State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in Pennsylvania

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 22,680 lawyers were employed in Pennsylvania in May 2011, averaging an annual mean wage of $137,910. Those working in the Philadelphia metropolitan area averaged the highest yearly wage, at $152,220. Law specialties for attorneys in Pennsylvania include worker’s compensation law, bankruptcy law, government law, consumer protection, taxation and environmental law. The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners reports that students at Pennsylvania law schools fared generally well on the most recent bar exam, with 80% of Drexel University law students attempting the exam for the first time passing; 100% of law students from the University of Pennsylvania law school passing; and 87.5% of law students from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law passing the bar on the first try. Follow the steps below if your desire is to become a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.
 

Step 1

Get Your Pennsylvania Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

Under the rules of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, you must receive your pre-legal undergraduate education from an accredited college or university prior to attending law school. You need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to enter law school.

Accreditation

Your undergraduate college or university must have accreditation from a regional or national accreditation agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Not only the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners but also the American Bar Association (ABA) requires this for entry into an ABA-accredited law school after you graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Requirements and Standards

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners and the ABA have not specified any requirements for your undergraduate pre-legal education besides national accreditation of the college or university where you receive your education. Regardless of your major, there are some courses that you should enroll in prior to law school, such as: 

  • Philosophy
  • History
  • English
  • Political Science
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Mathematics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Cultural diversity/multicultural relations

Degree Options

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners and the American Bar Association both require that you obtain at least a bachelor’s degree prior to admission to an ABA-accredited law school. The major of this degree is not mandated by either organization. However, some majors lend themselves more aptly to future law school success. These include political science, governmental relations, history, economics, business, and human relations.


  
  

Pre Law Advisor

Your undergraduate college or university may have a pre-law advisor as part of its faculty. It is this person’s job to steer you in the right direction as you choose your major, minor and electives.  A pre-law advisor can assist you in taking courses during your undergraduate education that will help to ensure your future success in law school.

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Step 2

Law School Admission Test in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners requires that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school. Entry into such a school requires that you pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). This standardized exam lasts for a half-day and is offered quarterly at testing stations worldwide.

How to prepare

Preparation for the LSAT is important so that you are ready for the types of questions and topics on which you will be tested. You can view free study resources at the LSAC (Law School Admission Council) website, including practice tests and sample questions. For additional readiness to take the LSAT, you may wish to enroll in LSAT exam preparation courses, such as the following that are offered throughout Pennsylvania:

LSAT Exam Preparation in Pennsylvania:

Exam content

Skills that you will need to succeed in law school are determined when you take the LSAT. You must complete four areas:  

  • Writing Sample – You are given a writing prompt and have 35 minutes to plan your essay and write it on the topic provided
  • Reading Comprehension – You will read a lengthy passage and answer questions based on that passage
  • Analytical Reasoning – You will read a passage and infer or deduce conclusions based on that passage
  • Logical Reasoning – You will read a short passage and answer just one or two questions in which the answers can be reasoned logically.

Application process

Application to take the LSAT must be done online. It is administered in the United States twice weekly (Wed and Sat) during the following months: October, December, February and June. Not every test center offers the LSAT during each month, so plan ahead and register accordingly. LSAT Test Centers in Pennsylvania include:

  • Muhlenberg College, Allentown
  • Lehigh University, Bethlehem
  • Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Bloomsburg
  • University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Bradford
  • Pennsylvania State University – Lehigh Valley, Center Valley
  • Cheyney University, Cheyney
  • Lafayette College, Easton
  • Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown
  • Gannon University, Erie
  • Grove City College, Grove City
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana
  • Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster
  • Bucknell University, Lewisburg
  • Lincoln University, Lincoln University
  • Allegheny College, Meadville
  • Millersville University, Millersville
  • Drexel University, Philadelphia
  • Holy Family College, Philadelphia
  • La Salle University, Philadelphia
  • Temple University, Philadelphia
  • University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia
  • Duquesne University, Pittsburgh
  • University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
  • University of Scranton, Scranton
  • Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock
  • Swarthmore College, Swarthmore
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  • Villanova University, Villanova
  • Washington & Jefferson College, Washington
  • Lycoming College, Williamsport
  • Westmoreland County Community College, Youngwood

Fees

The fee to take the LSAT is currently $160 (April 2012 figures). You must pay fees online when you register to take the LSAT by credit card, or mail your check or money order to the Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn St, Newtown, PA 18940.

