Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in Michigan

Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:

  1. Get my Michigan Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
  2. Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
  3. Find Law Schools in Michigan
  4. Take the Michigan State Bar Exam and become an Attorney
  5. Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar

Michigan Law Careers

There are many reasons that you might want to become a lawyer in Michigan. Certainly, the annual mean salary of $127,030 (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, circa May 2022) is appealing. Lawyers working in certain areas of Michigan can earn even higher salaries, with lawyers in the Midland area commanding an annual salary of $184,610 and lawyers in the Battle Creek metropolitan area earning an average annual wage of $161,010. Many Michigan lawyers, however, opt to offer some of their services for free, known as pro bono.  Organizations in Michigan offering pro bono legal services include Legal Services of Northern Michigan, the Pro Bono Initiative of the State Bar of Michigan, Counsel, and Advocacy Law Line, Lakeshore Legal Aid, and the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan. Whether you wish to eventually work for profit, for non-profit, or pro bono, the following steps will help you achieve your goal of becoming a Michigan lawyer.

Step 1

Get Your Michigan Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners requires that you complete a minimum of two years of undergraduate school (60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours) before you apply to law school. Most American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools mandate that you have a bachelor’s degree before entering law school. Check with the law school in which you are interested in attending for more information.

School Accreditation

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners says that your undergraduate education must be completed at an accredited college or university. This means that the school must be accredited to grant degrees under the laws of its state. If your college or university is accredited by an agency listed with the U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation database, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners will recognize the validity of your undergraduate education.

Requirements and Standards

There is no pre-ordained pre-law educational program that you must take in order to be admitted to law school. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and the ABA have both recommended certain types of coursework that should be taken and skills that should be honed during your undergraduate pre-law education. Introductory law and criminal justice courses are helpful, as are courses in political science and government. Coursework in mathematics and economics is recommended. Other courses that many pre-law students take are concentrated in American and world history, urban development, international studies, sociology, and oral and written communications.

Degree Options

Law schools are not looking to see that you completed the requirements for a particular undergraduate major when you apply for admission. Some universities offer a “pre-law” major, while others have pre-law advisors who will help you to choose the best courses to help you gain entry into and succeed in law school. Undergraduate majors chosen from the above-mentioned curricula areas are often the most helpful to students, giving them a solid background as they enter law school.

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in Michigan

The next step along the pathway to becoming a lawyer in Michigan is to sit for the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test. This standardized admission test for law schools is offered multiple times per year worldwide.  

How to prepare

Some of the best study materials for the LSAT are provided free of charge at the LSAT website. These include sample questions and answers and practice tests. Other study resources in Michigan to help you prepare for the LSAT include:

LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Michigan:

Exam content

You will be given four hours to complete the LSAT. Sections on the LSAT focus on reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning. In addition, you will be asked for a writing sample, in the form of an essay. While this part of the LSAT is not graded as part of your overall LSAT score, it will be presented to the law schools to which you apply.

Application process

You may apply online with the LSAC and pay the $190 examination fee when you are ready to sit for the LSAT.  It is offered twice a week three times per year. Centers in Michigan administering the LSAT include:

  • Albion College, Albion
  • Grand Valley State University, Allendale
  • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor
  • Alpha Technical Institute, Dearborn
  • University of Michigan-Dearborn, Dearborn
  • University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Detroit
  • Wayne State University, Detroit
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing
  • Calvin College, Grand Rapids
  • Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Grand Rapids
  • Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing
  • Michigan Technological University, Houghton
  • Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
  • Northern Michigan University, Marquette
  • Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant
  • Oakland University, Rochester
  • Delta College, University Center
  • Saginaw Valley State University, University Center
  • Macomb Community College, Warren

Receiving Your Score

Your LSAT scores will be mailed to you about three weeks after you complete the exam. The lowest LSAT score possible is 120 and the highest, 180. Average LSAT scores accepted by Michigan law schools are:

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor:168
Michigan State University:154
Thomas M. Cooley Law School:141
University of Detroit Mercy:151
Wayne State University:157

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Step 3

Find Law Schools in Michigan

Application process

You are now ready to apply to law school. While you need not apply to ABA-approved law schools, the school you choose must be “reputable and qualified” under Michigan rules. ABA-approved law schools automatically fit this rule. You may attend any of the more than 200 ABA-approved law schools across the United States.

