check out this list of application services required by ABA-approved law schools.
Credential Assembly Service
One of the things you might notice on the list above of requirements for application to ABA-approved law schools are the initials “CAS.” This stands for the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service, and virtually all ABA-approved law schools require that you use this service when applying for enrollment.
The CAS helps you to organize your credentials and streamlines the application process for applicants and law schools. Using the online account that you created with the LSAC when you signed up for the LSAT, you can upload college transcripts, writing samples, letters of recommendation, and other necessary documents. The CAS will gather these documents and compile a brief summary of the undergraduate institutions you attended. The CAS then creates law school report(s) and sends them electronically to the law schools to which you apply (electronic applications to ABA-approved law schools are also submitted through the CAS).
CAS can also be used to verify and evaluate transcripts for college credit earned outside of the U.S. or Canada. If you are unable to upload your college transcripts, you may send them to the Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993. International transcripts must be sent to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502.
The LSAC charges a fee of $155 for its Credential Assembly Service.
The Colorado Supreme Court Board of Law Examiners has ruled that, in order to take the examination to become a member of the bar, you should have graduated with your first professional law degree from an ABA-accredited law school. (There are rules for graduates from unaccredited or foreign law schools, which will be discussed later). The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools lists ABA-approved law schools in the United States. Under the Board’s rules, you need not graduate from an ABA-approved law school in Colorado, as long as the school is ABA-approved and in the United States, its territories, or Canada.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Colorado
Two law schools in Colorado hold ABA approval as of 2012:
- University of Colorado Law School, UCB 403, Wolf Law Building, Boulder, CO 80309-0403
- University of Denver Sturm College of Law, 2255 E. Evans Avenue, Suite 115, Denver, CO 80208
Foundation courses that you will find in an ABA-approved law school will include contracts, civil law and procedure, criminal law and procedure, writing, real property, torts, Constitutional law, and the history and goals of the legal profession. Additionally, Colorado requires that you complete a six-hour course in professionalism within six months of bar admission. This course must be jointly sponsored by the Colorado Bar Association and the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and will count towards your first Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirement. To find courses, click here.
In addition to these basic law courses, Colorado law schools also offer coursework and concentrations in the following areas:
- Lawyering process
- Environmental and natural resources law
- International legal studies
- Business law
- Trial advocacy
- American Indian law
- Public interest
- Intellectual property law
Online Law Degrees
You will participate in a field placement during your law school years. This may place you into a real law office, government setting, or another work setting for lawyers. Often, law schools offer clinics in which you get the chance to work with a specific population of clientele. These may include entrepreneurs, community law, environmental law, mediation and arbitration, and research centers. You may have the opportunity to represent indigent clients in litigation, under the supervision of faculty and/or supervisors in an on-the-job-setting.
The Colorado Supreme Court Board of Law Examiners says that you must have your first professional law degree from an ABA-accredited law school. This is commonly known as a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree.
Unaccredited Law Schools
If you attended an un-ABA accredited law school, you may still be eligible for admission to the Colorado bar examination. You must meet the following criteria:
- Your law school must be state-accredited
- You must have been admitted to the bar in another jurisdiction in the U.S.
- You must have practiced law in that jurisdiction for five of the past seven years
Foreign Law Schools
Did you attend law school outside of the United States? You may still be able to sit for the Colorado bar exam if you meet these requirements:
- You have your first professional law degree from a law school located in a common law, English-speaking country
- You were admitted to the bar of that country
- You practiced as a lawyer in that country for five of the past seven years
- You have filed a petition for determination of eligibility with the Colorado Board of Law Examiners
Take the Colorado State Bar Exam
You are now ready to apply to take the Colorado bar exam. You may apply to take the exam prior to completing law school, but must make sure that your law school verifies this on the application and sends verification to the Board when you receive your J.D. degree. Download the Application to Take the Colorado Bar Exam here.
Because Colorado uses the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), much information on preparing for the national portions of the exam may be found at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. The UBE consists of the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). If you would like to take a preparation course, check out the resources below:
- Dan Wilson Bar Prep, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
- Nilas Bar Review, Littleton
- Kaplan Bar Review, online
- Practicing Law Institute Multistate Bar Review, online
The Colorado Bar Exam lasts for two days – Tuesday and Wednesday. There are three sections to the bar exam:
- Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) – six hour multiple-choice test of 200 questions, two sessions of three hours each. Subjects: Contracts, Real Property, Criminal Law, Torts, Evidence, and Constitutional Law
- Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) – three hours and forty-five minutes for nine short-answer essay questions. Subjects: Business Associations, Evidence, Commercial Transactions, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Public Law, Real Property, Torts, and Wills, Estates and Trusts.
