State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in Wisconsin

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that in May 2011, the average Wisconsin lawyer’s mean annual salary was $107,610. Those earning in the 75th percentile in the state made $134,100 annually. Wisconsin is the only state in which “local” graduates of Wisconsin law schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) do not have to take the state bar examination in order to be admitted to the state bar. For other facts about becoming a lawyer that are unique to Wisconsin, read on.
 

Step 1

Find Your Wisconsin Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

Although the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners does not require you to complete any pre-legal undergraduate education, the American Bar Association (ABA) does. Under its rules, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in order to enter an ABA-accredited law school.

Accreditation

Your undergraduate degree must come from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university. The accreditation agency of your institution must be listed with and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Requirements and Standards

There are no requirements or standards you must fulfill in regards to your undergraduate education. The ABA recommends that you take interesting, challenging courses. Subject areas that may prove helpful to you later in law school if taken as an undergraduate include political science, government, world cultures, history, philosophy, business, and economics.

Degree Options

You must graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in any major subject area in order to be eligible for admission to an ABA-approved law school.


School Options

University of Wisconsin Campuses


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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Wisconsin

All ABA-approved law schools require that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to admission. It is offered four times annually at testing centers across the nation.  

How to prepare

Free materials to help you prepare to take the LSAT are available at the LSAT website. More help in preparing for the LSAT can be found in Wisconsin through:  
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Wisconsin:

Exam content

There are four scored sections in the LSAT:

  • Logical Reasoning – two sections in which you are presented with a short paragraph and asked questions based upon the paragraph’s contents. Things that you may be asked about include the main idea of the paragraph, finding a logical answer in the paragraph, find an assumption the paragraph makes, or find an answer that weakens the paragraph’s argument. These sections are each 35 minutes long with 25 questions average.
  • Reading Comprehension – one section with four longer passages, each followed by seven questions based upon that passage. You must identify the passage’s main point and make inferences based upon the passage’s content. This section is 5 minutes long and has 28 questions.
  • Analytical Reasoning (Logic Games) – one section with four “games,” each followed by seven questions. The games each describe a scenario and are accompanied by a list of rules. Questions will ask you to state what is and is not true based upon the rules.

There are two unscored sections on the LSAT as well. One is an experimental section, consisting of questions the exam creators are “testing out” for future use. As you have no way of knowing which section is the experimental one, you must try your best on every section of the test.

The other unscored section is the writing sample. Although this is unscored, it is vitally important to your future in law school, as admissions personnel at law schools to which you apply will review it.

Application process

The Law School Admission Council accepts applications to take the LSAT online. The test is given in February, June, October and December, at the following testing centers across Wisconsin:  

  • Lawrence University, PO Box 599, Appleton, WI 54912
  • University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, Park and Garfield, Eau Claire, WI 54701
  • University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, 2420 Nicolet Dr, Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
  • University of Wisconsin – Rock County, 2909 Kellogg Ave, Janesville, WI 53546
  • University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse, 1725 State St, La Crosse, WI 54601-9959
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison, 500 Lincoln Dr, Madison, WI 53706-1380
  • Concordia University Wisconsin, 12800 N Lake Shore Dr, Mequon, WI 53097-2402
  • Marquette University, 615 N 11th St, Milwaukee, WI 53233
  • University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53211
  • University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh, 800 Algoma Blvd, Oshkosh, WI 54901
  • Lakeland College, W3718 South Drive, Cth M, Plymouth, WI 53073
  • University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, 2100 Main St, Stevens Point, WI 54481
  • University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, 800 W Main St, Whitewater, WI 53190-1790

Receiving Your Score

Your scaled score for the LSAT will fall between 120 and 180. Approximately 60 percent of all test-takers will score between 140 and 160. About 12 percent will score between 160 and 170. Three percent are estimated to score 170 or higher. Average LSAT scores of those accepted by ABA-approved Wisconsin law schools are:

  • Marquette University Law School:           157
  • University of Wisconsin Law School:     163

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Step 3

Explore Law Schools in Wisconsin

Application process

You are now ready to begin the application process to enter law school. Wisconsin has two educational tracks for those wishing to become lawyers in the state: Diploma Privilege and Bar Examination.

