State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Career in South Dakota

The State Bar of South Dakota reported in 2011 that 65 percent of the state’s lawyers were concentrated in four cities in the state. It created Project Rural Practice to try to rectify this situation and lure more lawyers to more rural, less populated areas of South Dakota. Some of the more rural sections of the state do not have access to legal services at this time. It is in these areas that lawyers in South Dakota are highly necessary. Other bar association-related organizations that assist rural and low-income South Dakotans in finding legal help include Dakota Plains Legal Services, East River Legal Services, Access to Justice, Sicangu Oyate Bar Association, and the South Dakota Legal Helpline. If you would like to become a lawyer in South Dakota and help out in these rural areas, or even work in the state’s larger cities, keep reading.
 

Step 1

Get Your South Dakota Undergrad Pre-Law Major

The South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners does not require undergraduate education before law school. The Board does, however, demand that your law degree comes from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Because all ABA-accredited law schools require you to have a bachelor’s degree upon entrance, it follows that, in order to become a member of the South Dakota bar, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Accreditation

Any ABA-accredited law institution demands that your undergraduate degree is from a school that is accredited. In order to be recognized as valid, your school should be accredited by a national or regional accreditation organization listed with the U.S. Department of Education.

Requirements and Standards

You are not obligated to take any certain courses, minors or majors in undergraduate school. Advisors suggest that you take coursework that fulfills, challenges and interests you. This may be in any area, although some courses tend to lend themselves well to later law study. These include political science, philosophy, communications, economics, history, and business courses. 

Degree Options

You must graduate with a bachelor’s degree in arts or sciences prior to entering an ABA-accredited law school. The major you choose is irrelevant.


  
  

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Step 2

LSAT in South Dakota

Once undergraduate education is completed, you may apply to take the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) administers this test at centers across the country.  

How to prepare for the LSAT

Practice tests and sample question and answer sets are available for your review at the LSAT site. Other LSAT review materials in South Dakota may be provided by:  
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in South Dakota:

LSAT Exam content

The LSAT is a three and a half hour long standardized test with the following sections:

  • Reading Comprehension – Your ability to read and understand long text passages is tested here. There are four parts to the reading comprehension section, with each having one passage followed by five to eight questions on that passage.
  • Analytical Reasoning – Your ability to apply rules and facts to a system to tell what is and is not true is tested here. You are given four logic problems, each followed by five to eight questions.
  • Logical Reasoning – Your ability to analyze and evaluate the validity of an argument is tested here. You are given 25 short passages, each followed by one or two questions.
  • Writing Sample – You are also presented with a problem in which you must choose a position and defend your choice in writing. This section is not scored as part of the LSAT but is counted by the admissions officers of the law schools to which you apply as part of their admissions process.

Application process

Apply online through the LSAC to take the LSAT, which is given in October, December, February and June, on Saturdays and Wednesdays, in the following South Dakota test centers:

  • Northern State University, 1200 S Jay St, Aberdeen, SD 57401-7198
  • South Dakota State University, Box 2201, Adm 324, Brookings, SD 57007-1898
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 501 E Saint Joseph St, Rapid City, SD 57701-3995
  • Augustana College, 2001 S Summit Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57197-0001
  • Black Hills State University, 1200 University St, Spearfish, SD 57799-9500
  • University of South Dakota, 414 E Clark St, Vermillion, SD 57069-2390

Receiving Your Score

Your LSAT score, which will be between 120 and 180, should arrive at your address via postal mail about three weeks after you take the test. There is just one ABA-approved law school in South Dakota, the University of South Dakota School of Law. As an example, the median LSAT score of its freshmen in 2011 was 150.

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Step 3

Go to Law School in South Dakota

College Application process

Next step in becoming a South Dakota lawyer is to apply to ABA-approved law schools. Having a law degree from an ABA-accredited law school is a requirement of the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners before you will be allowed to take the state’s bar exam. You need not attend a law school in South Dakota – it may be anywhere in the US, as long as it holds ABA accreditation. A complete list of all ABA-accredited law schools may be found in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.

Credential Assembly Service

The Credential Assembly Service (CAS) is a mandatory service provided by the LSAC that you must use when you apply for admission at any of the over 200 ABA-approved law schools nationwide. It helps to centralize all of your data, including your LSAT score, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. It also provides access to online applications of ABA-accredited law schools. Once you register with the CAS, you must have all of the undergraduate colleges and universities you have ever attended send official transcripts to CAS. Your law school report will be created by the LSAC and CAS, and will be sent to each law school to which you apply. This report will include:

  • Academic credit summary
  • Your grades each year
  • Transcript copies
  • GPA for each year
  • Cumulative GPA
  • Description of your overall grade distribution
  • Mean GPA of other students at your school who registered with CAS
  • Your percentile rank among those students
  • Your LSAT scores (any cancellations or absences will be noted)
  • Average LSAT score if you took it multiple times
  • Copy of your LSAT writing sample
  • Mean LSAT score for students from your undergraduate institution

