Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in DC
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Get my District of Columbia Undergraduate Pre-Law
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in DC
- Go to Law School in DC
- Take the DC State Bar Exam and become an Attorney
- Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the DC Bar
Law Careers in District of Columbia
If you want to become a lawyer, the District of Columbia is a great place to get your start. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor notes that the District of Columbia was the top-paying state among all states in which lawyers worked in May 2022. The 32,090 lawyers working in DC at that time averaged an annual mean wage of $226,510. The American Bar Association reported 27,743 active resident attorneys working in DC in 2021. If you want to start a career as a lawyer in the District of Columbia, following the steps in this document will help you to achieve your goal.
Get Your DC Undergraduate Pre-Law Major
The Committee on Admissions of the District of Columbia Courts handles all applications for admissions to the District of Columbia Bar each year. There are three ways to join the DC Bar: apply for admission by examination, apply for admission by motion (without examination), and apply to become a special legal consultant (SLC). First, we will cover the examination route, as it is the most common way to become a member of the DC Bar. Later in Step 4 of this document, we will cover the other two methods of admission to the bar.
The Committee on Admission does not require that you graduate from an American Bar Association approved law school, nor is specific pre-legal education required. However, if you later wish to be enrolled in an ABA-approved law school, the undergraduate pre-legal education you receive should include at least a bachelor’s degree and be from an accredited institution.
Check to make sure that the undergraduate college or university you attend is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This type of accreditation may be on the national or regional level and will assist you in your later quest for acceptance into a law school, whether or not that school is ABA-approved.
Requirements and Standards
Because the District of Columbia does not mandate pre-legal education of any type, it has set no requirements or standards for such. The American Bar Association has noted that undergraduate pre-legal education should cover certain areas, however. Topics that you should study during your undergraduate years to improve your chances of law school success include:
- Cultural diversity
The District of Columbia’s Committee on Admission does not require that you obtain any kind of pre-legal degree, nor does it require that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school. However, if you do wish to become enrolled in an ABA-approved law school, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. Your major may be in any area you choose, but if it is in one of the above-mentioned areas, you should fare better in law school.
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Pre Law Advisor
If you choose to complete undergraduate pre-law education, your school may offer a Pre-Law Advisor. This person will help you in choosing the courses and major that will best prepare you for law school.
Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in DC
The District of Columbia’s Committee on Admission does not require that you graduate from a law school that is approved by the American Bar Association to become a DC bar member. However, most law schools, both ABA-approved and non-approved, require you to pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to law school admission. Check your intended school’s examination requirements to make sure.
How to prepare
Preparing for the LSAT may be done by studying free materials at the LSAT website and by taking their practice tests. You may also opt to enroll in LSAT examination preparation courses offered in the District of Columbia, each of which charges a fee for enrollment.
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in District of Columbia:
- LSAT Prep Course– Testmasters
- LSAT Prep Courses and Tutoring – Strategy Preparation
- LSAT Prep Courses- Manhattan Review
Three major areas are tested in the LSAT:
- Reading Comprehension – tests your level of understanding of a reading sample, and ability to apply principles
- Analytical Reasoning – tests your ability to decipher relationship structures and answer a series of questions based upon those structures
- Logical Reasoning – tests your ability to read an argument and find flaws or draw conclusions from that argument
The LSAT is given in the United States twice weekly in November, January, and March. The LSAT is not offered on each date at each testing center, so when you apply online, make sure the center at which you wish to take the test offers it on the day of your choice. Testing centers in the District of Columbia include:
- Washington College of Law, American University, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016
- Trinity Washington University, 125 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, D.C. 20017
- Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057
- Howard University, 2400 Sixth St, Washington, DC 20059
The fee to take the LSAT is $190 (as of December 2018). You may pay this fee online by credit card at registration.
Receiving Your Score
The Law School Admission Council will email your scores to you three weeks post-exam. The lowest possible LSAT score is 120, and the highest, 180. If for some reason you wish to cancel your LSAT scores on exam day, a box on the answer sheet may be checked. If you decide up to six days after the test to cancel your scores, this may be done so online via your LSAT account.
