State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in Hawaii

The American Bar Association reported in 2011 that there were 4054 licensed lawyers in Hawaii. The Hawaiian State Bar Association reports 4632 active attorneys in 2011. The majority of these attorneys (4288) practice on the island of Oahu. Thirty-nine percent of Hawaii’s state bar members are in private practice. According to Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, in 2010 lawyers in Hawaii averaged an annual salary of $104,480. Lawyers employed in the Honolulu metropolitan statistical area averaged a slightly higher yearly salary of $107,340. Within the state, lawyers  may specialize in and concentrate on a variety of legal practice areas, including admiralty law, alternative dispute resolution, child law, elder law, labor and employment law, natural resources law, international law, and probate/estate law. The unique composition of Hawaii’s population also affords Hawaiian lawyers the opportunity to practice in diverse areas such as native law, immigration law, and Asian-Pacific-American law. If you wish to have the opportunity to join this growing occupation in the state, read the following information about how to become a lawyer in Hawaii.
 

Step 1

Get Your Hawaiian Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners does not require that you complete any specified pre-law school education. However, in order to be accepted into an American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law school, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree.  The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners does require that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school, so this means you must first have a bachelor’s degree as your undergraduate pre-law education.

Accreditation

In order to be accepted into an ABA-approved law school, you must receive a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Your school should be accredited by a regional or national agency recognized by and listed in the U.S. Department of Education database of accreditation.  

Requirements and Standards

You should take undergraduate coursework that challenges you if you wish to gain entrance into an ABA-approved law school after graduation. No courses, majors or minors are spelled out that you must take, but you should take coursework that will challenge you and incorporate the following skills:

  • Problem solving
  • Critical analysis
  • Reading comprehension
  • Writing skills
  • Oral communication skills
  • Listening skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Management skills
  • Promotion of justice
  • Public service

Degree Options

Certain undergraduate majors will prepare you more aptly for taking the Law School Admission Test and succeeding in law school. Successful majors and disciplines for pre-law students are usually culled from the fields of history, English, psychology, political science, sociology and communications.


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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Hawaii

All ABA-approved law schools require that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to acceptance. The six-hour long test is given quarterly at examination stations around the world.

How to prepare

The LSAT website provides a variety of free study resources, including sample questions, explanations of answers, and practice tests. If you would like to take a formal LSAT preparation course, choices in Hawaii include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Hawaii:

Exam content

You will be faced with four sections of questions on the LSAT:

  • Logical Reasoning- There are two sections, each with about 25 questions. You will have 35 minutes to complete each section. The logical reasoning questions test your ability to discern an argument’s main points, use logic to decipher abstract concepts, discover relevant information in a text, and analyze and evaluate arguments.
  • Analytical Reasoning – You will be presented with 25 questions and have 35 minutes to complete this section. The analytical reasoning section tests your ability to comprehend the effects of rules on decisions and outcomes, determine the relationships between concepts, analyze situations and draw conclusions based on guidelines, and apply logic to complex situations.
  • Reading Comprehension- This section will take 35 minutes to complete, and usually consists of about 27 questions. You will be presented with four sections, three of which have longer passages for you to read and one with a shorter passage. Your ability to draw inferences based on text, determine the main ideas of passages, find relevant information in a text, and understand dense, scholarly text will be tested here.
  • Essay- This 35-minute section requires you to form an argument in writing based upon facts you are given, and to express ideas through writing. The essay section is not scored as part of your LSAT total score, but will be sent to law schools to which you apply and reviewed by their admission personnel.

