State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in District of Columbia

If you want to become a lawyer, the District of Columbia is a great place to get your start. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor notes that the District of Columbia was the top-paying state among all states in which lawyers worked in May 2011. The 29,010 lawyers working in DC at that time averaged an annual mean wage of $161,050. Additionally, the District also had the highest concentration of lawyer jobs of any state in the country, with 45 of every 1000 jobs being lawyers. The American Bar Association reported 49,207 active resident attorneys working in DC in 2010 and 50,440 in 2011. If you want to start a career as a lawyer in the District of Columbia, following the steps in this document will help you to achieve your goal.
 

Step 1

Get Your DC Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

The Committee on Admissions of the District of Columbia Courts  handles over 3500 applications to the District of Columbia Bar each year. There are three ways to join the DC Bar: apply for admission by examination, apply for admission by motion (without examination) and apply to become a special legal consultant (SLC). First, we will cover the examination route, as it is the most common way to become a member of the DC Bar. Later in Step 4 of this document, we will cover the other two methods of admission to the bar.

The Committee on Admission does not require that you graduate from an American Bar Association approved law school, nor is specific pre-legal education required. However, if you later wish to be enrolled in an ABA-approved law school, the undergraduate pre-legal education you receive should include at least a bachelor’s degree and be from an accredited institution.

Accreditation

Check to make sure that the undergraduate college or university you attend is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This type of accreditation may be on the national or regional level, and will assist you in your later quest for acceptance into a law school, whether or not that school is ABA-approved. 

Requirements and Standards

Because the District of Columbia does not mandate pre-legal education of any type, it has set no requirements or standards for such. The American Bar Association has noted that undergraduate pre-legal education should cover certain areas, however. Topics that you should study during your undergraduate years to improve your chances of law school success include:

  • History
  • Politics
  • Government
  • Economics
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Mathematics
  • Cultural diversity

Degree Options

The District of Columbia’s Committee on Admission does not require that you obtain any kind of pre-legal degree, nor does it require that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school. However, if you do wish to become enrolled in an ABA-approved law school, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. Your major may be in any area you choose, but if it is in one of the above-mentioned areas, you should fare better in law school.

Pre Law Advisor

If you choose to complete undergraduate pre-law education, your school may offer a Pre-Law Advisor. This person will help you in choosing the courses and major that will best prepare you for law school.

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Step 2

Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in DC

The District of Columbia’s Committee on Admission does not require that you graduate from a law school that is approved by the American Bar Association to become a DC bar member. However, most law schools, both ABA-approved and non-approved, require you to pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to law school admission. Check your intended school’s examination requirements to make sure.

How to prepare

Preparing for the LSAT may be done by studying free materials at the LSAT website and by taking their practice tests. You may also opt to enroll in LSAT examination preparation courses offered in the District of Columbia, each of which charges a fee for enrollment.
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in District of Columbia:

Exam content

Three major areas are tested in the LSAT:

  • Reading Comprehension –tests  your level of understanding of a reading sample and ability to apply principles
  • Analytical Reasoning – tests your ability to decipher relationship structures and answer a series of questions based upon those structures
  • Logical Reasoning – tests your ability to read an argument and find flaws or draw conclusions from that argument

Application process

The LSAT is given in the United States twice weekly in February, June, October and December. The LSAT is not offered on each date at each testing center, so when you apply online, make sure the center at which you wish to take the test offers it on the day of your choice. Testing centers in the District of Columbia include:

  • Washington College of Law, American University, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016
  • Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20064
  • University of District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, Building 52, 4200 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
  • Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057
  • Howard University, 2400 Sixth St, Washington, DC 20059

Fees

The fee to take the LSAT is $160 (as of April 2012). You may pay this fee online by credit card at registration, or by mailing a check or money order to the Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, Newtown, PA 18940.

Receiving Your Score

The Law School Admission Council will email your scores to you three weeks post-exam. The lowest possible LSAT score is 120, and the highest, 180. If for some reason you wish to cancel your LSAT scores on exam day, a box on the answer sheet may be checked. If you decide up to six days after the test to cancel your scores, this may be done so in writing by mailing the Law School Admission Council, Score Cancellation, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 2000-T, Newtown, PA 18940-0995 or by faxing your cancellation request to 215-968-1277. The LSAC will email you once they have canceled your scores.

