Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in North Carolina
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Get my North Carolina Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- Go to Law School in North Carolina
- Take the North Carolina State Bar Exam
- Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar
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.
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.
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.
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:
- LSAT Prep Course, Queens University of Charlotte, Charlotte
- LSAT Test Prep, North Carolina State University, in-person and online
- LSAT Prep, Wake Forest University Pre-Law Professions Program, in person and online
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 the 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.
The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) requires you to create an account with them online and pay their $190 exam fee when you register to take the LSAT. It is given quarterly in the following North Carolina locations:
- University of North Carolina-Asheville, Asheville
- Belmont Abbey College, Belmont
- Appalachian State University, Boone
- North Carolina Elite Career Service Center, Cary
- North Carolina Central University, Durham
- Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City
- Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville
- East Carolina University, Greenville
- North Carolina State University, Raleigh
- Saint Augustine’s University, Raleigh
- Shaw University, Raleigh
- William Peace University, Raleigh
- University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Wilmington
- Wake Forest University, Winston Salem
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:||152|
|Duke Law School:||169|
|Elon School of Law:||147|
|North Carolina Central University Law School:||145|
|University of North Carolina Law School:||161|
|Wake Forest University Law School:||161|
Go to Law School in North Carolina
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:
- Campbell University, Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Raleigh
- Duke University School of Law, Durham
- Elon University School of Law, Greensboro
- University of North Carolina School of Law, Chapel Hill
- North Carolina Central University School of Law, Durham
- Wake Forest University School of Law, Winston-Salem
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
(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)
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.
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 School
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. As of February 2019, North Carolina administers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). The National Conference of Bar Examiners website has free information to help you get ready to take the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), and Multistate Performance Test (MPT). If you would like to take a paid, formal bar review course, options in North Carolina include:
- NC Bar Review Course, AmeriBar, online
- Bar Exam Preparation Materials, North Carolina Central University School of Law, online
The following subjects may be tested during the North Carolina Bar Exam:
- Business Associations
- Civil Procedure
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Family Law
- Legal Ethics
- Real Property
- Uniform Commercial Code/Secured Transactions
- Wills/Trusts/ Estates
In addition to the UBE, North Carolina also administers a State-Specific Component. This part of the exam is separate from the regular bar exam but must be passed before admittance to the bar will occur. Contact Ms. Alison Bradley at firstname.lastname@example.org to access this test after you have filed your application to take the NC Bar Exam.
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 CharacterForms 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 a 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 North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, 5510 Six Forks Rd, Suite 300, Raleigh, NC 27609.
Although results from the revamped NC Bar Exam including the UBE are not yet available, results from the Feb 2018 NC Bar Exam show an overall passing rate of 33 percent.
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, 2019, that includes AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, DC, GA, ID, IL, IA, KS, KY, ME, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NE, NH, NJ, NM, NY, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WV, WY, 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).
You’ve Been Admitted to the North Carolina Bar
You have completed the final milestone in your journey to becoming a lawyer in North Carolina 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 page.
In order to maintain membership, you must pay the bar’s pay the annual membership fees 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 2019 Lawyer’s Handbook for purchase for $16.09 at its website. This is a valuable resource for all NC lawyers that you should obtain as soon as possible after bar admission.
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; 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 11 Fortune 500 companies as of 2018, many of which hire attorneys. They include: Bank of America Corp in Charlotte; Lowe’s in Mooresville; Duke Energy in Charlotte; Nucor in Charlotte; VF in Greensboro; BB&T Corp in Winston-Salem; Laboratory Corp of America in Burlington; Sonic Automotive in Charlotte; IQVIA Holdings in Durham; Hanesbrands in Winston-Salem; and Sealed Air in Charlotte.
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; IBM; and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
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 an 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. As of 2019, one hour of CLE must be in technology training. 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 hear 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:
- North Carolina Advocates for Justice
- North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys
- North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys
- North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services
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.