Receiving Your Score

You should receive your LSAT scores by email three weeks after the exam. Your lowest possible score is 120, and highest possible score, 180. If for some reason on exam day you want to cancel your scores, so that they are not reported to the Law School Admission Council, there is a box on the answer sheet to do so. If you decide after the test that you want to cancel your scores, this may be accomplished in writing up to six days post-test by requesting cancellation via mail to 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 when your score has been cancelled.

Limitations

The LSAC sets a limit on the number of times you may take the LSAT in two years. Currently, that limit is three times, and even if you cancel your score, the time that you took the LSAT is still counted. Exceptions may be made, of course. You can request an exception to this rule by emailing a request as an attachment to the LSAT at LSACinfo@LSAC.org, or by faxing your request to 215-968-1277. Include the date you want to take the LSAT in your request. The LSAC will email you with their decision of denial or approval of your request.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in Pennsylvania

Law School Application process

Now that you are over the LSAT hurdle, you are closer than ever to becoming a member of the Pennsylvania Bar! Next, you must submit your law school application(s). The LSAC can assist you in this regard, as they are storing LSAT scores and you have an account online with their organization. Most law schools that are ABA-accredited require that you use the services of the LSAC in applying to law school. You may consult this list of services provided by the LSAC that ABA-approved law schools insist upon applicants using to fulfill admission requirements.

Credential Assembly Service (CAS)

One of the most important services offered by the LSAC is their Credential Assembly Service (CAS). This time-saving LSAC service organizes your documents and credentials and even applies to the law schools of your choice for you. Three components of the CAS exist:

  • Transcript Collection: You must have official transcripts from all institutions you ever attended (whether or not you received a degree) sent directly from the college or university to Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993.
    • If you attended any international colleges or universities (besides the US territories or Canada), have these transcripts sent to  Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502
  • Collection of Letters of Recommendation and Requests for Evaluations: The LSAC will help to collect these necessary items for you, if you:
    • Give the LSAC names and contact information  of persons who have agreed to supply you with letters of recommendation
    • Give the LSAC names and contact information of persons who have agreed to submit online evaluations of your qualifications and work
    • Indicate to the LSAC how many letters/evaluations each person will write and the general content of each
    • Indicate to the LSAC the names of the ABA-approved law schools to which you want to apply, and which letters and evaluations should be submitted by the LSAC’s CAS to each
    • The LSAC will instruct you to print forms to hand to your recommenders, and they must submit these forms with their letters of recommendation directly to the LSAC
    • The LSAC will email your evaluators and give them instructions on completing an online evaluation of your qualifications and work
  • Pay fees: The LSAC charges law school applicants $155 for the Credential Assembly Service. It is payable through your online LSAC account. The fee will be used to summarize your college transcripts, create law school reports, process letters of recommendation, process evaluations, and submit electronic applications to your chosen ABA-approved law schools. Additionally, you must pay the application fee charged by the law school(s) to which you are applying.

Accreditation

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners requires that you receive your Bachelor of Laws (LLB) or Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an ABA-accredited law school in order to gain membership in the Pennsylvania Bar. This school must be located in the United States, Canada, or any U.S. territories. The only way that you may seek bar admission if you graduated from an unaccredited school is if you are already a member of the bar of a reciprocal state and meet Pennsylvania’s reciprocity requirements (see Step 4 below).
(A Bachelor of Laws degree is the Canadian equivalent to a Juris Doctor degree).