Limitations

You may take the LSAT a maximum of three times every two years, even if you cancel your scores. To request to take the exam more than three times in 24 months, email an attachment to LSACinfo@LSAC.org requesting the date you would like to retake the LSAT, or fax your request to 215-968-1277. The LSAC will email you with their decision to deny or approve your request to retake the test.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in District of Columbia

Application process

Once you have passed the LSAT, you are ready to apply for entrance into law school. If you are applying to a law school accredited by the  ABA, consult  this list of services that each school requires for admission. If you are applying to a non-ABA approved law school, contact your school directly for its requirements.

Credential Assembly Service

ABA-approved law schools (and some non-ABA approved law schools) require that you utilize the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Take the following steps to use the CAS:

  • Transcripts: Request that every institution you have attended, whether you received a degree or just took classes, send official transcripts directly to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 2000-M, Newtown PA 18940-0993. If you attended any school outside of the United States, its territories, or Canada, request that these transcripts be mailed to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502
  • Letters of Recommendation and Evaluation Services: The LSAC will help you to assemble recommendation letters and obtain online evaluations on your behalf. You must provide the LSAC with names of recommenders and evaluators, their contact information, the number of letters each person plans to provide, and to which law schools you wish for each letter and evaluation to be submitted.
  • Fee: It costs $155 to use the CAS. You may pay the fee to the LSAC online. This fee is used to create your transcript summarization, law school reports, process evaluations and recommendation letters, and apply electronically to the law schools you choose.

Accreditation

The District of Columbia Committee on Admission does not mandate that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school. If you choose to apply to an ABA-accredited school, there are about 200 across the United States from which you may choose. The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools can help you decide where to apply.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in District of Columbia

The following District of Columbia law schools hold ABA accreditation:

Non-ABA Accredited Law Schools

If you choose a non-ABA accredited law school, you may be eligible to take the DC Bar Exam if you complete a minimum of 26 semester hours in subjects that are tested on the exam. These semester hours must be earned at an ABA-approved law school.  You must have these credits approved by the Committee on Admissions, 500 Indiana Avenue N.W., Room 4200, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Online Law Degrees

Foreign Law Schools

If you graduate from a foreign law school, you may be eligible to take the DC Bar Exam if you complete a minimum of 26 semester hours in subjects that are tested on the exam. These semester hours must be earned at an ABA-approved law school. You must have these credits approved by the Committee on Admissions, 500 Indiana Avenue N.W., Room 4200, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Course requirements

Topics that you will be tested on when you take the DC Bar Exam are mandatory to cover in your law school education. They include:

  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts and sales
  • Evidence
  • Criminal law/procedures
  • Torts
  • Real property
  • Administrative law
  • Agency
  • Uniform Commercial Code
  • Business associations
  • Equity
  • Conflicts of evidence
  • Estates, trusts, wills
  • Personal property
  • Family  law
  • Civil law/procedures
  • Tax law
  • Legal ethics
  • Washington, DC Legal Code

  Internship

If you attend an ABA-accredited law school, you will participate in an internship, conducted off-site. You will get the chance to hone your legal skills by working in the real world, in a legal clinic, legal office, or other legal setting. Your performance will be reviewed by staff of your law school and by an on-site supervisor.

Degree Programs

The District of Columbia Committee on Admissions requires that you have at least a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree or an L.L.M.  (Master of Laws) degree to be eligible to sit for the district’s bar exam. There are other legal degrees you may earn that do not render you eligible to take the exam, however, or dual degree programs to increase your marketability and career opportunities after graduation. These include:

  • Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.) – advanced law degree for those who already have a law degree and wish to conduct legal research
  • J.D./Master of Library Science (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Master of Social Work (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Master of Business Administration (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Master of Public Policy (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Master of Science in Foreign Service (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Masters of Arts in Government (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Doctor of Philosophy (dual degree program)
  • J.D./Master of Public Health (dual degree program)

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Step 4

Take the DC State Bar Exam

 You are now ready to apply to take the District of Columbia Bar Exam. It is offered twice a year in February and July in a two-day period.