Credential Assembly Service

If you are applying to a law school accredited by the ABA, you must use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. This service assists you in collecting your transcripts from all schools you have attended, letters of recommendation, and online evaluations. It even applies to the law schools you choose online. You must pay the LSAC a $195 fee to use this service.  


The Michigan Board of Law Examiners has ruled that all applicants to take the state’s bar exam must have a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree from a “repu­table and qualified law school.” Law schools fully or provisionally approved by the ABA on the date that you receive your J.D. are considered by the Board to be reputable and qualified. The LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools lists all ABA-approved law schools across the nation.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Michigan

The following law schools in Michigan are accredited by the American Bar Association:

Course requirements

The following subjects are tested on the Michigan bar exam and will be included in the curriculum at any Michigan law school:

  • Wills/trusts
  • Real/personal property
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Partnerships, corporations, agency
  • Creditors’ rights
  • Evidence
  • Practice and procedure:
    • Trial and appellate
    • State and federal
  • Equity
  • Torts
  • Uniform Commercial Code
  • Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Conflicts of laws
  • Workers compensation
  • Domestic relations

Online Law Degrees

(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)


You will participate in an internship (paid or unpaid, depending upon your law school’s policies) during your tenure at law school. You will either work in an in-house legal clinic or be placed into a real-life lawyer’s work setting. Your performance will be based upon your knowledge and retention of the knowledge and skills you have learned in class. You will be graded by a supervisor and a faculty member who will assess your progress throughout the internship.

Degree Programs

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners requires that you obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree prior to sitting for the state’s bar exam.

Foreign Law Schools

Graduates of foreign law schools are not eligible for admission to the Michigan bar.

Non-ABA-accredited Law Schools

If you attended a non-ABA-accredited law school, consult the Board to make sure that it considers your school to be “reputable and qualified.”

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Step 4

Take the Michigan State Bar Exam

Once you have earned your J.D. degree, you are ready to apply to sit for the Michigan bar exam.


Michigan’s bar exam includes the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). Preparation information for this part of the bar exam may be found here. options for bar exam preparation in Michigan are:   

Exam content

You will take the Michigan bar exam over a two-day period. The first day is devoted to fifteen state law essay questions, covering any of the following topics:

  • Wills/trusts
  • Real/personal property
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law and procedure
  • Partnerships, corporations, agency
  • Creditors’ rights
  • Evidence
  • Practice and procedure:
    • Trial and appellate
    • State and federal
  • Equity
  • Torts
  • Uniform Commercial Code
  • Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Conflicts of laws
  • Workers compensation
  • Domestic relations

Day Two of the exam is devoted to the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), 200 multiple-choice questions on the following topics:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Real Property
  • Torts

Application Process

The steps in applying to take the Michigan bar exam may be reviewed at the State Bar of Michigan website before beginning the application process. Please note:

  1. Make sure you have registered on the NCBE site, as you will need your NCBE number.
  2. Applications must be submitted electronically. For the July 2019 exam, they may be submitted between January 15 and May 15. For the February 2020 exam, they may be submitted between August 15 and December 15.
  3. All required fees must be submitted electronically. Early appliers (Aug 15-Nov 1 for the February exam, Jan 15 – March 1 for the July exam) pay $400, while late appliers pay $500. You must also submit an investigation fee of $375 (early appliers) or $550 (late appliers)
  4. The finalized Affidavit of Personal History must also be submitted electronically.
  5. Third-party documents and updates must be sent to State Bar of Michigan, Attention: Character and Fitness, 306 Townsend St., Lansing, MI 48933-2012.

Pass Rates

The Michigan Board of Law Examiners notes that, for the February 2018 bar exam, 56 percent of overall exam takers passed. 69 percent of first-time test-takers passed. Law schools with the highest overall pass rates include the University of Detroit-Mercy, at 69 percent; and the University of Michigan, at 95 percent.

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

You must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) before sitting for the bar exam, with a score of 85 or more. It is offered multiple times per year across Michigan. Apply at the link above.

