State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in New York

The American Bar Association notes that in 2012, there were 163,798 practicing attorneys in the state of New York. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor states that the estimates that the annual mean wage of New York lawyers in 2012 was $151,850, making New York attorneys the fourth-highest paid in the nation that year. New York also holds the record for the highest level of employment of lawyers in any state in the union for 2012, at 67,210, or 7.87 per every 1000 jobs. The New York-White Plains-Wayne New York/New Jersey metropolitan area is the highest paying metropolitan area in the country in which lawyers worked in 2012, making an annual mean wage of $165,660.

These well-paid attorneys in New York are kept quite busy, as the FBI reports that in 2010, a total of 19,378,102 violent crimes were committed statewide. This number includes 75,707 violent crimes; 376,161 property crimes; and 64,973 burglaries. . Accident and personal injury lawyers in 2011 were also kept busy with 307,554 total vehicle crashes that year, per the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to 2011 Census data, there were 210,604 divorces in New York that year, meaning that family lawyers have plenty of cases statewide. If you wish to join the rolls of these New York lawyers and become a licensed member of the New York Bar Association, keep reading.
 

Step 1

Get Your New York Undergrad Pre-Law Major

The New York State Board of Law Examiners follows the mandates of the American Bar Association (ABA) in terms of requirements for undergraduate pre-legal education prior to admission to an ABA-approved law school.

Accreditation

Your undergraduate school must be accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If you graduate from such a school, you r chances of being accepted into an ABA-approved law school increase greatly.

Requirements and Standards

The ABA does not set requirements or standards regarding undergraduate pre-law education. Basic areas of knowledge that will help a lawyer later in his or her career are expected to be covered, such as:  

  • Diversity of international cultures and world events
  • Development of American society and how that has been influences by history, economic, social, cultural and political factors
  • Familiarity with the  American political system and philosophy
  • Basic mathematical and financial skills
  • Good  understanding of human behavior and social interaction
  • Understanding of the diversity of cultures beyond the United States and of world events
Degree Options

ABA-accredited law schools require that students first possess a bachelor’s degree prior to applying for admission. No specific field of study is required. Majors that will increase your chances of acceptance into an ABA-accredited law school should focus on writing and research, analysis and problem solving, and be challenging and interesting to you. Undergraduate majors that are often found on the resumes of successful law school students include economics, business, English, philosophy, political science, and history.

  
  

Pre Law Advisor

If your undergraduate college or university has a Pre-Law Advisor on staff, take advantage of this valuable resource. A Pre-Law Advisor is trained to assist students who plan to go on to law school after completing their undergraduate studies. The Pre-Law Advisor can help you choose undergraduate courses that will maximize your potential in law school.

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in New York

The New York State Bar requires graduation from an ABA-accredited law school in order to become a member. Passing the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, a half-day standardized test given quarterly at testing centers in New York and elsewhere, is the first step in this process.

How to prepare

The LSAT website provides free information for aspiring test-takers in preparation for the exam, including sample questions with answers. Taking these timed practice tests will help you prepare for the real LSAT exam.
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in New York:

Exam content

The LSAT measures skills that are crucial to your success as a law school student. Areas covered in the LSAT include:

  • Reading Comprehension – Read and answer comprehension questions based on what you read. Long and complex passages are included, reflecting your grasp of this type of information.
  • Analytical Reasoning – Read statements and make conclusions and deductions. Your ability to solve complex analysis and legal problems is measured here.
  • Logical Reasoning – Read material and answer questions based on your own critical evaluation. Thinking, drawing conclusions, reasoning through analogy, applying principals and rules and identifying flaws and strengths in an argument are abilities tested here.