Diploma Privilege

Under SCR 40.03, if you graduate with a professional law degree from a law school in Wisconsin that is fully accredited by the ABA, and meet subject matter and credit hour requirements (which will be explained later), you may be admitted to the Wisconsin bar without taking the bar examination. These schools are:

Bar Examination

If you graduate with your professional law degree from any of the following types of law schools, you will be eligible for admission to the Wisconsin bar by taking the bar examination:

  • A law school fully or provisionally accredited by the ABA in any US jurisdiction other than Wisconsin
  • A law school in another US state whose graduates are eligible to take the bar exam in that state (this only applies if you have already taken and passed the bar exam in that state and are a member of that state’s bar)

If you wish to attend an ABA-accredited law school outside of Wisconsin, you may choose from the schools listed in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. Remember, however, that if you do graduate from an ABA-accredited law school not located in Wisconsin, you must take the bar exam to be admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  

Credential Assembly Service

Regardless of the educational track you choose, all ABA-accredited law institutions require that you utilize the services of the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). It will help you gather all transcripts you have received thus far, letters of recommendation and evaluations of your work, and other necessary documentation for applying to law school. The CAS will prepare up to five law school reports to send to law schools to which you apply. The application process is also handled electronically through the CAS.

Course requirements--Wisconsin law schools

If you choose the Wisconsin law school track, your education must meet the following requirements in order to be admitted to the bar without examination:

  • At least 60 credits must be in mandatory and elective subject matters as listed below:
    • Mandatory subject matter-must total at least 30 credits and include:
      • Constitutional law
      • Criminal law/procedure
      • Contracts
      • Jurisdiction of courts
      • Evidence
      • Ethics/legal responsibilities of the legal profession
      • Real property
      • Practice and pleading
      • Torts
      • Wills and estates
    • Elective subject matter – must total at least 60 credits and include:
      • Administrative law
      • Appellate practice/procedure
      • Commercial transactions
      • Conflict of laws
      • Contracts
      • Constitutional law
      • Corporations
      • Criminal law/procedure
      • Creditors’ rights
      • Domestic relations
      • Damages
      • Evidence
      • Equity
      • Insurance
      • Future interests
      • Jurisdiction of courts
      • Labor law
      • Legislation
      • Ethics/legal responsibilities of the profession
      • Personal property
      • Partnership
      • Public utilities
      • Pleading and practice
      • Real property
      • Quasi-contracts
      • Torts
      • Taxation
      • Trusts
      • Trade regulations
      • Wills and estates

Course requirements in non-Wisconsin ABA-approved law schools will be similar, but not as Wisconsin-focused as the above course requirements.

Online Law Degrees

Degree Programs

You must have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree in order to become a member of the Wisconsin bar. You may elect to add a concentration to your degree in areas including sports law, health care law, dispute resolution, and intellectual property law.

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Step 4

Take the Wisconsin State Bar Exam

Bar Examination Application

If you graduated from a non-Wisconsin ABA-approved law school (or a non-ABA approved law school but have already passed the bar exam elsewhere), you are now ready to take the Wisconsin bar exam. (Bar application instructions for those who have graduated from a Wisconsin ABA-approved law school will be explained later). You must receive your JD degree within 60 days of taking the bar examination.  

Non-ABA approved law school graduates

Remember, if you graduated from a law school not approved by the ABA, your degree must come from a law school whose graduates are eligible to sit for the bar exam in that jurisdiction. Furthermore, you must have taken and passed that state’s bar exam and have been admitted to practice law in that state.

Graduates of Foreign Law Schools

If you graduated from a foreign law school, the Board of Bar Examiners will review your credits on a case-by-case basis. Depending upon their findings, you may be eligible to take the Wisconsin bar exam.

