State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in West Virginia

The American Bar Association reports that there were 4725 resident, active attorneys who were members of the West Virginia bar in 2010. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the legal profession is expected to grow 13 percent across the country through 2018. Practice areas which are expected to show the biggest growth nationwide include health care, intellectual property, estate planning, corporate and security litigation, bankruptcy, environmental law and antitrust law. Dean Joyce McConnell of the West Virginia University College of Law noted that 50 percent of students in the graduating class of 2010 went into private practice, while 12 percent went into judicial clerkships, 24 percent entered business law, 9.5 percent got jobs in government litigation and 4.5 percent work for the public interest like legal services or as public defenders. If you would like to become a member of the West Virginia bar, read on.
 

Step 1

Get Your West Virginia Undergrad Pre-Law Major

Under the rules of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, there are many ways to gain admission to the state’s bar. These include admission by examination, admission without examination (reciprocity), as resident professors of law, and limited permission for public defender program attorneys or indigent legal services. We will first discuss admission by examination and touch upon the other methods of admission to the bar in Step 4 of this document.

School Accreditation

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners specifies in its rules of admission to the bar that you must obtain an A.B. (Bachelor of Arts), B.S.  (Bachelor of Science), or higher degree from an accredited college, university or equivalent prior to attending law school. The school from which you obtain your undergraduate degree must be accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Requirements and Standards

Your undergraduate education must prepare you for entrance into an American Bar Association-accredited law school. While the ABA does not set standards or requirements for your undergraduate pre-legal education (beyond the fact that it must be completed at an accredited institution), there are recommendations for coursework and areas of knowledge that should be studied to ensure further success in law school. They include:

  • History
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • Politics and government
  • World cultures
  • Mathematics
  • Psychology

Program Options

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners specifies in its rules for admission to the bar that your undergraduate degree must be at least a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or higher. The major that you should take has not been identified nor has the Board suggested it. However, it follows suit that if the ABA recommends coursework in the above-mentioned areas, your major should correspond to one of those areas to help you succeed in law school later. Therefore, recommended pre-law majors should include:

  • History
  • Government and politics
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • Psychology

Pre- Law Advisor

Your undergraduate college or university may employ a Pre-Law Advisor, whose job is to assist pre-law students in choosing the right courses, majors and minors to best prepare you for law school. Your pre-law advisor can also help you prepare to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) , recommend the best law schools to which you should apply, and help you gather the necessary paperwork to make law school applications.

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in West Virginia

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners prefers that prospective members graduate from an ABA-approved law school (although there are provisions for those who attend non-ABA approved law schools, which will be discussed in Step 3). All ABA-approved law schools, and many non-ABA approved law schools, require that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, to gain admission to law school.

How to prepare

The LSAT website offers practice tests and other free materials to help you prepare for the exam. You may also opt to take one of the following LSAT exam preparation courses, seminars or workshops throughout West Virginia:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in West Virginia:

Exam content

Skills and knowledge that are vital to law school success are tested on the LSAT:

  • Logical reasoning: You will encounter two logical reasoning sections on the LSAT, also called arguments. These are designed to test your ability to analyze arguments. You must find the argument makers’ assumption, select a conclusion based on the argument, find errors in the argument, or analyze the argument in other ways.
  • Reading comprehension: You will encounter one reading comprehension section on the LSAT, with four passages you must read, and approximately eight questions to answer per passage. You must find the main idea of the passage, information in the passage, draw inferences, and describe the passage’s structure. 
  • Analytical reasoning: There is one analytical reasoning section on the LSAT, also known as the logic games section. A premise is outlined and a set of conditions established based on relationships in the premise. You must draw conclusions from statements offered.
  • Writing sample: The last section of the LSAT consists of a writing sample you must execute. You are given a decision prompt of a problem and two criteria to help you make a decision. You must write an essay that favors one criterion over the other, and use arguments for your position and against the counter-position in your essay. The writing sample portion of the LSAT is not scored, but will be sent to the admission offices of law schools to which you apply. Most law schools use your writing sample to help evaluate your application and make a decision on your law school admission.