You may take the LSAT a maximum of three times every two years, even if you cancel your scores. Special requests to take the exam more than three times in 24 months will be handled online.
Go to Law School in District of Columbia
Once you have passed the LSAT, you are ready to apply for entrance into law school. The DC Bar accepts graduates from both ABA- and non-ABA approved law schools.
Credential Assembly Service
ABA-approved law schools (and some non-ABA approved law schools) require that you utilize the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS). Take the following steps to use the CAS:
- Transcripts: Request that every institution you have attended, whether you received a degree or just took classes, send official transcripts directly to Law School Admission Council.
- Letters of Recommendation and Evaluation Services: The LSAC will help you to assemble recommendation letters and obtain online evaluations on your behalf. You must provide the LSAC with names of recommenders and evaluators, their contact information, the number of letters each person plans to provide, and to which law schools you wish for each letter and evaluation to be submitted.
- Fee: It costs $195 to use the CAS. You may pay the fee to the LSAC online. This fee is used to create your transcript summarization, law school reports, process evaluations and recommendation letters, and apply electronically to the law schools you choose.
The District of Columbia Committee on Admission does not mandate that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school. If you choose to apply to an ABA-accredited school, there are about 200 across the United States from which you may choose. The LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools can help you decide where to apply.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in District of Columbia
The following District of Columbia law schools hold ABA accreditation:
- Washington College of Law, American University, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 507, Washington, DC 20016
- Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, Cardinal Station, Washington, DC 20064
- University of District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, Building 52, 4200 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
- Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Ave, NW, Room 589, Washington D.C. 20057
- Howard University School of Law, Office of Admissions, 2900 Van Ness St NW, Washington, DC 20008
- George Washington University Law School, 2000 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20052
Non-ABA Accredited Law Schools
If you choose a non-ABA accredited law school, you may be eligible to take the DC Bar Exam if you complete a minimum of 26 semester hours in subjects that are tested on the exam. These semester hours must be earned at an ABA-approved law school.You must have the Dean of your law school complete the Law School Certificate and forward it to the Office of the Committee on Admissions, 500 Indiana Ave NW, Room 4200, Washington, DC 20001.
Online Law Degrees
(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)
Foreign Law Schools
If you graduate from a foreign law school, you may be eligible to take the DC Bar Exam if you complete a minimum of 26 semester hours in subjects that are tested on the exam. These semester hours must be earned at an ABA-approved law school. You must have these credits approved by the Committee on Admissions,500 Indiana Avenue N.W., Room 4200, Washington, D.C. 20001.
Topics that you will be tested on when you take the DC Bar Exam are mandatory to cover in your law school education. They include:
- Constitutional law
- Contracts and sales
- Criminal law/procedures
- Real property
- Administrative law
- Uniform Commercial Code
- Business associations
- Conflicts of evidence
- Estates, trusts, wills
- Personal property
- Family law
- Civil law/procedures
- Tax law
- Legal ethics
- Washington, DC Legal Code
If you attend an ABA-accredited law school, you will participate in an internship, conducted off-site. You will get the chance to hone your legal skills by working in the real world, in a legal clinic, legal office, or other legal settings. Your performance will be reviewed by the staff of your law school and by an on-site supervisor.
The District of Columbia Committee on Admissions requires that you have at least a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree or an L.L.M. (Master of Laws) degree to be eligible to sit for the district’s bar exam. There are other legal degrees you may earn that do not render you eligible to take the exam, however, or dual degree programs to increase your marketability and career opportunities after graduation. These include:
- Doctor of Judicial Science (S.J.D.) – advanced law degree for those who already have a law degree and wish to conduct legal research
- J.D./Master of Library Science (dual degree program)
- J.D./Master of Social Work (dual degree program)
- J.D./Master of Business Administration (dual degree program)
- J.D./Master of Public Policy (dual degree program)
- J.D./Master of Science in Foreign Service (dual degree program)
- J.D./Masters of Arts in Government (dual degree program)
- J.D./Doctor of Philosophy (dual degree program)
- J.D./Master of Public Health (dual degree program)
Take the DC State Bar Exam
You are now ready to apply to take the District of Columbia Bar Exam. It is offered twice a year in February and July in a two-day period.