Preparation

You can find free study materials to help you prepare for the national parts of the Wisconsin bar exam at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. Study the sections on the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Other options to help you prepare to take the Wisconsin bar exam include:

Exam content

It takes two days to complete the Wisconsin bar exam. On the first day, you will be given eight Wisconsin essay questions. These questions may include materials taken from the MEE and/or the MPT. Subjects on which essay questions may be based include:

  • Business organizations
  • Evidence
  • Civil procedure
  • Family law/domestic relations
  • Commercial law (includes sales, secured transactions and negotiable instruments)
  • Ethics and legal responsibilities of the legal profession
  • Federal Constitutional law
  • Property and Real Estate
  • Contracts
  • Taxation (federal)
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Trusts and estates
  • Torts

The second day consists of the MBE, 200 multiple-choice questions, on the following subject areas:

  • Contracts
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Real property
  • Evidence
  • Torts

Application Process

Complete in its entirety an original Applicant Questionnaire and Affidavit (BE-001). Sign it and have it notarized. Complete the Authorization and Release Form (BE-002) and have it notarized. Include the filing fee via money order or check payable to the Board of Bar Examiners:

  • If filing by initial deadline (Dec 1 for February exam or May 1 for July exam) the filing fee is $450
  • If filing by final deadline (Jan 3 for February exam or June 1 for July exam) the filing fee is $650

Mail all of the above to Supreme Court of Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, 110 East Main St, Suite 715, P.O. Box 2748, Madison, WI 53701-2748.

Have your final law school transcript and a Dean’s Certificate (BE-171) from your law school sent to the above address by no later than one week prior to Registration (the Monday before the exam).

Have three people who have known you for at least two years, are not family members, and are familiar with your character and fitness complete Character reference questionnaires (form BE-101) and send them directly to the BBE.
If you are a graduate of a non-ABA approved law school, you must also have a Certificate of Good Standing from the bar in which you are a member sent to the Board of Bar Examiners. A disciplinary history letter from that bar must also be sent to the BBE.

Appear at Registration in person the Monday before the exam. Bring a current, valid form of photo ID with your signature.

Pass Rates

You should receive your bar examination score by mail about six weeks after taking the exam. You must achieve a score of at least 258 on the MBE and essay examination combined.
Passing rates for previous Wisconsin bar exams are as follows:

  • 2002:     74 percent of all who took the exam passed
  • 2003:     74%
  • 2004:     79%
  • 2005:     77%
  • 2006:     78%
  • 2007:     89%
  • 2008:     89%
  • 2009:     89%
  • 2010:     90%
  • 2011:     84%

Admission by Diploma Privilege

If you are a graduate of an ABA-approved Wisconsin law school, you must apply for Admission by Diploma Privilege. Use the same Applicant Questionnaire and Affidavit (BE-001). Sign it and have it notarized, along with the Authorization and Release Form (BE-002).  The filing fee, payable to the Board of Bar Examiners by check or money order, is as follows:

  • For May graduates:
    • If filed by December 15  of the year before you graduate - $210
    • If filed between December 16 to July 2 - $410
  • For August graduates:
    • If filed by March 15 of the year you graduate - $210
    • If filed between March 16 to Oct 1 - $410
  • For December graduates:
    • If filed by July 16 - $210
    • If filed between July 17 – Feb 1 - $410

Send the above to Supreme Court of Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, 110 East Main St, Suite 715, P.O. Box 2748, Madison, WI 53701-2748.

Arrange to have the following sent directly to the BBE:

  • All undergraduate transcripts
  • Law school transcripts showing a minimum of 50 credit hours completed (final law school transcripts are not necessary)
  • Any other transcripts from schools attended after receiving your undergraduate degree
  • Character reference questionnaires (form BE-101) from three people who have known you for at least two years, are not family members, and are familiar with your character and fitness.
  • Wisconsin Driving Abstract – a complete record of your Wisconsin driving history
  • Wisconsin criminal history background check - Obtain Form DJ-LE-250 and use it to request a statewide Crime Information Bureau criminal background check. Pay the $12 fee, and in lieu of including a postage-paid return envelope  write on the return to area ”Forward To Board of Bar Examiners”

Processing of your application will take three to six months.