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Pennsylvania

Below is a list of Pennsylvania law schools holding ABA accreditation, along with the application fee and number of credit hours required to earn a J.D. degree:

Course requirements

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners notes that the following subjects are tested on the state’s bar exam and should therefore be covered in your law school curriculum:

  • Pennsylvania and Federal civil procedure
  • Conflict of laws
  • Criminal law (which includes related Federal and Pennsylvania constitutional issues and DUI)
  • Business organizations (including partnerships, corporations, professional corporations and limited liability companies)
  • Contracts
  • Wills, Trusts and Decedents’ Estates (including related fiduciary responsibilities)
  • Family law
  • Evidence (includes Federal and Pennsylvania)
  • Federal Constitutional law
  • Professional responsibility
  • Federal income taxes (only personal, limited to non-taxable and taxable income, proprietorships, deductions, and capital transactions)
  • Torts
  • Real property
  • Employment discrimination (Title VII, ADEA and ADA)
  • Uniform Criminal Code Article II - Sales

Under ABA rules, you must complete at least 83 semester hours of college credit or 129 quarter hours of college credit. As you can see from the list above, all Pennsylvania law schools require more hours than the minimum to earn your J.D. degree:

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Under ABA standards for accreditation of law schools, your law school must offer you many opportunities to participate in off-site practical experience activities. You usually will not participate in an internship or other off-site experience until you have completed at least one year of law school. These can be through any of the following:

  • Live client experiences
  • Real life practice experiences
  • Pro bono activities
  • Trial and appellate advocacy
  • Clinics
  • Field placements

Degree Programs

Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiner rules state that bar admission in Pennsylvania is possible if you have the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree or the Bachelor of Laws (L.L.B.) degree (which is normally found in Canadian law schools). Other law degrees offered by Pennsylvania law schools, along with the schools that offer them, include the following:

  • J.D./Master of Business  Administration: Duquesne University School of Law; Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University; Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University; University of Pittsburgh; Temple University; Villanova University; Widener University
  • J.D./Master of Divinity: Duquesne University School of Law
  • J.D./Master of Health Care Ethics: Duquesne University School of Law
  • J.D./Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management: Duquesne University School of Law
  • J.D/Master of Environmental Pollution Control: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Ph.D. in Law and Psychology: Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University
  • J.D./PsyD: Widener University
  • J.D./Master of Marine Policy: Widener University
  • J.D./Master of Library Science: Widener University
  • J.D./Master of Public  Health: Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University; University of Pittsburgh; Temple University; Widener University
  • J.D./Master of Science in Public Policy: Earle Mack School of Law, Drexel University; University of Pittsburgh
  • J.D./Master of Public Administration: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Social Work: University of Pittsburgh
  • J.D/Master of Arts in Bioethics: University of Pittsburgh
  • J.D./Master of International Affairs: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Laws (LLM) in Taxation: Temple University, Villanova University
  • J.D./LLM in International Studies: Villanova University
  • J.D./Master of Science in Forest Resources: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Ph.D. in Forest Resources or Wildlife and Fisheries Service: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Education in College Student Affairs: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Arts in Educational Theory and Policy: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Education in Higher Education: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Educational Leadership: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Doctor of Educational Leadership: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Science in Human Resources and Public Relations: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Science in Information Systems: Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University
  • J.D./Master of Arts Management: University of Pittsburgh

Graduates of Foreign Law Schools

If you graduate from a law school outside of the United States (and therefore outside of the ABA’s accreditation boundaries), the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners may admit you to the Bar if:

  • You are a member of the Bar of your foreign country and have received a certificate of good standing from them
  • You have been practicing law for at least five of the past eight years
  • You have completed 30 credit hours in an ABA-accredited American law school in coursework including the following (no more than 4 credit hours may be from any one subject):
    • Constitutional law (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Conflict of laws
    • Corporations
    • Contracts (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Decedents’ estates (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Criminal law (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Family law
    • Evidence (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Real property (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Torts (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Uniform Commercial Code, Article II – Sales
    • Uniform Commercial Code, Article III – Commercial Paper
    • Uniform Commercial Code, Article IX – Secured Transactions
    • Federal and/or Pennsylvania Civil Procedure (must have at least 4 credits)
    • Professional responsibility (must have at least 4 credits)

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Step 4

Take the Pennsylvania State Bar Exam

Once you have graduated with your J.D. degree from an ABA-accredited law school, you are ready to take the Pennsylvania Bar Examination. It is given twice each year in February (in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas) and July (in the Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg areas).