Various organizations throughout the DC area offer bar exam preparation courses and workshops. It is to your advantage to complete all of the preparation courses and simulations you can before taking the bar exam. Preparation resources include:
The District of Columbia Bar administers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). It is given over a two-day period in February and July. Three parts exist to the exam:
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT): you must answer three questions, 90 minutes for each, on fact analysis, legal analysis, problem-solving, organizing and managing a lawyer’s task, resolving ethical problems, and communication
- Multistate Essay Exam (MEE): six essay questions over three hours, covering six of the following ten subject areas:
- Agency and Partnership
- Commercial Paper
- Conflict of Laws
- Corporations and Limited Liability Companies
- Decedents’ Estates
- Family Law
- Federal Civil Procedure
- Secured Transactions
- Trusts and Future Interests
- Multistate Bar Examination (MBE): consists of 100 multiple-choice questions over three hours covering constitutional law, criminal law/procedure, contracts, evidence, torts, and real property.
- File the Bar Exam Application online.
- Answer all registration questions on the questionnaire
- If you graduated from an ABA-approved law school with a J.D. degree, have the dean of your school execute Law School Certification Form- ABA Law School with the school seal and submit it with your application. You need not submit a transcript.
- If you graduated from a non-ABA approved law school, file a Non-ABA Approved Law School Certification Form from that school, and a Law School Certificate – 26 Credit Hour Requirement from the ABA-approved law school where you earned the necessary 26 semester hours, and an official transcript from the ABA-approved law school.
- Submit current credit reports (if necessary, based upon your answers)
- If you previously took the MBE (within the past 25 months) and achieved a score of 133 or greater, upload a copy of your notification with the score
- If you previously took the MEE portion of the exam (within the past 25 months) and achieved a score of 133 or greater, file the Essay Scaled Score Release Form
- Sign the attestation page and have your signature notarized
- Complete the NCBEX Request for Character and Fitness Investigation
Fees and Filing Deadlines
If you are taking the bar exam in February, your filing deadline is in December. If you are taking the bar exam in July, your filing deadline is in May. All fees must accompany your application and be paid in the form of cashier’s check, money order or certified check only. Fees to be paid are as follows:
- $100 application filing fee
- $114 UBE fee (MBE only fee is $64, MEE only fee is $50)
- $10 credit card processing fee if paying via credit card
- Variable fee if using your own laptop to take the exam
According to the Committee on Admissions, the pass rate for all Bar Exam takers in Feb 2018 was 47%.
Special Note About the DC Bar Exam
The District of Columbia Bar grants immediate reciprocity to anyone who passes another jurisdiction’s exam, as long as that exam includes the MBE and the applicant gets a scaled score of at least 133. Therefore, many law school graduates take the bar exam in another jurisdiction and then apply for member ship to the DC Bar based on the results of that exam.
Before admission to the Bar, you must complete a Mandatory Course on the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct and District of Columbia Practice.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
In addition to passing the Bar exam, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). This exam is typically taken after completing the first year of law school. Information and study guides for the MPRE can be found at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.