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT) – two 90-minute questions that require you to use lawyering skills. Subjects: Legal Analysis, Fact Analysis, Awareness of Professional Responsibility, Problem Solving, Research, and Writing
Download the Application to Take the Colorado Bar Exam. Along with the typed, signed, notarized and completed application:
- Submit the Certification of Law School Graduation form (in application packet) to your law school and instruct them to return it to the Board to verify your graduation
- If you need to report a Change of Address after filing the form, use the Change of Address form (in application packet)
- If you need to make changes to your application after filing, use the Application Amendment form (in application packet)
- List all employer information and references accurately, as the Board will obtain a credit report as part of its background investigation
- Enclose an official copy of your driving record (obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles or Public Safety)
- On the Cover Page (in application packet):
- Complete this page in pen
- Include exam month and year you are applying for
- Include if you want left- or right-hand seating
- Include if you will be taking the essay exam by writing or your own laptop ($100 must be added to exam fee if using own laptop)
- Include if you are requesting testing accommodations
- Include if you have already taken the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and if so, your score
- Include if your law school was ABA-accredited when you received your J.D. degree
All information must be mailed to Colorado Supreme Court, Board of Law Examiners, 1560 Broadway, Suite 1820, Denver, CO 80202
Filing Deadlines and Fees
If you plan to take the February exam, you may not file your application until after September 1, and the deadline to file is December 1.
If you plan to take the July exam, you may not file your application until February 1, and the deadline to file is May 1.
If you are not a licensed attorney, the fee to take the exam and obtain a credit report is $485. If you are taking the exam on your laptop, add $100. Checks must be payable to the Colorado Board of Examiners. If you are filing your application after the deadline (up to Dec. 31 or May 31), add a $200 late fee.
The Board reports the overall passing rate for the February 2012 Colorado bar exam as 71 percent. Adaptibar reports the following passing rates for previous Colorado bar exams:
- 2011: 79%
- 2010: 74%
- 2009: 74%
- 2008: 73%
- 2007: 69%
- 2006: 68%
- 2005: 68%
- 2004: 65%
- 2003: 70%
- 2002: 71%
The Board also requires that you complete a six-hour course in professionalism within six months of bar admission. Jointly sponsored by the Colorado Bar Association and the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, this course counts towards your first Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirement. To find courses, click here.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
You must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) with a scaled score of at least 85 before you will be admitted to the Colorado bar. The MPRE is given in Boulder and Denver in March, August and November. See the link above to apply for its next administration.
Admission by UBE Score Achieved in Another State
If you took the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) in another state within the past two years, you may qualify for admission to the Colorado bar without taking the Colorado bar exam. You must meet the following requirements:
- Passed the UBE with a minimum scaled score of 276
- Took the UBE two years ago, or if you have taken it between two and five years ago, you must have been actively engaged in the practice of law for that time
Admission on Motion
You may be admitted on motion to the Colorado bar if you are licensed as a lawyer in another jurisdiction and meet these requirements:
- You hold your first professional law degree from an ABA-approved law school
- You are a member in good standing of the bar of another jurisdiction
- You have actively practiced law in that jurisdiction for five of the last seven years
- The jurisdiction in which you are licensed would allow reciprocal licensing of Colorado lawyers without the need to take that jurisdiction’s bar exam
- You passed the MPRE with a scaled score of 85 within the past two years
- You completed the six-hour course on professionalism required by the Board
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
You will be mailed your bar exam results about three months after the exam. If you passed, you need to attend the next mandatory admission ceremony, pay a $40 licensing fee, and take and sign the oath of admission before the Clerk of the Supreme Court. Information on the upcoming ceremony will be sent with your passing exam scores.
Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Colorado Bar
You are now a licensed lawyer and official member of the Colorado bar! If you are under the age of 38 or have been admitted to your first bar for less than three years, you are also automatically a member of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Colorado Bar Association. This group can help you in setting up your own solo practice, finding a job within an existing firm or company, or deciding which direction to take in your new career as a Colorado attorney.
Colorado has its share of well-known and nationally famous law firms, as evidenced by inclusion of 258 of them in the recent U.S. News & World Report list of “Best Law Firms.” While it is impossible to list all 258 law firms that made the cut, some names that stand out include Alderman Bernstein LLC in Denver, Joseph Law Firm PC in Aurora, Holland & Hart LLP in Boulder, Bryan Cave LLP in Colorado Springs, Metier Law Firm LLC in Fort Collins, Fontana & Associates PC in Littleton, and Banks & Imatani PC in Lakewood.