Application process

Apply to take the LSAT online. In the United States, the LSAT is offered on Saturdays and Wednesdays in June, October, December and February. As not all testing centers offer the LSAT on each date, early registration is recommended. In New York, testing centers are located in:

  • Pace University School of Law, White Plains
  • Onondaga Community College, Syracuse
  • Lemoyne College, Syracuse
  • Stony Brook University, Stony Brook
  • Wagner College, Staten Island
  • Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure
  • University of Rochester, Rochester
  • Suffolk County Community College-East, Riverhead
  • Vassar College, Poughkeepsie
  • Marist College, Poughkeepsie
  • Clarkson University, Potsdam
  • Pace University, Pleasantville
  • SUNY College, Plattsburgh
  • SUNY, Oneonta
  • Pace University, New York City
  • Fordham University School of Law, New York City
  • Eleanor Roosevelt High School, New York City
  • City College of New York, New York City
  • SUNY, New Paltz
  • LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City
  • CUNY School of Law, Long Island City
  • Saint Johns University, Jamaica
  • Ithaca College, Ithaca
  • Cornell University, Ithaca
  • Hofstra University, Hempstead
  • Hobart & William Smith College, Geneva
  • Queens College, Flushing
  • Hamilton College, Clinton
  • Touro Law Center, Central Islip
  • Saint Lawrence University, Canton
  • Meadville College, Buffalo
  • Canisius College, Buffalo
  • C.W. Post-Long Island University, Brookville
  • Touro College, Brooklyn
  • South Shore High School, Brooklyn
  • Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn
  • CUNY-Brooklyn College, Brooklyn
  • Binghamton University, Binghamton
  • SUNY-Buffalo, Amherst
  • Alfred University, Alfred
  • SUNY-Albany, Albany
  • Albany Law School, Albany

Fees

The fee to take the LSAT is $160 (as of April 2012) Checks or money orders may be made payable to the Law School Admission Council. Testing fees may also be paid via credit card when you register online.

Receiving Your Score

Once you establish an online account at LSAC.org, your LSAT scores will be emailed to you about 21 days after you take the exam. The lowest possible score you can get on the LSAT is 120, and the highest possible score is 180.

LSAT scores may be cancelled if, after the test, you feel that you did not do well. On exam day, you may cancel your LSAT score immediately on your answer sheet. You may also cancel your score in writing up to six days after taking the LSAT, by mailing a request to do so to Law School Admission Council, Score Cancellation, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 2000-T, Newtown, PA 18940-0995 or by faxing it to 215-968-1277. When your LSAT scores have been cancelled, the LSAC will email you a confirmation.

Limitations

It is only possible to take the LSAT three times every two years, even if you take the test and cancel your score. Exceptions may be made to this rule. Write the LSAT with the date you wish to re-take the test, by emailing your request as an attachment to LSACinfo@LSAC.org or by faxing it to 215-968-1277. Once your request is denied or approved, you will receive notification.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in New York

Application process

Congratulations! You have passed the LSAT and taken a big step towards becoming an attorney in New York. Now you are ready to apply to law school. The LSAC can help with this process. Consult this list of services recommended by ABA-approved law schools across the country to ensure that you have completed all of the school’s requirements.

Credential Assembly Service

If you are applying to an ABA-approved law school, using the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service is required. After establishing your LSAC account and passing the LSAT, follow these steps:

  • Transcripts: Have all institutions you have attended mail your official college transcripts to LSAC, Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993. Any college or university from which you have received credit should be included, such as:
  • Community colleges
  • Undergraduate institutions
  • Graduate institutions
  • Medical, law and/or professional institutions
  • Colleges/universities in which you took classes but received no degree
  • Colleges/universities in which you took summer or evening classes
  • Colleges/universities in which you took college classes while still enrolled in high school
  • Colleges/universities that sponsored your studies overseas
  • International institutions you attended (degrees that were obtained internationally must have transcripts sent to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502)
  • Letters of Recommendation and Evaluation Services:  The LSAC will provide you with instructions about this in your online account. You must:
    • Give names of persons who you have arranged to provide a recommendation and/or evaluation for you (Print recommender forms online that you will provide to your recommenders. These forms must be sent to the LSAC with their recommendation letters).
    • The number of  letters each recommendation person will submit, and their expected content
    • All law schools to which you plan to apply, and which letters you wish to be sent to each law school
    • Submit online requests for evaluations through LSAC, who will email your evaluators and ask them to complete an online evaluation
    • Follow any specific instructions provided for any law schools to which you are applying
  • Fee: The LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service charges $155, payable online. It will summarize your transcripts, create your law school report(s), process all evaluations and recommendations, and apply electronically for you to the ABA-approved law schools of your choice.  