Preparation

Various organizations throughout the DC area offer bar exam preparation courses and workshops. It is to your advantage to complete all of the preparation courses and simulations you can before taking the bar exam. Preparation resources include:

Exam content

The District of Columbia Bar Exam is given over a two-day period in February and July. Three parts exist to the exam:

  • Multistate Performance Test (MPT): you must answer three questions, 90 minutes for each, on fact analysis, legal analysis, problem solving, organizing and managing a lawyer’s task, resolving ethical problems, and communication
  • Multistate Essay Exam (MEE): six essay questions over three hours, covering six of the following ten subject areas:
    • Agency and Partnership
    • Commercial Paper
    • Conflict of Laws
    • Corporations and Limited Liability Companies
    • Decedents’ Estates
    • Family Law
    • Federal Civil Procedure
    • Sales
    • Secured Transactions
    • Trusts and Future Interests
  • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): consists of 100 multiple-choice questions over three hours covering constitutional law, criminal law/procedure, contracts, evidence, torts, and real property.

Application Process

  • File the Bar Exam Application.
    • Answer all registrations questions on the questionnaire
    • If you graduated from an ABA-approved law school with a J.D. degree, have the dean of your school execute Certificate A (included within application packet) with the school seal and submit it with your application. You need not submit a transcript.
    • If you graduated from a non-ABA approved law school, file a Certificate A from that school, a Certificate A from the ABA approved law school where you earned the necessary 26 semester hours, and an official transcript from the ABA approved law school.
    • Submit current credit reports if necessary based upon your answers
    • If you previously took the MBE (within the past 25 months) and achieved a score of 133 or greater, file the MBE Scaled Score Release form (part of application packet)
    • If you previously took the essay portion of the exam (within the past 25 months) and achieved a score of 133 or greater, file the Essay Scaled Score Release Form (part of application packet)
    • Sign the attestation page and have your signature notarized
    • Complete the NCBEX Request for Preparation of a Character Report

Fees and Filing Deadlines

If you are taking the bar exam in February, your filing deadline is in December. If you are taking the bar exam in July, your filing deadline is in May. All fees must accompany your application and be in the form of cashier’s check, money order or certified check only. Fees to be paid are as follows:

  • $100 application filing fee, payable to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals
  • $42 MEE & MPT fee, payable to the National Conference of Bar Examiners
  • $58 MBE fee, payable to the National Conference of Bar Examiners
  • $225 Character Report fee, payable to the National Conference of Bar Examiners

Mail all materials and fees to District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Committee on Admissions, 430 E Street NW, Room 123, Washington, DC 20001. You will receive a letter by mail acknowledging receipt of your application and with your examination ticket.

Pass Rates

According to the Committee on Admissions, the pass rate for first-time Bar Exam takers in July 2011 was 64%. The overall pass rate was 46%. A list of those who passed the exam in July 2011 may be found here.

Special Note About the DC Bar Exam

The District of Columbia Bar grants immediate reciprocity to anyone who passes another jurisdiction's exam, as long as that exam includes the MBE and the applicant gets a scaled score of at least 133.  Therefore, many law school graduates take the bar exam in another jurisdiction and then apply for member ship to the DC Bar based on the results of that exam.

Mandatory Course

Before admission to the Bar, you must complete a Mandatory Course on the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct and District of Columbia Practice. For more information on this course, call 202-626-1315 or 1-877-33-DCBAR, ext. 3315.

Other Ways to Gain Entrance to the DC Bar

Application for Admission by Motion (Without Examination)
You are eligible to be admitted to the bar if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • You are a member in good standing of another state’s Bar
  • You have received a J.D. or L.L.B. degree from an ABA-approved school, received a scaled score of at least 133 on the MBE and a scaled score of 75 or more on the MPRE

If you meet either of these requirements, complete these steps to be admitted to the DC Bar:

  • Complete the Application for Admission Without Examination.
  •  Include fees of $400 payable by certified check, cashier’s check or money order to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals and the NCBEX fee for character report (consult the application for the proper fee for your situation)
  • Have the dean of your law school complete the Law School Certification (included in application packet)
  • Complete the MBE Release form  (part of application packet), if required
  • Attach a copy of MPRE score report if necessary
  • Submit current, original Certificates of Good Standing from all jurisdictions where you are a member of the bar
  • Complete the NCBEX Request for Preparation of a Character Report

Mail all of the above to District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Committee on Admissions, 430 E Street NW, Room 123, Washington, DC 20001.