Would you like to give back to others as you start your burgeoning law career? Many nonprofit organizations and legal assistance agencies would love to have your help. These include Colorado Legal Services, Denver Center for Crime Victims, San Luis Vally Bar Association Pro Bono Project, Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People, Colorado Lawyers Helping Lawyers, Colorado Center on Law & Policy, and Arvada Teen Court. If you would like more information on any of these organizations, contact the Colorado Bar Foundation at 303-824-5318 or email email@example.com.
Legal specialty certification
There are numerous areas of legal specialization in which you can become certified through the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification. These include civil, criminal, and family law; social security disability advocacy, and civil trial law advocacy. Contact Thomas Overton, the Colorado State Coordinator of the NBLSC, at 303-832-1120 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Additionally, Colorado houses an organization that provides board certification in child welfare law, the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC). For more information, contact the NACC at 888-828-NACC or by email at advocate@NACCchildlaw.org.
Requirements for maintaining license
In order to maintain your legal license in Colorado, you must fulfill Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements. This amounts to completing 45 hours of credit every three years, including seven hours in ethics. More information on MCLE and reporting may be found here.
Court Systems in Colorado
The Colorado State Judicial Branch Court System consists of Trial Courts and Appellate Courts.
- Trial Courts:
- Water Courts- these courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases relating to the determination of water rights, use and administration of water, and all other water matters. Seven water courts exist in each of the major river basins in Colorado:
- Division 1: Greeley
- Division 2: Pueblo/Colorado Springs
- Division 3: Alamosa
- Division 4: Delta/Montrose/Gunnison
- Division 5: Glenwood Springs
- Division 6: Steamboat Springs/Hot Sulphur Springs
- Division 7: Durango
- County Courts- these courts exist in each of Colorado’s counties and hear civil cases under $15,000, misdemeanors, traffic infractions, felony complaints, protection orders, and small claims.
- District Courts- these courts hear civil cases in any amount, domestic relations cases, criminal, juvenile, probate, and mental health cases. There are 22 judicial districts in Colorado:
- 1st: Gilpin and Jefferson Counties
- 2nd: Denver County
- 3rd: Huerfano and Las Animas Counties
- 4th: El Paso and Teller Counties
- 5th: Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit Counties
- 6th: Archuleta, San Juan and La Plata Counties
- 7th: Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel Counties
- 8th: Jackson and Larimer Counties
- 9th: Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco Counties
- 10th: Pueblo County
- 11th: Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park Counties
- 12th: Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral and Rio Counties
- 13th: Kit Carson, Logan, Morgan Sedgwick, Washington, Yuma and Phillips Counties
- 14th: Grand, Moffat and Routt Counties
- 15th: Baca, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Prowers Counties
- 16th: Bent, Crowley and Otero Counties
- 17th: Adams and Broomfield Counties
- 18th: Arapahoe, Elbert, Douglas and Lincoln Counties
- 19th: Weld County
- 20th: Boulder County
- 21st: Mesa County
- 22nd: Dolores and Montezuma Counties
- Denver Juvenile Court- located at 520 West Colfax Avenue, Room 125, Denver CO 80204, hears juvenile cases in the city and county of Denver
- Denver Probate Court- hears all matters of probate, settlements of estates of deceased persons, appointment of guardians, conservators and administrators, and settlement of their accounts, and the adjudication of the mentally ill in the city and county of Denver. Located at 1437 Bannock, Room 230, Denver, CO 80202.
- Appellate Courts:
- Colorado Court of Appeals- 22 judges sit on this court, the first court of appeals for decisions from the district courts, Denver Probate Court, and Denver Juvenile Court. It also reviews decisions of state administrative agencies. It is located at 101 West Colfax Ave., Suite 800, Denver, CO 80202
- Colorado Supreme Court – this is the state’s court of last resort that usually hears appeals from the Court of Appeals or cases petitioned directly to the Supreme Court. Seven justices sit on this court, located at 101 West Colfax Avenue, Suite 800
Denver, CO 80202.
Elective membership organizations
Now that you have your Colorado law license, think about becoming a member of one of these elective professional membership associations:
- Colorado Trial Lawyers Association
- Colorado Defense Lawyers Association
- Colorado Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association
- El Paso County Bar Association (or your county bar association)
- Colorado Women’s Bar Association