Admission Without Exam

If you meet all of the following qualifications, you may be eligible for admission to Michigan’s bar without taking the bar examination:

  • You are licensed to practice law in another state, territory or D.C.
  • You have active practiced law in the jurisdiction in which you are licensed for three of the past five years
  • You intend to maintain an office in Michigan where you will practice law
  • You graduated from a reputable and qualified law school with a J.D.
  • You meet all other requirements including MPRE score and good moral character and fitness

If you are licensed elsewhere as a lawyer and which to practice law in an institutional setting or teach in a law school, you may be eligible for a special certificate. This will limit your practice in Michigan to solely representing the institution by which you are employed.

If you have been admitted to practice law in a foreign country, have actively practiced law there for three of the past five years, live in the U.S. and plan to maintain a law practice in Michigan, you may be eligible to practice as a special legal consultant in Michigan.

Contact the Board for more information on Admission Without Examination.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

You will receive your bar exam scores by mail about eight weeks post-exam. Those who pass will also be listed at the Board of Law Examiners section of the Michigan Courts website. If you pass, you will be notified of the time and place where you will make your oath to the court and enter the Michigan bar. Once you are admitted to the bar by the court, you must then complete an application for membership in the State Bar of Michigan and pay dues of $315 per year.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the Michigan Bar

You have made it! You are now a licensed lawyer in the state of Michigan! You must now decide whether to start your own legal practice or join an existing one. Perhaps you would rather work as legal counsel for a for-profit or non-profit company in Michigan. All of these avenues are open to you as a Michigan bar member.

The Michigan State Bar’s 2017 Economics of Law Practice Survey found that 45.3 percent of active bar members in the state worked as private practitioners, while 54.7 percent were not in private practice. Of those not working in a private law firm, employers included in-house counsel, legal service agencies, local and state government, judges, other judicial settings, federal government, academia, and other legal work.

Existing law firms in Michigan include comprehensive services practice Foster Swift in Lansing, Farmington Hills, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Marquette, and Holland; Schwartz Law Firm in Farmington Hills, specializing in family law, employment law and criminal law; estate planners the O’Bryan Law Firm in Davison; and divorce and family lawyers the Shimek Law Firm in Taylor.

168 private law practitioners in Michigan reported that one of their top three sources of business generation was pro bono work. Other top sources of generating business include networking, online and print advertising, and referrals from clients and other attorneys.

Legal specialty certification

If you wish to specialize in an area of law practice, the following agencies provide certification services for Michigan lawyers:

Requirements for maintaining license

No continuing legal education (CLE) is required to maintain your law license and bar admission status in Michigan.

Court Systems in Michigan

Michigan’s One Court of Justice, otherwise known as its court system, consists of:

  • Trial Courts: Four types of trial courts are found in the four regions in Michigan:
    • Circuit Court- A trial court with the broadest jurisdiction in Michigan, includes civil cases over $25,000, felony criminal cases, family cases including divorce, paternity, adoptions, minor emancipation, child neglect/abuse, juvenile offenses; also hears appeals from administrative agencies and other trial courts
    • Probate Court- jurisdiction over cases involving trusts, estates, guardians, protective orders, and conservatorships
    • District Court- Jurisdiction over traffic violations, civil cases up to $25,000, landlord/tenant disputes, misdemeanors
    • Municipal Court- in lieu of a district court in municipalities including Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Park, and Grosse Pointe Shores/Grosse Pointe Woods
  • Court of Appeals:  an intermediate appellate court between the Supreme Court and the Michigan trial courts; any final decisions from a circuit or probate court hearing may be appealed to the Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals hearings is held in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Marquette.
  • Supreme Court: The highest court in Michigan, the Supreme Court hears appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeals, and also supervises all courts in the state. It is located in Lansing.
  • Michigan Court of Claims: This statewide court of limited jurisdiction hears all civil cases filed against the State of Michigan and its agencies. It is located in the Michigan Court of Appeals. No right to a jury trial exists in the Court of Claims.
  • Native American Tribal Courts: There are 12 federally recognized Tribes in Michigan, each of which is tied to its own court. They include:
    • Bay Mills Indian Community
    • The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
    • Hannahville Indian Community
    • Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi
    • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
    • Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
    • Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
    • Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
    • Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians
    • Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe
    • Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
    • Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe)

Elective membership organizations

Think about joining one of the following elective membership organizations for attorneys in Michigan:

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. 

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