Accreditation

The South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners requires that you graduate with a law degree from an ABA-accredited law school before taking the state’s bar examination. There are no provisions for graduates of non-ABA accredited institutions or from foreign law schools. These graduates are not eligible to take the South Dakota bar exam.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in South Dakota

Just one law school in South Dakota holds ABA accreditation:

Course requirements

These types of courses usually make up the foundation of an ABA-accredited law school’s curriculum:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law
  • Fundamental Legal Skills
  • Property
  • Torts

Other courses you may choose as a second year student usually revolve around subjects such as:

  • Constitutional law
  • Evidence
  • Legal Profession
  • Commercial law
  • Mediation
  • Trial techniques
  • Drafting and legal practice

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Your law school may require you to participate in co-curricular activities. These may include an internship at an off-campus site, a legal clinic, trial advocacy, law review, moot court, or the like. Check with your law school’s policies and procedures for more information.

Law Student Registration

Under rules of the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners, if you are a first-year law student and intend to take the South Dakota bar examination after graduation, you may register with the Board on forms provided by the Board. You must pay a $50 registration fee, plus the fee required by the National Conference of Bar Examiners' (NCBE) law student registrant program for preparation of an initial character report. You are not registering to take the bar exam at this time.  

Degree Programs

You must have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an ABA-accredited law facility in order to take the South Dakota bar exam. There are other options, such as dual degrees and legal concentrations, to JD students. Depending on your school, they may include:

  • Concentrations and/or course tracks:
    • Natural resources/Environmental law
    • Indian law
    • Relationship between law and government
    • Statutory analysis
    • Abstract analysis
    • Business law
    • Civil litigation
    • Commercial law
    • Constitutional law
    • Criminal law/procedure
    • Employment law
    • Environmental law
    • Real estate
    • Estate planning
  • Dual degrees:
    • JD/Master of Professional Accountancy
    • JD/Master of Business Administration
    • JD/Master of Science in Administrative Studies
    • JD/Master of Arts in Education Administration
    • JD/Master of Arts in English
    • JD/Master of Arts in History
    • JD/Master of Arts in Political Science
    • JD/Master of Public Administration
    • JD/Master of Arts in Psychology

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Step 4

Take the South Dakota State Bar Exam

Are steps 1, 2 and 3 completed? You might be ready to apply to take the South Dakota bar examination, if you are at least 18 years of age.

Residency Requirement

The South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners has a residency requirement for taking the bar exam. You must either be a resident, maintain an office in South Dakota, or designate the clerk of the Supreme Court as an agent for service of process prior to taking the bar exam.

Non-ABA approved law school graduates

If your law school was not approved by the ABA, you are not allowed to take the South Dakota bar exam.

Graduates of Foreign Law Schools

If your law school was located outside of the United States, you are not allowed to take the South Dakota bar exam.

Preparation

When you take the South Dakota bar exam, you will encounter sections that are the same from one state to the other, and sections that are unique to South Dakota. The National Conference of Bar Examiners website offers free study aids for the national parts of the exam (the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT)). Other bar review resources in South Dakota include:

Exam content

You will take the South Dakota bar exam over a two-day period (Tuesday and Wednesday). Tuesday you will take the MPT for three hours, one South Dakota essay question on Indian law, and six MEE questions for three hours. The MPT is a performance test that requires you to use a file and a library to perform a lawyer’s task. The MEE is the essay exam, which may cover any of the following subjects:

  • Agency
  • Commercial Paper
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Corporations
  • Family Law
  • Federal Civil Procedure
  • Partnerships
  • Sales
  • Secured Transactions
  • Wills, Trusts & Future Interests

Wednesday you will take the MBE, with 100 multiple-choice questions in the morning (three hours) and 100 multiple-choice questions in the afternoon (three hours). The MBE may cover any of these subjects:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts/Sales
  • Criminal Law/Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Real Property
  • Torts

Application Process

You must request a bar exam application by mail or phone from the Board of Bar Examiners, 500 E. Capitol, Pierre, SD 57501, or call (605) 773-4898. If you wish to use a laptop to take the exam, you must download and register SofTest software prior to the exam. Instructions on completing the application will be contained within it. You must also complete the request for character and fitness report from the NCBE and pay applicable fees. Along with the completed South Dakota bar exam application, send the following to the Board:

  • Five copies of your completed application plus one original
  • $300 exam fee (postmarked by Nov 1 for Feb exam or April 1 for July exam) by money order or certified check only, payable to the Board of Bar Examiners
  • Recent photograph
  • Completed DCI and FBI fingerprint cards (instructions will be with application)
  • Supplemental documentation, as required (see application)

Mail everything to the address above.