LSAT Application Process

You may take the LSAT on a Wednesday or a Saturday in February, June, October and December. Not every testing center offers the LSAT on every date, however, so choose accordingly when planning to take the test at one of the following centers throughout West Virginia:

  • Mountain State University, 609 S Kanawha St, Beckley, WV 25801-9003
  • Marshall University, 1 John Marshall Dr, Huntington, WV 25755
  • West Virginia University, Box 6201, Morgantown, WV 26506-6201

Fees

You must pay a testing fee of $160 by check or money order to the Law School Admission Council or by credit card when you register online to take the LSAT.

Receiving Your Score

You will receive your Score Report and Test Disclosure by email three weeks after you complete the exam. The lowest possible LSAT score is 120 and highest, 180.

The LSAT does not necessarily predict your future success in law school. It does, however, measure subjects that you will study in law school and knowledge used by attorneys every day. For information on how the LSAT predicts law school performance, read LSAT Scores as Predictors of Law School Performance (PDF). If you think that your answer sheet was scored inaccurately, you may request that your answer sheet be rescored by hand.

Accommodated Testing

You may request accommodations to take the LSAT if you have any documented disabilities. You must first register to take the LSAT, and then submit the Accommodations Request Packet (which can be found online when you register for the test). You must obtain and submit all required documentation by the deadlines listed here .

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Step 3

Attend Law School in West Virginia

Application process

Kudos to you for passing the LSAT! This milestone is just the first along your path to becoming a member of the West Virginia bar. The second is to apply to law school. The LSAC can assist you in this endeavor as well. Indeed, if you apply to an ABA-approved law school (and some non-ABA approved law schools), it will require that you use the LSAC’s services. As every law school is different in its requirements, consult this list of services that ABA-approved law schools across the country require when you enroll.

Credential Assembly Service

One of the services uniformly required when applying to an ABA-approved law school is to utilize LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. The LSAC will help you compile transcripts and letters of recommendation, obtain evaluations, and apply electronically for you to the law schools of your choosing. 

  • You must have  transcripts from all schools you attended (whether or not you received a degree) mailed directly to LSAC, Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993.
  • If you attended any institutions outside of the United States, Canada or US territories, have these transcripts mailed directly Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502.
  • Submit names to the LSAC online of persons who are going to write your letters of recommendation and give online evaluations of your work. Specify which letters and evaluations should be sent along with which law school applications.
  • Pay LSAC $155 online for the Credential Assembly Service.

Accreditation

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners prefers that aspiring attorneys graduate from ABA-accredited law schools in the United States (not necessarily in West Virginia). There are rules that apply if you graduate from non-ABA accredited law schools that are explained below. There are about 200 law schools across the United States currently holding ABA approval. A comprehensive listing can be found at the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. If you want to know how the ABA decides which law schools to approve, consult the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in West Virginia

Only one law school in West Virginia is currently ABA-accredited:

Course requirements

ABA Standard 302 of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools declares that ABA-approved law schools offer coursework in the following areas:

  • Substantive law necessary to effectively and responsibly participate in the legal profession
  • Legal analysis/reasoning
  • Legal research
  • Problem solving
  • Oral communication
  • Writing in a legal context (must include one demanding writing experience in the first year of law school and one after the first year)
  • History, structure, goals, values, responsibilities and rules of the legal profession including the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association
  • Other professional skills necessary to effectively and responsibly participate in the legal profession
  • Real-life client practice experiences and/or experiences (may include clinical or field placements and pro bono work)

Time

The ABA says that you must take at least 24 months to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, but cannot take more than 84 months to do so. One academic year must equal at least 130 days and span at least eight calendar months.
You need at least 58,000 minutes of instruction time to graduate with a J.D. degree, and 45,000 of those minutes must be in attending regular law school classes. The total is roughly equivalent to 83 semester hours of credit or 129 quarter hours of credit.

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Your law school must offer you the opportunity for real-life field placements and/or to interact with live clients. Many ABA-approved universities offer clinics in which law students work with a certain group of real-life clients, such as the indigent, women and children, and minorities. You may have the opportunity to work in civil law, criminal law, or areas such as taxation, property, wills and trusts, or immigration.

Degree Programs

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners says that you must graduate with a J.D. degree or L.L.B. degree (the Canadian equivalent of the J.D. degree) in order to be admitted to the state’s bar. If you already have a J.D. or L.L.B. degree, or are interested in a non-practicing law degree, other options exist:
Post-JD and non-JD degree programs:

  • Master of Laws (L.L.M.)
  • Masters of Science or Masters of Studies in Advanced Legal Studies(M.S.)
  • Juris Master (J.M.)
  • Master of Comparative Law (M.C.L.)
  • Master of  Jurisprudence (M.J.)
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.S.D.)
  • Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.)
  • Doctor of Comparative Law (D.C.L.)

