State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Career Information in Montana

As of December 2010, there were just over 3400 members of the State Bar of Montana, according to its 2011 Membership Survey.  Of those who responded to the survey, 55 percent were male and 45 percent were female. Legal specialization areas of those who responded include litigation, criminal law, domestic relations law, administrative/government law, and estate planning/probate/trusts. Employment settings for lawyers who responded to the survey include private practice, government, non-profit organizations, the judiciary, for-profit corporations, and law schools. Of those who worked in a law firm, the majority worked in solo practices or small law firms consisting of two to five attorneys. As you can see from the above results, opportunities for lawyers in Montana are vast and diverse. If you wish to learn how to become a lawyer in the state of Montana, keep reading.
 

Step 1

Get Your Montana Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

The State Bar of Montana does not require that you have any specific undergraduate education prior to sitting for the state bar exam. However, it does require that the law school from which you graduate is American Bar Association-accredited, and all ABA-accredited schools mandate that you must have at least a bachelor’s degree for entrance.  

Accreditation

Your undergraduate institution must be accredited by a regional or national organization listed with the U.S. Department of Education. ABA-accredited law schools will only recognize your education if it comes from an accredited university or college.

Requirements and Standards

Some undergraduate universities and colleges offer a pre-law course of study or major. Because the ABA does not mandate which undergraduate courses you should take, if your school does not offer such a concentration, it may be difficult to determine in which courses to enroll. Coursework in law, criminal justice, political science, history, world cultures, economics, business and English are all recommended by those who have gone on to study at ABA-approved law schools after graduation from undergraduate school.

Degree Options

The ABA only requires that you have a bachelor’s degree prior to entering law school – it does not specify a certain major. Majors taken from the above-listed coursework areas are often helpful to those who go on to study in law school after graduation.


  
  

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Montana

Your next step on the road to becoming a Montana lawyer is to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). This standardized test is mandatory in order to gain entrance to ABA-approved law schools across the United States.  

How to prepare

You can find helpful, free study resources on the LSAT website such as practice tests and sample questions and answers. If you wish further LSAT preparation, options in Montana include:  
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Montana:

LSAT Exam content

The LSAT tests your abilities in these areas:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Critical reasoning
  • Logical reasoning
  • Writing

The test consists of:

  • four scored 35-minute multiple choice sections
  • one 35-minute unscored multiple choice section (this is the experimental section, but because you can’t tell which section it is, you must treat all questions as if they are being scored)
  • one 30 minute writing test (not scored as part of LSAT, but sent to law schools when you apply)

Application process

Apply to take the LSAT and pay the exam fee of $160 online, where you must create an account with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). You may take the LSAT four times annually, in February, June, October and December, at these Montana testing centers:

  • Montana State University, P.O. Box 172420, Bozeman, MT 59717-2420
  • University of Great Falls, 1301 Twentieth St S, Great Falls, MT 59405-4996
  • Carroll College, 1601 N Benton Ave, Helena, MT 59625-0002
  • University of Montana School of Law, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT 59812

Receiving Your Score

You will receive your LSAT score via postal mail about three weeks after taking the test. The lowest possible LSAT score is 120, and the highest possible LSAT score is 180. The following LSAT scores are the most commonly accepted by law schools in Montana, per the ABA:

  • University of Montana School of Law:  Median LSAT score of 155

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Step 3

>Go to Law School in Montana

Application process

After passing the LSAT, you are ready to apply to ABA-approved law schools. You may attend any of the over 200 ABA-accredited law schools nationwide – it need not be located in Montana. Check the complete listing of them in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.

Credential Assembly Service

All ABA-approved law schools, regardless of their location, require you to use the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when applying for enrollment. This service standardizes your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and online evaluations into a format recognized by all ABA-accredited law schools. It can be a real timesaver in helping you gather the supporting materials necessary to send to law schools when you apply. The LSAC charges $155 to use this service, and will also apply electronically to the ABA-approved law schools you select.

Accreditation

The State Bar of Montana mandates that you must have a JD degree from an ABA-approved law school. There are no exceptions to this rule. Even if you graduated from a non-ABA approved law school and were accepted to practice law in another state, you may not apply for admission to Montana’s bar without a JD degree from an ABA-approved law school. Foreign law school graduates are not eligible for admission to the Montana bar either.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Montana

Just one law school in Montana holds ABA accreditation:

Course requirements

Because the following subject areas will be tested on the Montana bar exam, you must be sure to study them in your law school curriculum:

  • Contracts
  • Torts
  • Civil Procedure/Law
  • Evidence
  • Wills, trusts, probate, conservatorships, estates and guardianships
  • Criminal law (both substantive and procedural)
  • Business organizations
  • Real property
  • Uniform Commercial Code as adopted in Montana (excludes Articles 5, 7, and 8)
  • Domestic Relations
  • Agency
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Rules of Professional Responsibility and the norms of professional conduct
  • Constitutional Law (both Federal and state)
  • Federal  Income tax,  Estate tax, and Federal and state gift taxation

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Expect to participate in some sort of clinical placement program during your years at law school. Depending upon your school’s policies, you may be placed into a public interest setting, in-house clinic, government agency or private law firm, where you will have the chance to put into practice the skills and knowledge you have learned in law school. Your work and performance will be faculty-supervised and you will be graded on your knowledge of substantive legal skills and components, ethical and professionalism issues, and legal competencies.