Other Ways to Gain Entrance to the DC Bar
Application for Admission by Motion (Without Examination)
You are eligible to be admitted to the bar if you meet one of the following requirements:
- You are a member in good standing of another state’s Bar and have been for five years preceding application to DC Bar (complete this application)
- You have received a J.D. or L.L.B. degree from an ABA-approved school (or a non-ABA school with 26 credit hours at an ABA-approved school), a qualifying UBE score of 266 or higher, a qualifying MPRE score of 75 or higher) (complete this application)
- You are admitted to the bar of another jurisdiction with MBE score of 133 or higher, MPRE score of 75 or higher, are a member in good standing, and you have received a J.D. or L.L.B. degree from an ABA-approved school (or a non-ABA school with 26 credit hours at an ABA-approved school) (complete this application)
If you meet either of these requirements, complete these steps to be admitted to the DC Bar:
- Complete the correct application linked above
- Include the correct fees
- Have the dean of your law school complete the Law School Certification
- Complete the MBE Release form, if required
- Attach a copy of MPRE score report if necessary
- Submit current, original Certificates of Good Standing from all jurisdictions where you are a member of the bar
- Complete the NCBEX Request for Character and Fitness Investigation
Application for Special Legal Consultant
You may be admitted to the DC Bar as a Special Legal Consultant (SLC) without passing the Bar Exam if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You are admitted to practice as an attorney in a foreign country
- You possess good moral character and general fitness
- You intend to practice as a SLC in DC and maintain an office there
- You are at least 26 years old.
If you meet all of these requirements:
- File the Application for Special Legal Consultant online
- Include the proper fees
- Submit all current Certificates of Good Standing from jurisdictions where you are licensed to practice law
- Provide a summary of the laws and customs of your foreign country
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
After passing the Bar, you must take the Oath of Admission at a formal ceremony before a panel of judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, to which you will be invited. It will be located in the Ceremonial Courtroom located on the Lower Level of the Historic Courthouse at 430 E Street NW.
After You Have Passed the DC Bar
Congratulations on being admitted to the District of Columbia Bar! Your career opportunities as a lawyer in DC are limitless, as it is the seat of federal government and of many and various agencies and organizations.
Many law offices, both small and large, exist in DC, as this is one of the top ten legal cities in the United States. Some newly licensed attorneys choose to join a larger practice to enter the world of DC law. A few of the more famous DC area law firms include Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP in DC; the Carlberg Law Firm in nearby Alexandria, VA; Wilson, Elser in DC; WilmerHale in DC; and Ballard Spahr LLP in DC.
Larger corporations with offices in DC may also be in need of attorneys. Some of the giants in the area include GE Corporate, Hilton Worldwide (in McLean, VA), Sprint’s Government Affairs division in DC, and Thomson Reuters Corporation in DC.
Working for the American Bar Association’s headquarters in DC might be a good way to start a career in the legal profession. Other advocacy groups in the area that employ lawyers include the American Diabetes Association in nearby Arlington, VA; National Wildlife Federation in Reston, VA; the American Association for Justice in Washington, DC; and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC.
The government employs many lawyers as well. Opportunities may exist with the National Guard, the Department of Justice, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the International Trade Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Legal specialty certification
With the District of Columbia being such a large legal market, the opportunity for many specializations exists. Some DC universities, as well as agencies such as the National Board of Trial Advocacy, provide certification services so that you can practice with titles such as Civil Trial Law Advocate, Criminal Trial Law Specialist, Social Security Disability Specialist, and Family Trial Law Specialist.
Requirements for maintaining license
Under the rules of the District of Columbia Bar, as a lawyer and member of the Bar, you do not need to fulfill any continuing legal education (CLE) requirements to maintain your law license. However, the DC Bar’s CLE Program offers more than 90 programs to help lawyers in other states fulfill their CLE responsibilities.
Court Systems in District of Columbia
The Court System of the District of Columbia consists of three basic parts:
- Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court – handles civil cases where the amount in question is $5000 or less
- Superior Court for the District of Columbia – the local trial court of general jurisdiction for the District, handles civil cases where the amount in question is $5000 or more, criminal cases, and specialized cases in family law, landlord/tenant, probate, tax and traffic offenses.
- District of Columbia Court of Appeals – the highest court in the District, equivalent to a state supreme court, can review all decisions made by the Superior Court
Elective membership organizations
Since you are now a member of the District of Columbia Bar, think about entering into one of the following elective membership organizations that support lawyers in the District:
- Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan DC
- Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia
- District of Columbia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association
- The American Health Lawyers Association
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Lawyers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.