ABA-approved law schools offering these degrees are listed here.

Non-ABA Approved Law Schools

If you graduate form a non-ABA approved law school, you might still be eligible for the West Virginia Bar if you meet one of the following qualifications:

  • You did not graduate from a correspondence or online law course program
  • You have successfully passed the bar exam in another state and have been admitted to practice law in that state
  • You graduated from a non-ABA approved school in a state where graduates of that school have been deemed eligible to take that state’s bar exam, and you have completed one of the following requirements:
    • Three years of work in a West Virginia law office as a legal assistant or as a paralegal under the supervision of a member of the West Virginia bar
    • Two attorneys who are West Virginia bar members certify to the Board that you are knowledgeable and competent to practice law and are of good moral character (one of these attorneys must have supervised your work for at least six months)
  • You graduated from a reputable, non-ABA approved law school that the Board has determined to be substantially equivalent to an ABA-approved law school
  • You graduated from a foreign law school in a country where the common law of England exists as the basis of its jurisprudence, the educational requirements of bar admission in that country are substantially equivalent to those of West Virginia, and you have completed 30 hours of study at an ABA-approved law school in a 36 month period in the following areas:
    • Legal ethics/professional responsibility
    • Property (real and personal)
    • Contracts
    • Uniform Commercial Code
    • Business organizations/corporations
    • Evidence
    • Criminal law
    • Wills, trusts and estates
    • Domestic relations
    • Civil procedure
    • Constitutional law
    • Criminal procedure
    • Federal taxation
    • Torts
    • Conflict of laws

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Step 4

Take the West Virginia State Bar Exam

The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners may allow you to take the bar exam prior to receiving your J.D. degree, if you have completed all requirements for your degree but will not receive the actual degree before the bar exam is scheduled to be administered.  The West Virginia Bar Examination is given annually on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July of each year.  

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

Before taking the West Virginia bar exam, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). This exam, administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), is typically offered while you are a student in law school, or you may register online. The fee for taking this test is $70 and payable to the NCBE online when you register. You must receive a scaled score of at least 75 on this exam. You have 25 months from the time of passing the West Virginia Bar Exam to pass the MPRE.  

Preparation

Just as it was important to prepare before taking the LSAT, preparation is key to your success in passing the West Virginia Bar Exam. Online study guides are available from the National Conference of Bar Examiners to help you prepare for the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), Multistate Essay

Exam (MEE) and Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) parts of the exam.

Additionally, it is to your benefit to review the Guide to Materials for WV Bar Exam Preparation created for the Academic Excellence Program by the West Virginia University Law Library. This comprehensive document lists many resources that will be most helpful to you in preparing to take the West Virginia Bar Exam.

Exam content

The West Virginia Bar Exam is given over two days. The first day consists of answering two 90- minute questions from the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). These questions involve practical tasks expected of attorneys, such as preparing legal briefs, client letters, memorandums, contracts, settlements, etc.  On the afternoon of the first day, you will take the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). You must write six essays on topics to include commercial paper, agencies, conflict of laws, family law, corporations and limited liability companies, wills, trusts and future interests, sales, partnerships, secured transactions, and federal civil procedure.
The second day consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), 100 multiple-choice questions given over three hours. Subjects tested on the MBE include contracts and sales, Constitutional law, torts, real property, evidence, criminal procedure and criminal law.

Application Process

  • Complete the Character and Fitness Application online at the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website. After you have completed the application, you will be directed to print two copies and given the address to mail one copy to the NCBE (keep the other copy).  You must pay the $225 fee for the creation of this report online.
  • Mail the following documents to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:
    • Original, completed, notarized application from Step 1(without pages 1 and 3 of the character report preparation).
    • Completed and notarized Application Affidavit
    • Completed and notarized Affidavit of Authorization and Release
    • Application filing fee (see fee schedule – students typically pay $375) by check or money order only payable to the State of West Virginia
    • If you took the MBE in the past 13 months and want those results applied to your bar exam, complete the MBE Request and Release Form. Include a fee of $50 by check or money order payable to the State of West Virginia.
    • If you will need special testing accommodations, complete the Test Accommodations form.
    • If any information changes prior to exam time, use the Application Update Form to notify the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, and the NCBE’s amendment forms to notify the NCBE.

