State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in North Carolina

The North Carolina State Bar was founded in 1933 by the North Carolina General Assembly to regulate the legal profession in the state. Today, it has over 20,000 members.  By contrast, the North Carolina Bar Association is a voluntary membership association for North Carolina lawyers. It serves needs including continuing legal education, legislative lobbying, public service activities and more. If you aspire to become a North Carolina lawyer, you must become a member of the North Carolina State Bar, but you need not be a member of the North Carolina Bar Association. Becoming a member of the North Carolina State Bar entails getting the right education, experience and passing a few examinations. If this is your chosen career path, read on.

Step 1

Get Your North Carolina Undergrad Pre-Law Major

The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners requires that you complete undergraduate work necessary for admission to a law school approved by the Council of the North Carolina State Bar or by the American Bar Association (ABA). This entails getting at least a bachelor’s degree, in any subject.


Acceptance into any law school requires that you receive a bachelor’s (at minimum) degree from an accredited undergraduate college or university. The undergraduate institution must be nationally or regionally accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.  

Requirements and Standards

There are no mandates on the courses, majors or minors you should take while in undergraduate school. Some courses that you take in undergraduate school may prove to be more helpful than others later on, especially when you are trying to succeed in law school. Subjects that may help include philosophy, political science and government, history, business and economics, human behavior and psychology, communications and journalism, and criminal justice.

Degree Options

Your bachelor’s degree may be in any major you choose, as long as it is a major that challenges and interests you. You may find that undergraduate majors taken from the above-mentioned subject areas prove to help you more as a law school student.

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Step 2

Take the LSAT in North Carolina

After receiving your undergraduate degree, the next step towards becoming a lawyer in North Carolina is to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). This six hour long standardized examination is required for entrance into law school.   

How to prepare

Check out the free study materials available at the LSAT website. Other materials that may help you get ready for the LSAT, but for which you may have to pay, include:  
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in North Carolina:

Exam content

The LSAT is a traditional format, paper-and-pencil exam, and is one of the most important exams you will ever take. It is weighted by law schools to which you apply as heavily as your undergraduate grade point average in determining your academic qualifications for admission to law school. The format of the LSAT is as follows:

  • Logical Reasoning – consists of approximately 50 questions in two 35-minute sections. These multiple-choice questions test your ability to assess reasoning and the validity of arguments.
  • Analytic Reasoning – consists of approximately 25 questions in one 35-minute section. These multiple-choice questions test your ability to make inferences based on given conditions and constraints.
  • Reading Comprehension – consists of approximately 27 questions in one 35-minute section. These multiple choice questions test your ability to critically read and understand lengthy, complex passages of material.
  • Essay – one 35-minute section providing two essay prompts. You must either make and support a decision for or against something, or assess the validity of an argument. This section is not scored as part of your overall LSAT score but is sent to law school admission offices when you apply.
  • Experimental Section – the number of questions varies in this 35-minute section. It may consist of logical reasoning, analytic reasoning or reading comprehension multiple-choice questions. You will not know which section is the experimental, unscored section, so take the entire test as if every section counts for a grade.

Application process

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) requires you to create an account with them online and pay their $160 exam fee when you register to take the LSAT. It is given quarterly in the following North Carolina locations:

  • University of North Carolina-Asheville, One University Hts, Asheville, NC 28804-8510
  • Belmont Abbey College, 100 Belmont-Mt Holly Rd, Belmont, NC 28012-1802
  • Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608
  • John A. Lejeune Education Center, Bldg 825, Camp Lejeune, NC
  • North Carolina Elite Career Service Center, 132 Quade Drive, Cary, NC 27513
  • Charlotte School of Law, 2145 Suttle Ave, Charlotte, NC 28208
  • Johnson C. Smith University, 100 Beatties Ford Road, Charlotte, NC 28216
  • Measurement Inc./Duke University, 423 Morris Street ,Durham, NC 27701
  • North Carolina Central University, 1801 Fayetteville Street, Durham, NC 27707
  • Elizabeth City State University, 1704 Weeksville Rd, Elizabeth City, NC 27909
  • Fayetteville State University, 1200 Murchison Rd, Fayetteville, NC 28301-4298
  • Wayne Community College, 3000 Wayne Memorial Dr, Goldsboro, NC 27533-8002
  • University of North Carolina-Greensboro, 1000 Spring Garden St, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
  • East Carolina University, East 5th Street, Greenville, NC 27858-4353
  • North Carolina State University, Campus Box 7001, Raleigh, NC 27695-7001
  • Saint Augustine’s College, 1315 Oakwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27610
  • Shaw University, 118 East South Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
  • Wake Technical Community College, 9101 Fayetteville Road, Raleigh, NC 27603-5696
  • University of North Carolina-Wilmington, 601 South College Rd, Wilmington, NC 28403-5963
  • Wake Forest University, 1834 Wake Forest Road, Winston Salem, NC 27106