Degree Programs

The State Bar of Montana requires that you have a JD degree from an ABA-approved law school to take the bar exam. Some ABA-approved law schools offer joint degree programs, so that you can earn another degree at the same time you are earning your JD degree. This increases your career opportunities after graduation. Examples include:

  • JD/Master of Business Administration
  • JD/Master of Public Administration
  • JD/Master of Science in Environmental Studies

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Step 4

Take the Montana State Bar Exam

You have your JD degree from an ABA-approved law institution. Now you are ready to take the Montana bar exam. There is no reciprocity or admission on motion – all applicants to the Montana bar must take the state’s bar exam. The bar exam is offered in February and July over a three-day period. It is offered in Helena in February and Missoula in July.

Preparation

The National Conference of Bar Examiners website provides free study aids to help you study for the national portions of the Montana bar exam: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The State Bar of Montana will also provide copies of previous Montana Essay (MTEE) exams if you request them in writing by mail and attach a fee of $10 per exam requested. Mail your request to State Bar of Montana, P.O. Box 577, Helena, MT 59624. Other bar preparation options include:

Exam content

The first day of the Montana bar exam is devoted to the MTEE. Essays that you may be asked to write may be on any of the following topics:

  • Contracts
  • Torts
  • Civil Procedure/Law
  • Evidence
  • Wills, trusts, probate, conservatorships, estates and guardianships
  • Criminal law (both substantive and procedural)
  • Business organizations
  • Real property
  • Uniform Commercial Code as adopted in Montana (excludes Articles 5, 7, and 8)
  • Domestic Relations
  • Agency
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Rules of Professional Responsibility and the norms of professional conduct
  • Constitutional Law (both Federal and state)
  • Federal  Income tax,  Estate tax, and Federal and state gift taxation

Day two of the Montana bar exam, you will take the MPT and the MEE. Check the NCBE website for more information. Topics to be covered on the MEE include:

  • Business associations
  • Conflict of laws
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law/procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family law
  • Federal Civil procedure
  • Real property
  • Torts
  • Trusts/estates/future interests
  • Uniform Commercial Code
  • Secured Transactions

The MPT is a performance test that judges your skills as a lawyer. Skills tested include:

  • Problem solving
  • Legal reasoning and analysis
  • Analysis of facts
  • Communication
  • Organization/management of legal tasks
  • Recognition/resolution of ethical problems

The third day of the Montana bar exam consists of the multiple-choice, 200 questions MBE test. Expect questions from any of the above-mentioned subject areas.

Application Process

Request an Application for Admission online from the State Bar of Montana. You must file your application by March 1 if you plan to take the July bar exam and by October 1 for the February exam. Application fees may be paid online or by check or money order payable to Bar Administrator. Student applicants pay $150, and the late filing fee is an additional $100. Mail your application, fees and all supporting documentation required to Bar Administrator, State Bar of Montana, 7 West 6th Avenue, P.O. Box 577, Helena, MT 59624.

In addition to application fees, you must pay exam fees. Once your application is accepted, you will be notified before the exam when fees are due. Complete this payment information form and pay exam fees as follows:

  • MTEE: $150
  • MEE: $100
  • MPT: $100
  • MBE: $100

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

In addition to the Montana bar exam, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) with a score of 80 or more prior to bar admission. If you have taken the MPRE in another jurisdiction within the past three years, your score is valid. The MPRE is offered at the University of Montana in Missoula in March, August and November. Apply online with the NCBE to take the MPRE.

MBE Transfer Scores

If you took the MBE in another jurisdiction in the past three years and scored at least 130, you may have these scores transferred to the State Bar of Montana.

Pass Rates

The NCBE has compiled passing rates for the Montana bar exam from 2000 to 2009:

First time test takers pass rate                                     Overall pass rate

  • 2000:                       89%                                         88%
  • 2001:                       90%                                         89%
  • 2002:                       78%                                         79%
  • 2003:                       81%                                         81%
  • 2004:                       83%                                         79%
  • 2005:                       89%                                         84%
  • 2006:                       92%                                         91%
  • 2007:                       88%                                         89%
  • 2008:                       92%                                         91%
  • 2009:                       89%                                         87%

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Your bar exam results will be sent by mail to your address about six to nine weeks after the exam. Names of those who passed will also be posted online at the State Bar of Montana website. You will be notified by mail of the time and place of the formal swearing-in ceremony if you pass the exam. This is when admission to the State Bar of Montana will occur.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the Montana Bar

You have passed the Montana bar exam and are now a member of the State Bar of Montana! Congratulations! Being a Bar member has many benefits, including networking, assistance in finding employment, practice management resources, and much more. The Bar also provides a Lawyer Referral Service. When you are listed with this service, clients who need practice specializations such as yours will be referred to you.