Application process

Applications to sit for the LSAT may be completed and filed online, where you may also pay the examination fee. The LSAT is offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays in June, October, December and February. These test centers in Hawaii administer the LSAT:

  • University of Hawaii- Hilo, 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720-4091
  • University of Hawaii-Manoa, 2600 Campus Road, QLC 001 Honolulu, HI 96822
  • Brigham Young University, Hawaii #1973, 55-220 Kulanui Street, Laie, HI 96762-1294
  • Kauai Community College, 3-1901 Kaumuali´i Highway, Lihue, HI 96766

Receiving Your Score

Your LSAT scores should arrive by postal mail about three weeks post-exam. The lowest possible LSAT score is a 120, and the highest, 180. According to representatives of the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law, the LSAT and your undergraduate grade point average (GPA) constitute about two-thirds of the admission decision. Most students admitted to this law school have LSAT scores between 155 and 159.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in Hawaii

Application process

Passing the LSAT is the next milestone in your quest to become a Hawaii lawyer. You may now apply to the ABA-approved law school you choose anywhere in the United States (the Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners mandates that you must graduate from an ABA-approved law school anywhere in the U.S. – it need not be within Hawaii). Check out this list of admission procedures that you must follow when applying to ABA-approved law schools.

Credential Assembly Service

When applying to any ABA-accredited law school, you must use the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). This handy service organizes all pertinent data, including your academic record, your LSAT score and your letters of recommendation. It also helps you to access online law school applications for ABA-approved schools. You must have all institutions that you have attended up to this point send official transcripts to CAS at Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993. If you attended any schools outside of the country, have these transcripts mailed to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502.
After you apply to law schools, each school will submit a request for a copy of your Law School Report from CAS. This report will list a summary of your academic credits, copies of all your transcripts, yearly and cumulative GPA, overall grade distribution, the mean GPA of other students at your undergraduate institution, your percentile rank among those students, your LSAT scores, copy of your LSAT writing sample, and, if available, the mean LSAT score for students from your undergraduate school who took the LSAT.

Additionally, those writing your letters of recommendation need only send one original letter to CAS, who will distribute them to the law schools to which you apply. This makes the process easier for everyone involved.
The fee to use the CAS is $155, payable online through your LSAC account.

Accreditation

The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners requires that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school prior to taking the Hawaii bar exam (unless you are exempt from this requirement and meet the years-of-practice requirement, explained later in this section). The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools provides a comprehensive list of ABA-accredited law schools across the United States.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Hawaii

Currently, one law school in Hawaii holds ABA-accreditation:

Course requirements

To earn your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree in an ABA-approved law school in Hawaii, you must take the following courses/coursework areas:

  • Constitutional law
  • Civil law and procedure
  • Criminal justice
  • Contracts
  • Legal practice
  • Professional responsibility
  • Real property
  • Torts
  • Pro bono work
  • Clinical experience

The University of Hawai’i at Manoa-William S. Richardson School of Law requires that you complete 89 semester hours of credit in order to receive your J.D. degree.

Online Law Degrees

Internship

The University of Hawai’i at Manoa-William S. Richardson School of Law requires you to complete at least 60 hours of pro-bono legal work as well as complete at least one legal clinical experience accounting for at least two credit hours. Pro bono work is done under the supervision of a licensed lawyer and includes law-related work with any federal, state, or local government agency, court or legislature, and working with indigent clients. Your internship/clinical experience may involve placement in an outside real-world legal setting such as a law office, agency, government office, or other setting in which you will interact with real clients. Skills that you may use and hone during these clinical experiences include handling depositions, negotiating for clients, giving oral arguments,  interviewing and counseling clients, drafting documents, investigating facts, performing  alternative dispute resolution, motion practice, trial practice, and appellate practice.

Degree Programs

The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners requires that you have a J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school to sit for the bar exam. However, other dual-degree options and concentrations are available that will increase your practice area as an attorney in Hawaii. These include:

  • J.D./M.B.A (Master of Business Administration)
  • J.D./M.S.W. (Master of Social Work)
  • J.D./M.P.H. (Master of Public Health)
  • Graduate certificates earned along with the J.D. degree may include (but are not limited to):
    • Accounting
    • Clinical psychology
    • Conflict resolution
    • International cultural studies
    • Public administration
    • Public policy
    • Southeast Asian studies
    • Urban and regional planning

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Step 4

Take the Hawaii State Bar Exam

Have you earned your undergraduate degree, passed the LSAT and earned your J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school? If so you are ready to apply to take the bar exam in Hawaii. The exam is offered in February and July. Applications to take the February exam must be received by November 1. Applications to take the July exam must be received by April 1.

