Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in New Mexico
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Finish Your New Mexico Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- Go to Law School in New Mexico
- Take the New Mexico State Bar Exam
- Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar
New Mexico Lawyer/Attorney Career Information
According to the 2017 Demographics report of the State Bar of New Mexico, that year’s bar membership totaled 10,004. The majority of New Mexico bar members (59.1%) were male. The average law firm size for most bar members consisted of two to four lawyers. The city of Albuquerque housed 32 percent of bar members, followed by Santa Fe at 11%. Baby boomers (ages 46 to 62) represented the majority of bar members (4085) followed by Generation Xers (age 29 to 45), totaling 2422 bar members. Would you like to become a member of the State Bar of New Mexico? Keep reading for valuable information on how to do so.
Get Your New Mexico Undergrad Pre-Law Major
The New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners has not ruled that you must have any specific undergraduate education prior to receiving your Juris Doctor (JD) degree and taking the state’s bar exam. If you wish to be accepted into an American Bar Association-approved law school after undergraduate school, however, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree prior to applying.
All undergraduate schools from which you receive degrees must be accredited by a known agency listed with the U.S. Department of Education. This accreditation is required if you wish to gain entrance to an ABA-approved law school following graduation.
Requirements and Standards
You need not take any specific coursework during your undergraduate years in order to qualify for entrance into an ABA-approved law school after graduation. Studies have shown that law school students who have undergraduate backgrounds in political science, criminal justice, philosophy, business, and communications tend to perform well in law school, however.
Just as there are no specific courses you must take during your undergraduate education, the major of your degree does not matter. As long as you obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, you should qualify for entrance into an ABA-approved law school (that is if you pass the LSAT and meet other entrance requirements).
LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in New Mexico
With bachelor’s degree in hand, you are now ready to sit for one of the most important standardized tests you will ever take – the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test. This six-hour-long test is required in order to gain entrance to ABA-approved law schools nationwide.
How to prepare
Excellent study resources are provided free of charge at the LSAT website. If you wish to take some sort of LSAT preparation course (at a cost, of course), choices in New Mexico include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in New Mexico:
- LSAT Prep, UNM Continuing Education
- LSAT Prep, Northern New Mexico College, Espanola and online
- LSAT Preparation, Central New Mexico Community College, online
Your knowledge, skills and abilities in problem solving, reading comprehension (involving complex passages), analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning will be tested when you take the LSAT. The exam consists of four 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions, as well as an unscored 30-minute writing sample and an uncsored 35-minute experimental section to test new questions (but you will not be able to tell which section is experimental). It will take you about three and one half hours to complete this pencil and paper test, offered quarterly around the nation.
Applications to sit for the LSAT are processed and paid for online (a $190 examination fee must be paid when you register). The LSAT is given on Mondays and Saturdays in November, January, and March, at the following New Mexico examination centers:
- Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque
- University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
- New Mexico State University, Las Cruces
- New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas
- Eastern New Mexico University, Portales
Receiving Your Score
You can expect to receive your LSAT score, which will fall between 120 and 180, three weeks after sitting for the examination. There is one ABA-approved law school in New Mexico, and the median LSAT score it accepts follows:
|University of New Mexico School of Law:||154|
Attend Law School in New Mexico
Accomplishing the LSAT is now behind you. You are now prepared to submit applications to ABA-accredited law schools. Unless you are already licensed as a lawyer in another jurisdiction (see below), you must graduate from an ABA-approved law school to qualify to take the New Mexico state bar exam. There are over 200 schools nationwide that fit this bill, and they are listed in the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. The school you choose does not have to be located within New Mexico, as long as it is ABA-accredited.
Credential Assembly Service
The Law School Admission Council’s (LSAC) Credential Assembly Service will greatly help you in collecting, authenticating, and distributing your undergraduate records to each of the ABA-accredited law schools to which you apply. Register online and pay the fee, which some ABA-approved law schools will refund to you once you are accepted. Registration for the CAS is valid for five years and covers the preparation of law school reports for up to five law schools to which you choose to apply.
The New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners requires that you graduate with a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an ABA-accredited law school. The only way that non-ABA-approved law school graduates will be accepted to take the bar examination is if you are already a licensed lawyer in another jurisdiction and have practiced there for four of the past six years.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in New Mexico
One law school in New Mexico has ABA accreditation:
- University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque
As written in the Rules of the Board of Bar Examiners, the following subjects will be tested on the New Mexico bar examination and should therefore be covered in law school:
- Constitutional law
- Contracts and sales
- Criminal law and procedure
- Real Property
- Administrative Law
- Business Entities (corporations and partnerships are included)
- Equitable remedies
- Family law (includes New Mexico community property)
- Federal jurisdiction and procedure
- Indian law ( includes federal Indian law, criminal and civil jurisdiction in Indian country and Indian child welfare act under state and federal law)
- Secured transactions
- Wills, estates, and trusts
Additionally, lawyering skills will be tested on the performance portion of the bar exam. These involve problem-solving, factual analysis, legal analysis and reasoning, organization and management of a legal task, recognizing and resolving ethical problems, and communication.