Admission on Proof of Practice

If you are already a licensed lawyer and bar member in another state, and have been substantially engaged in the practice of law in that state for three of the past five years, you may be eligible to file for Admission on Proof of Practice. Complete the Applicant Questionnaire and Affidavit (BE-001). Sign it and have it notarized, along with the Authorization and Release Form (BE-002).  Submit a filing fee of $850 by check/money order payable to the Board of Bar Examiners.
Have the following information sent directly to the BBE:

  • Undergraduate transcripts from all schools from which you received a degree
  • Transcripts from all schools attended after undergraduate, including law schools
  • Current good standing certificate from the bar of the jurisdiction in which you are licensed to practice law
  • Disciplinary history letter from the bar of the jurisdiction in which you are licensed to practice law
  • Character reference questionnaires (form BE-101) from three people who have known you for at least two years, are not family members, and are  familiar with your character and fitness

It will take three to six months to process your application.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Regardless of the manner in which you are admitted to the Wisconsin bar, you must take the following oath prior to admittance:
“I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Wisconsin; I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers; I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceeding which shall appear to me to be unjust, or any defense, except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land; I will employ, for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me, such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law; I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client and will accept no compensation in connection with my client's business except from my client or with my client's knowledge and approval; I will abstain from all offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any person's cause for lucre or malice. So help me God.”

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the Wisconsin Bar

Congratulations on your achievement of becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin and a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin! The State Bar of Wisconsin is organized by membership in districts throughout the state. As of Feb 2011, membership consisted of the following:

  • District 1: 476 members
    • Jefferson, Kenosha and Walworth counties
  • District 2: 5511 members
    • Milwaukee county
  • District 3: 457 members
    • Fond du Lac, Green Lake and Winnebago counties
  • District 4: 390 members
    • Calumet, Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties
  • District 5:  478 members
    • Buffalo, Clark, Crawford, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Richland, Trempealeau and Vernon counties
  • District 6: 1461 members
    • Waukesha county
  • District 7: 500 members
    • Adams, Columbia, Juneau, Marquette, Portage, Sauk, Waupaca, Waushara and Wood counties
  • District 8: 499 members
    • Dunn, Eau Claire, Pierce and St. Croix counties
  • District 9: 3654 members
    • Dane county
  • District 10: 521 members
    • Marinette, Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie and Shawano counties
  • District 11: 430 members
    • Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Chippewa, Douglas, Iron, Lincoln, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor and Washburn counties
  • District 12: 440 members
    • Grant, Green, Iowa, La Fayette and Rock counties
  • District 13: 555 members
    • Dodge, Ozaukee and Washington counties
  • District 14: 508 members
    • Brown county
  • District 15: 378 members
    • Racine county
  • District 16: 472 members
    • Florence, Forest, Langlade, Marathon, Oneida and Vilas counties
  • District 17: 7802 members
    • Out of state
  • Total number of members of the State Bar of Wisconsin in 2011: 24,534
    • 16,439 men
    • 8092 women

Legal specialty certification

The state of Wisconsin approves certain private certification programs for lawyers who wish to specialize in a practice area.  The program must be recognized and approved by the American Bar Association. Currently, Wisconsin approves legal certification programs in the following specialty areas:

  • Business bankruptcy
  • Civil trial advocacy
  • Consumer bankruptcy
  • Creditors’ rights
  • Criminal law trial advocacy
  • DUI Defense
  • Elder law
  • Estate planning law
  • Family law trial advocacy
  • Juvenile law-child welfare
  • Legal professional liability
  • Medical professional liability
  • Social security disability

Requirements for maintaining license

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin requires all lawyers to complete 30 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) every two years. At least three of these hours must be in ethics/professional legal responsibility. More information on CLE is found here.

Court Systems in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Court System has the following organizational structure:

  • Supreme Court: Wisconsin’s highest court and the court of last resort, has appellate jurisdiction over all Wisconsin courts
  • Court of Appeals: hears appeals from the Circuit Courts, in four districts:
    • Milwaukee
    • Waukesha
    • Wausau
    • Madison
  • Circuit Courts: the trial courts of Wisconsin, at least one branch exists in every county (except for six counties that are paired and share a court). Has jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases in the state
  • Municipal Courts: there are 252 Municipal Courts across Wisconsin, hearing violations of municipal ordinances such as traffic, underage alcohol, first offense drunk driving, parking, building code, disorderly conduct, and trespass

Wisconsin elective membership organizations

Contemplate joining another elective membership organization for lawyers in Wisconsin that could help you professionally, such as:

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Wisconsin Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  Wisconsin Statistics:
 
WI Active Lawyers 15,078
Average Annual Wage $90,020

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