Receiving Your Score

You can expect to receive your LSAT score by mail about three weeks after the exam. Scores range from 120 to 180. Average LSAT scores accepted by approved North Carolina law schools are:

Campbell University Law School:       156
Charlotte School of Law:               149
Duke Law School:  170
Elon School of Law:  155
North Carolina Central University Law School:     146
University of North Carolina Law School:    163
Wake Forest University Law School:    163

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Step 3

Go to Law School in North Carolina

Featured Law School:

University of Dayton
Campus Locations: Online
Programs: Online Hybrid Juris Doctor: ABA-approved JD program


Application process

Now that you have passed the LSAT, you are ready to apply to law schools approved by the Council of the North Carolina State Bar (which, coincidentally, are also approved by the American Bar Association). A list of approved law schools is available in the office of the Secretary of the Council of the North Carolina State Bar.

Credential Assembly Service

Law schools mandate that you use the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when you apply for enrollment. The CAS helps you collect all undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and evaluations from others of your work and character. It will compile them into five law school reports that you may use to apply to five law schools of your choice. This process is begun online through your account with the LSAC.  

Accredited Law Schools in North Carolina

North Carolina law schools that have been approved by the Council of the North Carolina State Bar and by the American Bar Association are:

Course requirements

Coursework that you will take in law school in North Carolina will deal with subjects that will be tested on the state’s bar exam. These include business associations, Constitutional law, civil procedure, contracts, evidence, criminal law and procedure, legal ethics, family law, secured transactions (including Uniform Commercial Code), real property, torts, taxation, wills, estates, trusts, and equity.

Online Law Degrees

Degree Programs

The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners has ruled that you must have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree prior to sitting for the state’s bar exam.

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Step 4

Take the North Carolina State Bar Exam

If you have a JD degree from a Council-approved law school, or will graduate within 30 days of taking the North Carolina bar exam, you are ready to apply to take the exam. You must also be at least 18 years old.

Non-ABA approved law school graduates

If the Council or the ABA does not approve your law school, you are not eligible to take the North Carolina bar exam. However, if you graduated before August 1, 1995 from a non-ABA approved law school, you are eligible to take the bar exam.

Graduates of Foreign Law Schools

If you graduated from a foreign law school with an L.L.M. degree prior to August 1, 2005, you are eligible to sit for the North Carolina bar exam. Otherwise, foreign-educated applicants are not eligible to take the bar exam.


The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners has past bar exams posted on its website that may help you prepare for the state’s bar exam. The National Conference of Bar Examiners website also has free information to help you get ready to take the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) portion of the test.  If you would like to take a paid, formal bar review course, options in North Carolina include:

Exam content

The North Carolina Bar Exam is a two-day event. On the first day, you will answer 12 North Carolina essay questions. Day two consists of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). The following subjects may be tested on either portion of the exam:

  • Business Associations
  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Legal Ethics
  • Real Property
  • Uniform Commercial Code/Secured Transactions
  •  Taxation
  • Torts,
  • Wills/Trusts/ Estates
  • Equity

Application Process

The application to take the North Carolina Bar Exam is in electronic format, available online. However, it must be printed and mailed to the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners’ office. To start the application process, completed the National Conference of Bar Examiners Online Character & Fitness Application. The Certificate of Moral Character Forms must be completed in duplicate by four references you list in question #33 and mailed by those references to the Office within 30 days. These forms must also be notarized.