Preparation

The National Conference of Bar Examiners website offers free study materials for the national portions of the Hawaii bar exam. These include the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).  Other options for preparation for the Hawaii bar exam include:

Exam content

Taking the Hawaii bar exam is a two-day process. The first day, you will encounter the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Hawaii Legal Ethics Test and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The second day consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE).
Subjects that may be covered in the Hawaii bar exam include:

  • Business associations
  • Conflicts of laws
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Ethics
  • Evidence
  • Family law
  • Federal civil procedure
  • Torts
  • Real property
  • Trusts and estates
  • Uniform Commercial Code

Application Process

You may apply to take the Hawaii bar exam online or by submitting a paper application. Along with the completed application, you must submit:

  • Copy of your law degree, certified law school transcript or copy of graduation certificate
  • Certificate of good standing from each jurisdiction in which you are licensed to practice law (if any)
  • Certified copies of orders of grievance or misconduct against you (if any)
  • Military service record copies (if any)
  • Copies of documentation from any civil litigation in which you are involved (if any)
  • Copies of documentation from any civil traffic violations against you in the past three years (if any)
  • Copies of documentation of any arrests against your for criminal offenses (if any)
  • Copies of any loan defaults or credit card/charge account revocations in the past 10 years (if any)
  • Copies of bankruptcy proceedings you were involved in during the past 10 years (if any)
  • Requests for testing accommodations (if needed)
  • Form EL-T  if you wish to use your personal laptop for the bar exam
  • The following forms to send to the National Conference of Bar Examiners:
    • Form A – NCBE request for preparation of character report
    • Form F – NCBE authorization and release
  • The following forms to send to the dean of each law school you attended:
    • Form 2 – Dean’s certificate
    • Form 3 – Authorization and release
  • Sign where required in the presence of a notary public
  • Fee of $300 payable to the Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners
  • Fee for character report payable to the NCBE  (see fee on form)

Mail the documents and fees to the Clerk of the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai’i, 417 S. King St., Honolulu, HI 96813

Pass Rates

Adaptibar.com has posted the following bar exam passing rates for Hawaii going back to 2002:

  • 2011: 75%
  • 2010: 68%
  • 2009: 76%
  • 2008: 76%
  • 2007: 70%
  • 2006: 71%
  • 2005: 71%
  • 2004: 66%
  • 2003: 79%
  • 2002: 68%

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

The Hawaii Board of Bar Examiners also requires that you pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) with a scaled score of at least 85. The MPRE is administered at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu in March, August and November. Follow this link to register for the test and for more information on the MPRE.

Non-ABA-accredited Law School Graduates

If you graduated from a non-ABA-accredited law school and have passed the bar exam in another state, you may be eligible to take Hawaii’s bar exam without any further legal education. This is only possible if you meet the years-of-practice rule: that is, if you have actively practiced law for five of the six years preceding your application to the Hawaii bar.

Foreign Law School graduates

If you graduated from a foreign law school, you are eligible to take the Hawaii bar exam if:

  • You have been admitted to practice and are in good standing before the highest court in the foreign country from which you graduated law school
  • English common law is the basis of jurisprudence in that country
  • English is the language of instruction and practice in the courts of that country
  • You have actively practiced for five of the past six years prior to filing the application for admission by examination.

Professionalism Course

You must also complete the Hawaii state bar’s professionalism course by December 31 of the year after you are admitted to the state bar. Check the Hawaii State Bar Association website for details.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

About ten to twelve weeks after taking the Hawaii bar exam, you will receive your scores in the mail. You will also receive instructions on when and where to report for your bar admission ceremony, in which you will take the oath of admission to the bar. The Bar will list you on its page of lawyers Authorized to Practice Law in Hawaii.

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Step 5

Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar in Hawaii

Congratulations on your recent membership into the Hawaii State Bar Association! You should consult the important regulatory information for new lawyers on the Hawaii State Bar Association website under “For Lawyers” and “New Admittees.” An optional mentoring program for new attorneys is also available. More information on this program is available here.