Pass Rates

Expect to receive your South Dakota bar exam scores in about 10 weeks, by mail. In order to pass the exam, you must have a MBE score of at least 130, and a total score of at least 276.

The following passing rates for past South Dakota bar exams have been posted by AmeriBar:

  • Feb 2007:             87 percent of all test-takers passed the exam
  • July 2007:             84%
  • Feb 2008:             77%
  • July 2008:             92%
  • Feb 2009:             58%
  • July 2009:             91%
  • Feb 2010:             85%
  • July 2010:             97%

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

You must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) with a score of at least 75 within 25 months prior to the next scheduled bar exam. The MPRE is given in March, August and November in Vermillion, and in August in Pierre.

Admission on Motion

If you are already a licensed attorney and bar member in another state, and have been practicing for the past five years, you may be eligible for admission to the South Dakota bar without examination. You must be a member of that bar in good standing, be familiar with the rules of the State Bar of South Dakota governing the conduct of its members, and submit the proper application forms and fees. For more information, contact the Board of Bar Examiners at (605)773-4898.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Once you have passed the state’s bar exam, you will be notified of the details of your bar admission ceremony. After that, you will be a full-fledged member of the South Dakota bar.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the South Dakota Bar

Congratulations on your monumental achievement of becoming a member of the State Bar of South Dakota! The Bar requires that you complete a training course within your first year of admission. Contact the Bar’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) department at (605) 224-7554 for more information.

If you are going to branch out on your own, check out the Bar’s Checklist for Solo Practitioners. This can help you to make the right decision for you and to know what you need in terms of practice management resources to get started.

Litigation positions are often available for new lawyers across the state, and may be listed on the bar’s website. Major firms across South Dakota include personal injury/commercial case lawyers Michael D. Bornitz, Cutler & Donahoe, LLP, in Sioux Falls; family law specialists Strange, Farrell, Johnson & Brewers in Sioux Falls; criminal defense lawyers Christensen Law Firm in Rapid City; and business litigators the De Hueck Law Firm in Pierre.

Although no Fortune 500 companies exist in South Dakota, many other companies are headquartered here or have large offices here and may be in need of legal counsel from time to time. They include utility company NorthWestern Corporation in Sioux Falls; South Dakota Trust Company, LLC in Sioux Falls; HSBC North America in Sioux Falls and Rapid City; telecommunications component manufacturer Midcom, Inc. in Watertown; and Dakota Nation Gaming Enterprise in Watertown.

Legal specialty certification

South Dakota recognizes certain companies that provide certification services for lawyers wishing to specialize in certain areas. These include the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification (NBLSC) for specializations trial advocacy, social security disability, and civil pretrial advocacy; and the American Board of Certification (ABC) for specializations in business bankruptcy, consumer bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. Contact the ABC at (319) 365-2222 or director@abcworld.org for more information on its certification process. The South Dakota state coordinator for the NBLSC is Bruce Ford. He can be reached at (605) 886-3725 or bruce@fordlawoffice.com.

Requirements for maintaining license

The State Bar of South Dakota does not mandate continuing education for its members in order to maintain your license to practice law in the state.

Court Systems in South Dakota

South Dakota’s Unified Judicial System consists of the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts of general jurisdiction, and Lower Courts of limited original jurisdiction.

  • Supreme Court – the highest court in the state, acts as an appeals court and administers the statewide court system
  • Circuit Courts – the general trial courts, with original jurisdiction in all criminal and civil cases. Seven judicial circuits exist in South Dakota:
    • 1st: Buffalo, Brule, Aurora, Davison, Hanson, McCook, Charles Mix, Douglas, Hutchinson, Turner, Bon Homme, Yankton, Clay and Union Counties
    • 2nd: Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties
    • 3rd: Hand, Beadle, Jerauld, Sanborn, Kingsbury, Brookings, Miner, Lake, Moody, Clark, Codington, Hamlin, Deuel and Grant Counties
    • 4th: Lawrence, Butte, Harding, Perkins, Meade, Ziebach, Dewey and Corson Counties
    • 5th: Walworth, Campbell, McPherson, Edmunds, Faulk, Spink, Brown, Marshall, Day and Roberts Counties
    • 6th: Bennett, Todd, Tripp, Gregory, Jackson, Mellette, Jones, Lyman, Haakon, Stanley, Hughes, Sully, Potter and Hyde Counties
    • 7th:  Fall River, Custer, Pennington and Shannon Counties
  • Magistrate Courts – assist Circuit Courts in processing minor criminal cases and less serious civil cases

Elective membership organizations

Also, think about joining one of the following South Dakota lawyer associations, or one like it that fits with your personal and professional situation:

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South Dakota Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  S Dakota Statistics:
 
SD Active Lawyers 1,839
Average Annual Wage $94,610
  

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