Your original application must be submitted in double-sided format with two copies. It must be signed and notarized where applicable. Other information that must accompany your application includes:

  • A state or county certified copy of your birth certificate
  • A passport-type photograph of yourself not more than six months old
  • Both sets of completed fingerprint cards (obtainable when you begin application process, instructions will be included)
  • A copy of any litigation matters in which you have been involved personally (such as divorce or bankruptcy proceedings)
  • Two originals of executed, signed, notarized Authorization and Release forms
  • Official transcripts from all schools attended (these must be sent directly from the schools to the Office)
  • Check or money order payable to the Board of Law Examiners for $700 ($250 late deadline added if filing after the first Tuesday in November to take the February bar exam or after the first Tuesday in March if taking the July bar exam).

Send all information to the Board of Law Examiners of the State of North Carolina, Suite 700, One Exchange Plaza, PO Box 2946, Raleigh, NC 27602.

Pass Rates

The following passing statistics for previous North Carolina bar exams have been published by Ameribar:

  • February 2007:                  52 percent of all test-takers passed the bar exam
  • July 2007:                           72%
  • February 2008:                  57%
  • July 2008:                           78%
  • February 2009:                  50%
  • July 2009:                           73%
  • February 2010:                  56%
  • July 2010:                           73%

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

Before you can be admitted to the North Carolina bar, you must also take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). The Board will accept MPRE scores from tests you have taken two years prior to the NC bar exam and one year after passing the NC bar exam. Contact the NCBE for more information and to schedule the MPRE.

Admission on Comity (Reciprocity)

North Carolina’s Board of Law Examiners recognizes lawyers who are licensed elsewhere and does not require you to take the NC bar examination if you meet the following requirements:

  • Graduated from an ABA-approved law school
  • You are a bar member in good standing in all jurisdictions in which you are licensed as a lawyer
  • You have worked in the full-time practice of law for four of the past six years in a reciprocal jurisdiction (as of Jan 1, 2012, that includes AK, AZ, AR, CO, DC, GA, ID, IL, IA, KS, ME, MA, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NY, ND, OK, OR, PA, TN, TX, UT, WA and WI)
  • If you meet these requirements, complete the Comity Application and submit it and all necessary supporting documents to the Board

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

You should receive your bar exam results and license by UPS by the first two weeks in April if you took the February exam or the first two weeks in September if  you took the July exam. You will need to complete the Oath of Office form in the presence of a judge and notary at a formal bar admission ceremony in open court. The Oath states:

“I, ________________________________________, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States; so help me God. I, ________________________________________, do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina and to the Constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said state, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, to the best of my knowledge and ability; so help me God.

I, ________________________________________, do swear that I will truly and honestly demean myself in the practice of an Attorney, according to the best of my knowledge and ability, so help me God.”

(A version of the Oath of Office without the phrase “so help me God” is also available for candidates for bar admission who wish to use it instead).

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the North Carolina Bar

You have completed the final milestone in your journey to become a lawyer in New Hampshire, and are now a licensed lawyer and member of the North Carolina State Bar! Every active member of the NC State Bar who resides in North Carolina must also be a member of the judicial district bar where you live or practice. You will be automatically assigned by the NC state bar to a local district bar based on your address, unless you request in writing reassignment to a different district. To find out which judicial bar district you live or work in, view this map.

In order to maintain membership, you must pay the bar’s pay the annual membership fees ($375 for 2012), fulfill the CLE and IOLTA requirements (see below), comply with the state bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, and maintain local district bar membership.

As a new bar member in North Carolina, you must complete the North Carolina State Bar New Admittee Professionalism Program during your first year of membership. Credit for this program is applied to your total mandatory CLE requirements for the year (see below) in the year the member is first required to meet CLE requirements.

The NC State Bar offers its official 2012 Lawyer’s Handbook for purchase for $14.95 at its website. This is a valuable resource for all NC lawyers that you should obtain as soon as possible after bar admission. The Lawyers Resource Index for North Carolina Lawyers can also help you, as it provides a handy index to all things legal in the state.