Bar Preparation

The Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners provides Bar Exam review information on its website. Various test prep organizations offer Pennsylvania Bar Exam preparation courses. They include Kaplan and Barbri. Other PA Bar Exam preparation courses and reviews are held by most law schools, including:

Exam content

You will take the Pennsylvania Bar Examination over a period of two days, and cover the following content:

  • Day One:
    • One Performance Test (PT) question or Multistate Performance Test (MPT) question requiring you to write such things as:
      • Letters to opposing counsel
      • Letters to clients
      • Contract or will provisions
      • Legal briefs
      • Petitions
      • Legal memoranda
      • Legal motions
    • 6 essay questions that could cover any of the following subjects:
      • Business organizations
      • Civil procedure
      • Criminal law
      • Conflict of laws
      • Contracts
      • Employment discrimination
      • Evidence
      • Family law
      • Federal Constitutional law
      • Federal income taxes
      • Professional responsibility
      • Real property
      • Torts
      • Uniform Commercial Code, Article II – Sales
      • Decedents’ Estates, Wills and Trusts
  • Day Two:
    • Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)- 200 multiple choice questions covering:
      • Constitutional law
      • Real property
      • Evidence
      • Criminal law
      • Contracts
      • Torts

Application Process

You must file online to sit for the Pennsylvania Bar Exam. Based on your responses on the application, you may be required to submit Supplemental Documents (along with an Amendment to Application form for each document) and Third-Party Documents (which must also be accompanies by an Amendment to Application form). Documents that you may need to submit or have submitted by a third party include:

  • Name change request (with a copy of your marriage license, divorce decree or court order)
  • Criminal history records from all states in which you have lived if you were arrested, charged, cited, accused or prosecuted for any offense (misdemeanor or felony) other than a summary citation or minor traffic violation since age 16
  • Original driving records for each state from which you ever held a driver’s license, and/or in which you were stopped, arrested, charged, cited, accused or prosecuted for DUI or any serious traffic violation
  • Certified law school transcript if you attended a foreign law school
  • Certificates of Good Standing for any other jurisdiction in which you are a member of the Bar
  • If you worked as a sole practitioner at any time for which you are claiming employment history, have a judge and two attorneys provide professional references on their letterhead
  • If you worked in a non-legal capacity for most of the past five years, have two people provide professional references on their letterhead
  • If you are currently working in a legal capacity in PA, have your supervisor send a letter of verification on letterhead explaining your duties, along with an Attorney Disclaimer Form

Mail all supporting documents to: Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, 601 Commonwealth Ave, Suite 3600, P.O. Box 62535, Harrisburg, PA 17106-2535. When the Board accepts your application, you will receive an email.  

Filing Deadlines and Fees

  • If you wish to take the February Bar Exam and are a new applicant:
    • File/pay by Oct 30 - $500
    • File/pay by Nov 15 - $650
    • File/pay by Nov 30 - $950
    • File/pay by Dec 15 - $1350
  • If you wish to take the July Bar Exam and are a new applicant:
    • File/pay by April 15- $500
    • File/pay by April 30-$650
    • File/pay by May 15 - $950
    • File/pay by May 30 - $1350
  • Fees may be paid online by credit card or by certified check, cashier’s check, law firm check, corporate check or money order payable to the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners

Character and Fitness Determination

Once you file your application to sit for the Pennsylvania Bar Exam, you authorize the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners to conduct a fitness and character investigation. They must find that you have a history of honesty, trustworthiness, reliability and diligence. The Board may contact your schools, employers, police agencies, credit agencies and other sources to make this determination. The determination will not be finalized until after you have passed the Bar exam.