Pass Rates

You need a combined scaled score of 270 to pass the West Virginia bar exam. Official bar exam results will be mailed to your address approximately eight weeks post-exam.  A listing of the most recent administration’s results is posted on the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners website, by seat number only. The Board will not provide information on pass/fail results by request. The passing rate for first-time exam takers of the July 2010 bar exam was 79%. The overall pass rate for the July 2010 bar exam was 65%, according to the NCBE’s Bar Examination and Admission Statistics report.

Other Ways to Gain Admission to the Bar Reciprocity

If you wish to gain admission to the West Virginia bar by means of reciprocity without passing the state’s bar exam, you must have been actively practicing law in another state for five of the past seven years. You must also show to the Board that the standards for bar admission in that state are equivalent to those of West Virginia. States that West Virginia considers reciprocal as of March 1, 2012 are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

You must complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:

    • Original, completed, notarized application from Step 1(without pages 1 and 3 of the character report preparation).
    • Completed and notarized Application Affidavit
    • Completed and notarized Affidavit of Authorization and Release
    • Application filing fee (see fee schedule) by check or money order only payable to the State of West Virginia
    • Completed and notarized Affidavit of Active Practice
    • Copies of bar applications you have filed in other jurisdictions
    • Official transcripts from the schools where you obtained both your undergraduate degree and your law degree
    • Original credit report no more than 30 days old
    • Original Certificates of Good Standing from the Clerk of the Supreme Court in each state where you are a practicing attorney
    • Official MPRE score report showing that you obtained a scaled score of at least 75
    • Affidavits of Practitioner from two attorneys licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where you last practiced, attesting to your good moral character
    • Certificate of Presiding Judge from a trial court of record in your home city or county

Resident Professor of Law

If you hold a full-time faculty position at an ABA-approved law school in the state, you may apply for West Virginia bar admission as a Resident Professor of Law. You must first complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:

    • Original, completed, notarized application from Step 1(without pages 1 and 3 of the character report preparation).
    • Completed and notarized Application Affidavit
    • Completed and notarized Affidavit of Authorization and Release
    • Application filing fee (see fee schedule) by check or money order only payable to the State of West Virginia
    • Copies of bar applications you have filed in other jurisdictions
    • Official transcripts from the schools where you obtained both your undergraduate degree and your law degree
    • Original credit report no more than 30 days old
    • Original Certificates of Good Standing from the Clerk of the Supreme Court in each state where you have been admitted to the bar
    • Official MPRE score report showing that you obtained a scaled score of at least 75
    • Statement signed by a representative of the West Virginia University College of Law attesting that you are a state resident and hold a position as a full-time faculty member there

Limited Permission

If you are enrolled in a qualified graduate law school program in West Virginia, or work for a qualified legal services or public defender program in West Virginia, you may apply for limited permission to the West Virginia bar. To apply to the West Virginia bar on the basis of limited permission, complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:

    • Original, completed, notarized application from Step 1(without pages 1 and 3 of the character report preparation).
    • Completed and notarized Application Affidavit
    • Completed and notarized Affidavit of Authorization and Release
    • Application filing fee (see fee schedule) by check or money order only payable to the State of West Virginia
    • Copies of bar applications you have filed in other jurisdictions
    • Official transcripts from the schools where you obtained both your undergraduate degree and your law degree
    • Original credit report no more than 30 days old
    • Original Certificates of Good Standing from the Clerk of the Supreme Court in each state where you have been admitted to the bar
    • A statement signed by a representative of the law school where you are enrolled verifying your enrollment, or a statement signed by a representative of the qualified legal services or public defender program for which you currently work.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Once you have passed the West Virginia bar exam or have been admitted without examination on one of the bases above, a Certificate of Eligibility will be issued by the Board. You must appear before the Supreme Court of Appeals within twelve months of receiving the certificate, take the oath of office, and sign the roll of attorneys maintained by the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Appeals. The oath is as follows: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that: I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia; that I will honestly demean myself in the practice of law; and, to the best of my ability, execute my office of attorney-at-law; so help me God." After you complete this process and pay necessary fees, you will receive a Certificate of Admission and be considered a member of the West Virginia bar.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the West Virginia Bar

Congrats, new member of the West Virginia bar! Now that you have your new legal license, where do you plan to work? Small and large legal firms throughout West Virginia employ new attorneys, as do corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Or perhaps you would like to start a sole proprietorship?  The West Virginia State Bar Association’s  Young Lawyer’s Section can assist you with all of these endeavors. The website also has a practice guide to the laws of the state, which can be quite handy when you are first starting out as an attorney in West Virginia.