If you wish to join an existing legal practice in Hawaii, famous names in the state include Watanabe Inc LLP in Honolulu, Ashford & Wriston in Honolulu, Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel in Honolulu, and Carlsmith Ball LLP in Honolulu.

Many government agencies exist across Hawaii that may also be in need of legal help. These include the Department of Justice in Honolulu, the Department of the Navy in Pearl Harbor, the National Guard in Hilo, the Department of the Army in Fort Shafter, and the U.S. Air Force in Honolulu.

Nonprofit and charitable organizations in Hawaii are also a great place to get your start in your legal career. These include the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii in Oahu, Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai; the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu; the Domestic Violence Action Center in Honolulu; the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center in Honolulu; and the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program in Honolulu and Oahu.

The government of Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations projects that about 60 new jobs for lawyers each year will become available in the state between 2008 and 2018.

Legal specialty certification

Private certification programs for lawyers who wish to specialize in certain areas are available in Hawaii. Specializations available include:

  • Business Bankruptcy
  • Civil Trial Advocacy
  • Consumer Bankruptcy
  • Creditors' Rights
  • Criminal Law Trial Advocacy
  •  DUI Defense
  • Elder Law
  • Estate Planning Law
  • Family Law Trial Advocacy
  • Juvenile Law - Child Welfare
  • Legal Professional Liability
  • Medical Professional Liability
  • Social Security Disability

If you complete a specialty certification program accredited by the American Bar Association, the court will grant you a Hawaii Certificate of Specialization that must be renewed every five years. Contact the Office of the Administrative Director of the Courts at (808) 539-4900 for more information.

Requirements for maintaining license

In order to maintain your license to practice law in Hawaii, you must complete three hours of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) each year. You are encouraged, but not required, to complete nine additional hours of voluntary continuing legal education (VCLE) annually. Topics in which you may earn MCLE or VCLE include: Rules of Professional Conduct, legal ethics, law office management, client trust account administration, bias prevention and awareness, client and case management, and malpractice insurance and prevention. Contact the Hawaii State Bar Association for more information.

Court Systems in Hawaii

The Hawaii State Judiciary has three trial courts (Circuit, Family and District) and two appellate courts (Intermediate Court of Appeals and Hawaii Supreme Court). There are four circuits in which the trial courts operate:

  • First Circuit: Islands of Oahu
  • Second Circuit: Maui, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Kaho`olawe and Molokini.
  • Third Circuit: Island of Hawaii
  • Fifth Circuit: Islands of Kaua`i and Ni`ihau.

Responsibilities of the courts:

  • Circuit- general jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases; exclusive jurisdiction in probate, guardianship and criminal felony cases, and in civil cases over $25,000; concurrent jurisdiction with District Courts in civil non-jury cases between $10,000 and $25,000.
  • Family- hears legal matters involving children, including delinquency, status offenses, parental rights, abuse and neglect, guardianships, adoption, detention; also hears domestic relations cases such as divorce, child support, paternity, child custody; domestic violence cases ; civil commitment cases; adult guardianship cases; and adult abuse cases
  • District – exclusive jurisdiction over traffic cases, summary possession, ejectment proceedings, non-jury civil cases under $10,000, small claims cases under $5000, civil cases under $25,000, criminal offenses punishable by fine or less than one year in prison, county ordinance violations, restraining order petitions and harassment injunctions.
  • Intermediate Court of Appeals – hears almost all appeals from the trial courts and some state agencies. Located at  Kapuaiwa Building, 426 Queen Street, Honolulu, Hawai`i 96813.
  • Hawaii Supreme Court – Hawaii’s court of last resort, located at Ali`iolani Hale, 417 South King Street, Honolulu, Hawai`i 96813-2943

Elective membership organizations

Now that you are a member of the Hawaii Bar, think about joining another professional organization for attorneys in Hawaii, such as:

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Hawaii Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  Hawaii Statistics:
 
HI Active Lawyers 4,054
Average Annual Wage $104,480

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