Accreditation

The New York Bar Association requires all lawyers to graduate from an ABA-approved law school in the U.S.  There are currently 200 law schools across the country that are ABA-approved. A complete listing is provided at the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. Rules for ABA approval of law schools can be found at Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in New York

Fifteen law schools in New York are currently accredited by the ABA. They are:

New York

Course requirements

The New York State Bar places the following course requirements upon those attending ABA-accredited institutions who plan to seek bar admission upon graduation:

  • After you have begun studies at law school, you have between 24 months and 60 months to complete it.
  • You must complete at least 83 semester hours prior to graduation:
    •  64 of those hours must come from classroom study
    • Two credit hours must come from a course in professional responsibility
    • 30 credit hours are allowed for field placements, externships and clinical courses
    • 12 credit hours are allowed for other courses or joint degrees
    • 12 credit hours of distance education courses are permitted
    • Only one third of your total credits may come from international study

Internship

An off-site internship or field placement is required while you  attend law school, usually about a year after you have started your J.D. degree program. This work experience may include moot court, law review, real-life legal experiences and research programs, and you will not be paid during this time. Off-site evaluations will occur from time to time as a faculty member of your law school evaluates your progress.

Online Law Degrees

Degree Programs

The J.D. (or Juris Doctor) degree must be obtained in order to be admitted to the bar in New York. Other legal degrees include:
Academic degrees for nonlawyers:

  • Masters of Professional Studies (M.P.S.)
  • Masters of Science or Masters of Studies (M.S.)

Post-JD law degrees for lawyers:

  • Juris Master (J.M.)
  • Master of  Jurisprudence (M.J.)
  • Master of Comparative Law (M.C.L.)
  • Master of Laws (L.L.M.)

Academic-based and research doctoral degrees:

  • Doctor of Comparative Law (D.C.L.)
  • Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.)
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.S.D.)

Schools offering the above-mentioned degrees are listed here.

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Step 4

Take the New York State Bar Exam

Once you have your J.D. degree from an ABA-approved law school in hand, you are eligible to take the New York Bar Exam. As of 2012, there are four modes of qualifying for eligibility to take the bar exam and become a member of the New York Bar:

  • Graduate with a J.D. degree from an ABA-approved law school (see above for additional course rules)
  • Have a combination of at least 28 hours of study at an ABA-approved law school and a clerkship or study in a law office for at least four years
  • Graduate from a non-ABA-approved law school in the U.S. with a J.D> and practice for five of the past seven years in another jurisdiction
  • Complete a foreign program of law study equivalent to an approved program in the U.S.

Preparation

It is a good idea to take a bar exam prep course, although the New York Bar does not recommend one specific course over another. Bar exam prep resources in New York include:

Study guides to help you prepare for the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion of the New York Bar Exam are available from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Exam content

There are two parts to the New York State Bar Exam, which is administered twice yearly, on the final Tuesday and Wednesday each July and February. The New York section is administered on Tuesday, and the MBE on Wednesday. The New York section will consist of 50 multiple choice and five essay questions. The bar exam content outline is also posted at the New York State Board of Law Examiners website for your review, along with testing accommodations forms and a handbook.

Wednesdays are devoted to taking the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. This six-hour exam includes 200 multiple-choice questions, with 190 scored. Constitutional law, criminal procedure, criminal law, contracts, torts, real property and evidence are some subjects covered in the MBE.

Application Process

  • File online with the New York State Board of Law Examiners to take the New York State Bar Exam. The application will be posted beginning April 1 for the July exam and October 1 for the February exam.
  • Choose your Bar Exam Testing site from the following locations:
    • Jacob Javits Convention Center (laptop and handwritten tests given)
      11th Avenue at W. 35th Street, New York, NY 10001
    •  Pace Law School / New York State Judicial Institute (laptop and handwritten exams)
      78 North Broadway, White Plains, NY 10603
    • Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center (laptop and handwritten exams given)
      153 Franklin Street, Buffalo, NY 14202
    • Empire State Plaza (laptop and handwritten exams)
      Concourse Level, Albany, NY 12242
    • Times Union Center (laptop and handwritten exams)
      51 S. Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12207
    • Saratoga City Center (laptop exams only)
      522 Broadway (Route 50)
      Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  • You will receive your seating ticket by mail two weeks prior to the exam, which will also verify your test location
  • Results of the July exam are released by mid-November, and of the February exam, by mid-May.