Online Law Degrees
(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)
Most ABA-approved law schools will require that you fulfill some sort of clinical requirement as part of your curriculum. The University of New Mexico School of Law, for example, offers students opportunities to participate in practical clinics such as the Southwest Indian Law Clinic, the Law Practice Clinic, the Community Lawyering Clinic, and the Business and Tax Clinic. Other programs offered by the school include an extern program, in which you may be placed into the public defender’s office, a judge’s office, a private practitioner’s office, or federal and state administrative offices. New Mexico’s Supreme Court adopted a rule in 1970 that allows students to practice in state courts.
Although you must have a JD degree in order to qualify to sit for the New Mexico Bar Exam, the University of New Mexico School of Law also offers dual degree programs, combined with the JD degree, to broaden your horizons. You may obtain a JD and MPA in Public Administration, a JD, an MBA, or a JD and MA in Latin American Studies. Other opportunities exist for students to earn a JD with an MA, MS, or Ph.D. in other fields of academics.
Take the New Mexico State Bar Exam
You have received your JD degree from an ABA-approved law school. You must also fulfill the following requirements before being eligible to sit for the New Mexico bar examination:
- Be at least 18 years old
- If your JD is not from an ABA-approved law school, be a licensed bar member in good standing in another state and have practiced law for four of the past six years
- This rule applies to graduates of non-ABA-approved law schools in the United States and foreign countries
- Are found to be of good moral character, as well as physically and mentally fit to practice law
- Be professionally qualified for New Mexico bar admission (means you have demonstrated the following abilities):
- Be able to reason, remember complex information, and integrate information with complex legal theories
- Be able to communicate clearly and in an organized manner with courts, other attorneys, clients, and others
- Be able to use good judgment in your own business and on behalf of clients
- Be able to conduct yourself with respect for the law and in accordance with the law
- Be able to avoid any acts that display disregard for the health, safety, rights, and welfare of others
- Be able to comply with the requirements of the Rules of Professional Conduct; state, local, and federal laws; and other court statutes/regulations
- Be able to act reliably and diligently in fulfilling your obligations to other lawyers, clients, the courts, and others
- Be able to meet deadlines and work under time constraints
- Be in compliance with any spousal and child support obligations
- Be a US citizen or national, an immigrant alien who permanently lives in the US lawfully, or be an alien authorized by law to work in the US
As New Mexico administers the Uniform Bar Exam the National Conference of Bar Examiners website offers free study aids to help you prepare for it, including information for the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). The New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners also recommends bar scholarship sand mentoring programs listed here.
It takes two days to complete the New Mexico Bar Exam. Day one consists of six 30-minute MEE essay questions. You will also complete two MPT questions on day one, covering lawyering skills. The second day of the exam is devoted to the MBE, 200 multiple-choice questions.
Begin here when you are ready to apply to take the New Mexico Bar Exam. All information must be submitted on the written forms here, including:
- New Mexico Bar Exam Cover Sheet
- Filing fee
- NCBE Character and Fitness Application Form (which is also the application NM uses for the bar exam)
- Statistical Data Form
- Two signed, notarized copies of the NMBBE Authorization and Release Form
- Three character and fitness statements from attorneys who know you well. They must be in good standing in any US jurisdiction, and different from any persons you listed on the NCBE Character and Fitness Application Form
- A credit report (with score) from one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion)
- Signed Statement of Social Security Number
- Certificate in Good Standing from any jurisdiction in which you are currently licensed
- Confirmation of NCBE Number Certification
- Laptop Release of Liability Form (if using your own laptop to write the exam) (You must also pay $100 to use your own laptop)
- Test accommodation request, if applicable
- Transcript from law school/Law School Certification Form
- FBI and NM State criminal records
All information, including fees (which will be noted on the appropriate forms), must be submitted to Bar Examination Application, NM Board of Bar Examiners, 20 First Plaza Center NW, Suite 710, Albuquerque, NM 87102
The New Mexico Board of Bar Examiners says that 70 percent of all test-takers passed the July 2018 bar examination.
In-Person New Mexico State Law Course
Prior to bar admission, all applicants must take an in-person course in New Mexico Law. It’s offered on the Thursday after the bar exam.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
You must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) with a score of 75 or better prior to admission to the New Mexico Bar. The Board will accept your score regardless of when you took the MPRE. For more information or to sign up to take the exam, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.
If you are licensed and in good standing in another jurisdiction that shares reciprocity with New Mexico and has actively practiced law for five of the past seven years, you may be admitted to the New Mexico Bar by reciprocity/without examination. Visit this page for more information.