Career opportunities for Montana lawyers may be found in small and large law firms, solo practitioner offices, corporations, government, and non-profit organizations. Some of the most recognizable law firm names in Montana include full-service law firm Moulton Bellingham in Billings, insurance law experts Phillips Haffey in Missoula, immigration lawyers Border Crossing Law Firm in Helena, personal injury and accident lawyers Conklin Nybo & Lanning in Great Falls, and product liability/medical malpractice attorneys Waddell & Magan in Bozeman.

While no Fortune 500 corporations exist in Montana, it does house some larger, well-known companies that may employ lawyers. These include Mountain Press Publishing Company in Missoula, Stillwater Mining Company in Billings, Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, software company RightNow Technologies in Bozeman, and First Interstate BancSystem in Billings.

Government organizations and agencies that commonly employ lawyers in Montana include the Office of the State Public Defender in Helena, the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Montana Conservation Voters in Billings, the State Department of Commerce in Helena, the State of Montana Department of Health and Human Services in Wolf Point, and the City of Billings Legal Department in Billings.

Legal specialty certification

The American Board of Certification (ABC) is a State Bar - recognized certification provider for lawyers in Montana who wish to specialize in business bankruptcy, consumer bankruptcy and creditors’ rights laws. You must pass an examination as part of the certification process. For more information, contact ABC at (319) 365-2222 or director@abcworld.org.

The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC) is a State Bar - recognized certification provider for Montana lawyers who wish to specialize in social security disability advocacy, civil pretrial practice advocacy, criminal trial law, family trial law, and civil trial law. Passing an examination is part of the certification process. Contact the Montana state coordinator of the NBLSC, Alexander Blewett, III at (406)761-1960 or zblewett@hoytandblewett.com.

Requirements for maintaining license

In order to maintain your law license in Montana, you must complete continuing legal education (CLE) each year. The State Bar of Montana requires that you complete at least 15 hours of CLE each year, and five hours of ethics courses every three years. For more information, contact the State Bar of Montana CLE Department.

Court Systems in Montana

The Montana Judicial System  has three levels:

  • City, Municipal and Justice Courts- There are 61 Justice Courts, 84 City Courts and 6 Municipal Courts across Montana. These Courts of Limited Jurisdiction hear cases involving misdemeanor offenses, civil cases up to $12,000, small claims up to $7,000, landlord/tenant disputes, violations of local ordinances, forcible entry, protection orders, some juvenile issues, and other matters. These courts have a caseload about ten times greater than the District Courts’ caseload.
  • District Courts– 22 District Courts in Montana have jurisdiction over most civil and criminal cases that involve state law. They also re-hear some cases from City and Justice Courts. The judicial districts in Montana are:
    • 1st: Lewis & Clark and Broadwater Counties
    • 2nd: Butte-Silverbow County
    • 3rd: Deer Lodge, Granite, Powell Counties
    • 4th: Mineral and Missoula Counties
    • 5th:   Beaverhead, Jefferson and Madison Counties
    • 6th: Park and Sweet Grass Counties
    • 7th: Dawson, McCone, Prairie, Richland and Wibaux Counties
    • 8th: Cascade County
    • 9th: Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole Counties
    • 10th: Fergus, Judith Basin and Petroleum Counties
    • 11th: Chouteau, Hill and Liberty Counties
    • 13th: Yellowstone County
    • 14th: Golden Valley, Meagher, Musselshell and Wheatland Counties
    • 15th: Daniels, Sheridan and Roosevelt Counties
    • 16th: Carter, Custer, Fallon, Garfield, Powder River, Rosebud and Treasure Counties
    • 17th: Blaine, Phillips and Valley Counties
    • 18th: Gallatin County
    • 19th: Lincoln County
    • 20th: Lake and Sanders Counties
    • 21st: Ravalli County
    • 22nd: Big Horn, Carbon and Stillwater Counties
  • Supreme Court-Because Montana has no intermediate appeals court, all trial court decisions are appealable to the state’s Supreme Court. It also supervises all other courts in the state. It is located in the Justice Building in Helena.

Elective membership organizations

Here are some elective organizations for Montana attorneys with which you might seek membership:

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Montana Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  Montana Statistics:
 
MT Active Lawyers 3400+
Average Annual Wage $75,250
  

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