Application for Special Legal Consultant
You may be admitted to the DC Bar as a Special Legal Consultant (SLC) without passing the Bar Exam if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • You are admitted to practice as an attorney in a foreign country
  • You possess good moral character and general fitness
  • You intend to practice as a SLC in DC and maintain an office there
  • You are at least 26 years old.

If you meet all of these requirements:

  • File the Application for License to Practice as a Special Legal Consultant
  • Include fees of $450 payable by certified check, cashier’s check or money order to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals and $600 payable to the NCBEX for a character investigation
  • Submit all current Certificates of Good Standing from jurisdictions where you are licensed to practice law
  • Provide a summary of the laws and customs of your foreign country

Mail all of the above to District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Committee on Admissions, 430 E Street NW, Room 123, Washington, DC 20001

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

After passing the Bar, you must take the Oath of Admission at a formal ceremony before a panel of judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, to which you will be invited. It will be located in the Ceremonial Courtroom located on the Lower Level of the Historic Courthouse at 430 E Street NW.

Once you have passed the Bar Exam, you may apply for a hand-engraved wall certificate. The fee for this is $40, via certified check, cashier’s check or money order to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals. Mail to Engraved Certificate Office, D.C. Court of Appeals/Committee on Admissions, 430 E Street NW, Room 123, Washington, DC 20001. Processing and delivery of your certificate will take up to four months.

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Step 5

After You Have Passed the DC Bar

Congratulations on being admitted to the District of Columbia Bar! Your career opportunities as a lawyer in DC are limitless, as it is the seat of federal government and of many and various agencies and organizations.

Many law offices, both small and large, exist in DC, as this is one of the top ten legal cities in the United States. Some newly licensed attorneys choose to join a larger practice to enter the world of DC law. A few of the more famous DC area law firms include Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP in DC; the Carlberg Law Firm in nearby Alexandria, VA; Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker LLP in DC;  WilmerHale in DC; and Ballard Spahr LLP in DC.

Larger corporations with offices in DC may also be in need of attorneys. Some of the giants in the area include GE Corporate, Hilton Worldwide (in McLean, VA), Sprint’s Government Affairs division in D, and Thomson Reuters in DC.

Working for the American Bar Association’s headquarters in DC might be a good way to start a career in the legal profession. Other advocacy groups in the area that employ lawyers include the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, VA; National Wildlife Federation in Reston, VA; the American Association for Justice in Washington, DC; and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC.

The government employs many lawyers as well. Opportunities may exist with the National Guard, the Department of Justice, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the International Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Legal specialty certification

With the District of Columbia being such a large legal market, the opportunity for many specializations exists. Some DC universities, as well as agencies such as the American Board of Certification and the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification provide certification services so that you can practice with titles such as Civil Trial Advocate, Social Security Disability Specialist, Bankruptcy Specialist, Health Law Specialist, Intellectual Property Specialist, and Family Law Specialist.

Requirements for maintaining license

Under the rules of the District of Columbia Bar, as a lawyer and member of the Bar, you do not need to  fulfill any continuing legal education (CLE) requirements to maintain your law license. However, the DC Bar’s CLE Program offers more than 90 programs to help lawyers in other states fulfill their CLE responsibilities. If you are interested in their programs, call them at 202-626-3488.

Court Systems in District of Columbia

The Court System of the District of Columbia consists of three basic parts:

  • Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court – handles civil cases where the amount in question is $5000 or less
  • Superior Court for the District of Columbia – the local trial court of general jurisdiction for the District,  handles civil cases where the amount in question is $5000 or more, criminal cases, and specialized cases in family law, landlord/tenant, probate, tax and traffic offenses.
  • District of Columbia Court of Appeals – the highest court in the District, equivalent to a state supreme court, can review all decisions made by the Superior Court

Elective membership organizations

Since you are now a a member of the District of Columbia Bar, think about entering ito one of the following elective membership organizations that support lawyers in the District:

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DC Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  DC Statistics:
 
DC Active Lawyers 29,010
Average Annual Wage $161,050

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