The State of West Virginia’s offices in each county typically employ attorneys in a variety of capacities. Other government agencies that employ lawyers include the Department of Agriculture in Harper’s Ferry, the Department of Justice in Clarksburg, the Department of Homeland Security in Martinsburg, the United States Air Force in Charleston, and the Department of the Treasury in Parkersburg.

While West Virginia currently does not house any Fortune 500 companies, other corporations make their headquarters in the state and may be in need of legal help. Some of these include Appalachian Power in Charleston, Champion Industries in Huntington, Gabriel Brothers in Morgantown, MTR Gaming Group in Chester, and Blenko Glass Company in Milton.
Major law firms are located throughout West Virginia, with names such as Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Charleston; K&L Gates and Reed Smith, both in Wheeling; Spilman, Thomas & Battle with offices in Charleston, Morgantown and Wheeling; and Huddleston Bolen LLP in Huntington and Charleston.

Legal specialty certification

The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification provides certification services for attorneys who wish to specialize in certain areas of the law. Certifications include civil trial advocacy, social security disability, and family law. If this interests you, the NBLSC contact person for West Virginia is Laura Faircloth, and she can be reached at 304-267-3949 or lauravfaircloth@adelphia.net.

Requirements for maintaining license

The West Virginia Bar Association requires lawyers in the state to complete 24 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) every two years to maintain membership in the Bar. You may submit CLE credits online. Approved providers and courses are listed here. 

Court Systems in West Virginia

The West Virginia Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Magistrate Courts, Treatment Courts and Mass Litigation Panel.

The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state and the court of last resort. According to its website, it is the busiest appellate court in the United States. Five Supreme Court justices hear appeals of decisions over all matters decided in the circuit courts, some family court decisions, and worker’s compensation appeals. It is located at Building One, Room E-400, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East, Charleston, WV 25305-0830.

The Circuit Courts are the state’s trial courts of general jurisdiction. They hear civil cases of over $300; civil cases in equity; proceedings in habeas corpus, mandamusquo warranto, prohibition, and certiorari; and all felonies and misdemeanors. They also receive appeals from magistrate court, municipal court, some family court decisions, and administrative agencies, (except for worker’s compensation appeals). The 55 counties in West Virginia are divided into 31 circuits. Court information by county is listed here.

Family Courts hear cases of family matters including divorce, paternity, grandparent visitation, annulment, separate maintenance, parental responsibility, and family support. There are 27 family court circuits throughout West Virginia.  Court information by county is listed here.

Magistrate Courts exist in all 55 counties in West Virginia (usually at least two magistrates per county). Magistrate courts preside over civil cases of less than $5000, misdemeanor cases, and preliminary examinations in felony cases. They also issue and record affidavits, complaints, arrest warrants and search warrants in criminal cases, set bail, and decide on plea agreement and collection matters. They issue emergency protective orders in domestic cases and may handle involuntary mental commitments.

Treatment Courts are also known as problem-solving courts. Their goal is to help people overcome addictions and mental illnesses that might have led them to commit crimes. Types of treatment courts in West Virginia include 8 juvenile drug treatment courts, 14 adult drug treatment courts, one adult mental health court  (the Northern Panhandle Mental Health Court composed of Marshall,  Brooke, Hancock and Ohio Counties), and one adult reentry court in the First Judicial Circuit (comprised of Brooke, Hancock and Ohio Counties). \

The Mass Litigation Panel  was established by the Supreme Court of West Virginia in 2010 to handle cases involving mass litigation. It is located at 1900 Kanawha Blvd., East Building 1, Room E-100,
Charleston, WV 25305.

Elective membership organizations

Now that you are a member of the West Virginia bar, you should consider joining a professional support organization such as:

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West Virginia Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  W Virginia Statistics:
 
CA Active Lawyers 4,725

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