Major law firms in North Carolina across the state are often willing to hire graduates fresh out of law school. Some of the most recognizable names include business/corporate litigators Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Charlotte; Moore & Van Allen in Charlotte and the Research Triangle, representing 10 of the 15 Fortune 500 company clients in the state; multi-practice specialists McGuireWoods in Charlotte; multi-practice and industry litigators Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein in Raleigh and Charlotte; and corporate law firm K&L Gates in Charlotte, Research Triangle Park, and Raleigh.

As mentioned above, North Carolina is also home to 15 Fortune 500 companies, many of which hire attorneys. The state’s Research Triangle Park area, situated between three of North Carolina’s largest universities – Duke University in Durham, Raleigh’s North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- houses 170 international companies, many of which hire attorneys in various capacities from time to time. Companies within this area include information technology giant Cisco Systems, Inc.; financial company Credit Suisse; the Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; pharmaceutical company Merck BioManufacturing Network;  and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute.

Legal specialty certification

The North Carolina State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization certifies lawyers in the state who wish to practice as specialists in certain areas. In order to become certified as a specialist, you must:

  • Be licensed and in good standing as a NC bar member
  • Have been involved in this practice area for at least  five years
  • Have fulfilled a certain number of continuing legal education (CLE) credits in the specialty area in the past three years (the number varies from one specialty to the next)
  • Show that you are qualified in the specialty through peer review
  • Get a passing score on a written  examination in the specialty practice area

Areas in which you may become specialized to practice law in North Carolina include:

  • Bankruptcy law
  •  Criminal law
  • Family law
  • Elder law
  • Estate planning and probate law
  • Real property law
  • Immigration law
  • Social security disability law
  • Workers’ compensation law

Applications for specialty certification may be obtained at the Forms section of the Board of Legal Specialization’s website.

Requirements for maintaining license

To maintain your North Carolina license to practice law, you must complete 12 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each. At least two of those hours must be in professional responsibility, including ethics and professional liability. You  must take one hour of CLE on substance abuse or mental disability every three years. For more information, contact the CLE department of the NC State Bar.  

You must also establish all general client trust accounts with the North Carolina State Bar Plan for Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (NC IOLTA) in order to keep your law license active in the state. All of your general client trust accounts must be established and maintained as interest-bearing IOLTA accounts. This interest is remitted to the NC IOLTA by the State Bar.

Court Systems in North Carolina

The North Carolina Court System is structured like so:

  • District Courts: Each district court district is in the county seat of each county. Divided into four categories:
    • Civil - cases like  divorce, custody, child support and value less than $10,000
    • Criminal – misdemeanors and infractions, always without a jury in District Court
    • Juvenile – involve children under 16 who are delinquent and kids under 18 who are abused, neglected, undisciplined or dependent
    • Magistrate- will accept guilty pleas for minor misdemeanors and for traffic violations and will accept waivers of trial.  The magistrate is also authorized to try small claims civil cases valued up to $5,000 including landlord eviction cases
  • Superior Courts: Exist throughout 46 districts across the state. Hold jury trials in all criminal cases and in miscellaneous civil cases. Also hears, tort, contract, real property cases, probate/estate cases, and administrative cases.
  • NC Court of Appeals: This court hears appeals in criminal and civil cases and by administrative agencies. Fifteen judges hear cases in panels of three. They hear original writ proceeding applications and bar/judiciary applications. The NC Court of Appeals is located at One West Morgan Street, Raleigh, NC 27601.
  • NC Supreme Court: The state’s highest court’s judges (no jury) hear appeals in criminal and civil cases and by administrative agencies, and has exclusive jurisdiction over death penalty cases. It hears original writ proceeding applications and bar/judiciary applications. The Supreme Court of North Carolina is located at 2 East Morgan Street, Raleigh, NC 27601.

Elective membership organizations

Depending upon your specialization and demographic factors, you may wish to pursue membership in these other elective organizations for attorneys in North Carolina:

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North Caroina Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  N Carolina Statistics:
NC Active Lawyers 20,000+
Average Annual Wage $127,310