Pass Rates

Results of the February Bar Exam will be released in April, and of the July Bar Exam, in October. You will be notified of your score by mail. To pass, you must have combined MBE and Scaled Essay/PT scores of 272 or more. If you pass, your name is published on the Press Release of Successful Applicants. Pass rates for recent exams are as follows:

  • February 2012: 59.64% of applicants passed
  • July 2011: 79.81% of applicants passed
  • February 2011: 69.65% of applicants passed

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

After you pass the Pennsylvania Bar Exam, you will receive a Certificate Recommending Admission to the Bar. You then have six months to submit an Application for Admission to the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania along with your certificate to the Pittsburgh office of the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania within six months of the date on the certificate. After six months, your certificate lapses and you must pay a fee and undergo another character and fitness evaluation.  If you do not file to become a member of the Bar within three years of receiving your certificate, you must take and pass the bar exam again. You will be admitted to the Bar in a court ceremony to be held in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

Reciprocity

According to Rule 204 of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, if you are licensed to practice law in another state, you may seek admission to the Pennsylvania Bar if you meet all of the requirements below:

  • You have a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-accredited law school
  • You are a member of the Bar of a reciprocal state (currently, states considered to be reciprocal to Pennsylvania include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin)
  • You have received a certificate of good standing from all jurisdictions in which you are licensed to practice law
  • You have practiced law in at least one state for at least five of the past seven years
  • You have never failed the Pennsylvania Bar Exam
  • You have passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

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Step 5

You've a Member of the Pennsylvania State Bar

Kudos to you on passing the Pennsylvania Bar Exam! As you can see from the passing statistics listed above, this is no easy task. You have proven that you can work hard and deserve a plum job as an attorney in Pennsylvania. But where do you want to work? Should you open your own practice? Join a small firm? Work for a larger conglomerate? The choices are endless in a state the size of Pennsylvania. 

If you join a smaller firm or start an independent practice, you might want to join the Solo and Small Practice Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. This organization is especially designed for independent practitioners and smaller law firms, and publishes a quarterly newsletter on law office management, automation, technology, and more.

Larger law firms can be a great way for new attorneys to enter the legal profession in Pennsylvania. Many well-known firms exist in the state, such as Reed Smith LLP in Philadelphia, Burleson LLP in Canonsburg, Fox Rothschild LLP in Exton, Ballard Spahr LLP in Philadelphia, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Philadelphia

Alternatively, maybe you would rather become legal counsel for a nonprofit organization or legal assistance association and give back to the community? Many groups exist that may be in need of legal services, including HIAS Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Norristown, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Education Law Center in Pittsburgh, and the Children’s Advocacy Project of York.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor projects that about 639 new jobs for lawyers will be available throughout the state each year from 2008 through 2018.
 
Legal specialty certification

Some members of the Pennsylvania Bar choose to specialize in a legal area, serving a certain population. With proper training, experience and sometimes passing examinations, certifications for many legal specialties are approved by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, including:

Requirements for maintaining license

Once you have your law license in Pennsylvania, you must maintain it by completing 12 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each year. This includes a mandatory one hour of ethics courses. The rules and regulations that CLE must meet are listed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board.

Court Systems in Pennsylvania

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania consists of:

  • Supreme Court: Pennsylvania’s highest court, hears about 2,500 civil and criminal appeals each year, holds sessions in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia
  • Superior Court: One of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts, reviews criminal and civil case appeals from the Court of Common Pleas in all of the state’s 67 counties. Appeals are held in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia
  • Commonwealth Court: One of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts, jurisdiction limited to legal matters of state and local government and regulatory agencies. Held in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
  • Common Pleas Court: Pennsylvania’s trial courts that hear major criminal and civil cases. Organized into 60 judicial districts across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties
  • Minor Courts: the first level of the judicial system in Pennsylvania. 544 magisterial judges preside over community courts throughout the state. Philadelphia has both a Magisterial Court and a Traffic Court, while Pittsburgh has a Municipal Court.

Elective membership organizations

Think about becoming a member of one of the following professional organizations for Pennsylvania lawyers:

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Pennsylvania Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  PA Statistics:
 
PA Active Lawyers 22,680
Average Annual Wage $137,910
  

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