State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

The Bar Exam

You have graduated with your J.D. degree and you are now faced with another important examination in your quest to become a lawyer. You must prepare to take your state’s bar examination. This is offered by different entities depending upon the state in which you wish to practice law. A comprehensive list of organizations that administer the bar examination in each state may be found here. Also on this page is information on bar admission rules, bar examination rules, sample bar exam questions, bar exam preparation materials/advice and recent bar examination results for each state.

View Bar Exam Information By States

District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Depending upon your state’s requirements, you may be asked to take any or all of the following national bar exams administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE):

Subjects covered on these national bar examinations, as well as on selected state bar examinations, include (but are not limited to): Constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, torts, business associations, conflict of laws, family law, Federal civil procedure, state civil procedure, trusts and estates, Uniform Commercial Code, and professional responsibility. To determine which tests your state requires, visit the NCBE’s Bar Admissions Services page. The ABA’s State by State Guide to Bar Admission Requirements for 2011 can also help determine what examinations and other requirements must be fulfilled to become a member of your state’s bar.

Fees for your state’s bar examination(s) will be paid directly to the administering agency (usually the state’s law examiners or bar examiners). If your state does not require that you pass the MPRE, it may mandate that you take and pass a professionalism course.

The NCBE maintains a list of bar exam pass rates and bar admission statistics categorized by state. These statistics list, among other things, the number of first-time test takers each administration, the percentage of first time test takers who passed, and the overall passing percentage rate for an administration.

When you pass your state’s bar examination, you will be formally inducted into the state bar. This is sometimes done privately, in judges’ chambers, but often conducted as a formal ceremony, in which you may choose to take the oath in front of family and friends.

Whats Next After Passing the Bar?

You’ve made it! You’re now a full-fledged, licensed attorney and member of your state’s bar! Congratulations! Your work is not done, however. In order to maintain your law license and bar admission status, you must complete Mandatory Continuing Legal Education each year. This list provided by the ABA breaks down the MCLE requirements by state. It usually requires taking a certain number of courses and earning a certain number of credits each year.

Legal specialty certification is also an option to licensed attorneys. The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification provides certification for specializations in security disability advocacy and civil trial law advocacy, as well as in criminal, civil and family law. This and other certification organizations that offer specialty certifications require that you have a minimum number of years of legal experience and pass an examination. Most certifications also require that you become re-certified after a period of time. 

You should become familiar with your state’s judicial system, as you will likely become quite involved in it as a lawyer. A complete listing of state court websites is on this National Center for State Courts webpage.

Many lawyers choose to join elective professional membership organizations. These may consist of local bar associations, minority bar associations, specialty bar associations, etc. The ABA maintains a list of state and local bar associations to which you might consider applying for membership. A list of minority bar associations throughout the United States has also been compiled by the ABA. Other bar associations or lawyer associations may revolve around specializations including trial law, criminal law, criminal defense law, environmental law, intellectual property law, and bankruptcy law.

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