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
For the February bar exam, results will be mailed to you by mid-April. For the July bar exam, results should be mailed to you by mid- September. They will also be posted on the Board’s web site. If you pass, you will be notified of the time and place of your swearing-in/admission ceremony to the state’s bar. Within 30 days of passing the bar exam, you must submit the New Lawyer Application/Deferment/Exemption Form through the New Mexico State Bar.
You’ve Been Admitted to the New Mexico Bar
Your hard work has finally paid off, and you are now a licensed lawyer and member of the State Bar of New Mexico. The bar is available to help you as you begin your legal practice, with everything from law practice management resources, to career services, opportunities, and advice.
Whether you wish to start your own practice or join an existing one in New Mexico, opportunities are available to you. Popular firms in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe include Miller, Statvert P.A.; Modrall, Sperling; and Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A.
Government entities and agencies are also often in need of legal counsel. Potential government employers of lawyers in New Mexico include the New Mexico State Personnel Offices in Hobbs, Clovis and Santa Fe; the Department of the Interior in Albuquerque; the Bureau of National Affairs in Albuquerque; and the Department of the Army in Santa Fe.
Legal specialty certification
New Mexico’s Legal Specialization Program helps lawyers become certified to practice in a specialized area. Fourteen specialty areas of law are currently recognized in New Mexico, including:
- Appellate practice
- Bankruptcy law
- Employment and labor law
- Environmental law
- Family law
- Estate planning, probate, and trusts
- Health law
- Federal Indian law
- Natural resources law
- Local government law
- Taxation law
- Real estate law
- Workers compensation law
- Trial specialist:
- Civil law
- Criminal law
You must complete an application and meet rules and standards to become certified to practice in any of these areas. For more information, call the Legal Specialization Program at (505) 821-1890.
Requirements for maintaining license
In order to keep your New Mexico law license active, you must fulfill Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements of 12 hours per year. This must include one hour of ethics and one hour of professionalism. For more information, call the CLE department of the Bar at (505) 797-6020.
Court Systems in New Mexico
The New Mexico State Judiciary is structured like this:
- New Mexico Supreme Court: The state’s court of last resort has mandatory appellate jurisdiction over life sentence/death penalty criminal cases, Public Regulation Commission appeals, writs of habeas corpus appeals, appeals in actions challenging nominations, and removing public officials. It has discretionary jurisdiction in the writ of habeas corpus petition denials, petitions for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals, extraordinary writ matters, and certified questions from the Court of Appeals or federal courts. The Supreme Court is located in Santa Fe.
- New Mexico Court of Appeals: This court has mandatory jurisdiction over civil, non-capital criminal, and juvenile cases. It has discretionary jurisdiction over interlocutory decision cases and administrative agency appeals. It is located in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
- New Mexico District Courts: These are New Mexico’s courts of general jurisdiction and hold jury trials. Cases heard in the state’s 13 judicial district courts include tort, contract, real property rights, estate, domestic relations, mental health, appeals for administrative agencies and lower courts, miscellaneous civil jurisdiction, misdemeanors, criminal appeals, juvenile.
- 1st Judicial District: Santa Fe, Rio Arriba & Los Alamos Counties
- 2nd Judicial District: Bernalillo County
- 3rd Judicial District: Dona Ana County
- 4th Judicial District: Guadalupe, More & San Miguel Counties
- 5th Judicial District: Chaves, Eddy & Lea Counties
- 6th Judicial District: Grant, Hidalgo & Luna Counties
- 7th Judicial District: Catron, Sierra, Socorro & Torrance Counties
- 8th Judicial District: Colfax, Taos & Union Counties
- 9th Judicial District: Curry & Roosevelt Counties
- 10th Judicial District: DeBaca, Harding & Quay Counties
- 11th Judicial District: McKinley & San Juan Counties
- 12th Judicial District: Lincoln & Otero Counties
- 13th Judicial District: Cibola, Sandoval & Valencia Counties
- Magistrate Courts: There are 54 magistrate courts of limited jurisdiction across New Mexico. They hold jury trials in matters of a tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights up to $10,000, felony preliminary hearings, misdemeanors, DWI/DUI, and traffic violations
- Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court: This court of limited jurisdiction holds jury trials and hears matters of a tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights up to $10,000, felony first appearances; misdemeanors, DWI/DUI, domestic violence, and traffic violations.
- Municipal Courts: 80 municipal courts exist across New Mexico. These courts of limited jurisdiction do not hold jury trials. Cases here include petty misdemeanors, DWI/DUI, traffic violations, and municipal ordinance violations
- Probate Courts: Exist in 33 counties, and do not hold jury trials. Hear matters involving uncontested estate and informal probate.
Elective membership organizations
Think about joining another elective professional membership association for attorneys in your state, such as:
- New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association & Foundation
- New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
- New Mexico Defense Lawyers Association
- National Native American Bar 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.