Fees

The application fee for the New York State bar examination is $250. For candidates who qualify for eligibility to take the exam by studying in a foreign law school the fee is $750. Fees are payable online via credit card only. A certified check or money order payable to NYS Board of Law Examiners may be submitted alternatively, but only if you file a paper application by mail.

Pass Rates

Pass rates for the February 2012 New York State Bar Exam were 59%. For the July 2012 bar exam, pass rates were 76%.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Within three years of passing the bar exam, you must apply for admission to the New York State Bar. You will be sworn in formally and then officially licensed to practice law in New York State.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the New York Bar

Congratulations! As a newly licensed New York lawyer, you must now decide what type of practice to pursue.  Do you want to work with a smaller law firm, or start your own law practice?

Before deciding, read this Checklist for Starting a Practice in New York State published by the New York State Bar Association. Many good tips and relevant advice is provided in this document, especially for those who wish to set out on their own law practices.

Joining an established law firm might be the best way to break into law in New York. There are many large and small firms statewide. They include the following:

  • New York City: Loeb & Loeb, LLP, specializing in Corporate Law
  • Albany: Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, LLP, specializing in Environmental Law
  • Buffalo: Lipsitz, Green, Scime & Cambria LLP, specializing in Criminal Law
  • Syracuse: Himnan, Howard & Kattell, LLP, specializing in Civil Practice

Many Fortune 500 corporations are also headquartered in New York and may be looking for legal counsel to join their teams. They include:

  • J.P. Morgan Chase & Co in New York City
  • Citigroup in New York City
  • Verizon Communications in New York City
  • American International Group in New York City
  • International Business Machines in Armonk
  • PepsiCo in Purchase

According to the New York Department of Labor, job projections for lawyers statewide are very favorable during the decade from 2010-20.

Legal specialty certification

Legal specialization is a route that many new lawyers in New York wish to pursue after becoming bar members. The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification offers certification for specializations in family, criminal, and civil law, plus social security disability advocacy and civil trial law advocacy. Credentials are checked and exams are taken before a lawyer is certified in ay specialty. Contact one of the New York state coordinators for the NBLSC for more information:

  • Christopher McGrath -(516) 742-0707
  • Martin Block- (516) 741-5252
  • Vincent J. Finocchio, Jr.- (516) 741-0799

Requirements for maintaining license

The New York Court System requires that all licensed members of the New York State Bar complete continuing education to maintain a license to practice law. New attorneys must complete 32 credit hours in the first two years of practice, including:

  • Three hours in professionalism and ethics
  • Six hours in skills
  • Seven hours in professional practice and practice management

After the first two years of law practice in New York, attorneys must complete 24 hours of continuing legal education every two years. This must include four hours in ethics and professionalism. More information on the Continuing Education requirements of the New York Cort System may be found here.

Court Systems in New York

The New York State Unified Court System consists of the following:

  • New York City Courts
    • Supreme Civil and Criminal
    • Civil Court
      • Housing court
      • Small claims
    • Criminal Court
    • Family Court
    • Surrogate’s Court
  • Specialized Courts & Parts
    • Court of Claims
    • Commercial Division
    • Litigation Coordinating Panel
    • Problem-Solving Courts
  • Courts Outside New York City
    • Supreme Court
    • County Court
    • City Court
    • District Court
    • Family Court
    • Surrogate’s Court
    • Town & Village Courts
  • Appellate Courts
    • Lower Appellate Courts
    • Appellate Divisions
    • Court of Appeals

Elective membership organizations

There are many elective membership organizations for practicing attorneys in New York, including:

  • New York City Bar Association
  • New York County Lawyers Association
  • New York State Trial Lawyers Association
  • New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • Injured Workers Bar Association of New York State
  •  National Employment Lawyers Association of New York

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New York Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  New York Statistics:
 
NY Active Lawyers 22,172
Average Annual Wage $109,630
  

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