Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in North Dakota
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Get my North Dakota Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- Go to Law School in North Dakota
- Take the North Dakota State Bar Exam
- Now that You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar
Law Careers in North Dakota
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, lawyers employed in North Dakota earned an average annual salary of $107,190. Per figures provided by the State Bar Association of North Dakota, there are over 2900 members of the association, all of whom pledge to promote justice and serve the people of North Dakota. Think you’d like to become a lawyer in the great state of North Dakota? Read on.
Get Your North Dakota Undergrad Pre-Law Major
According to information compiled by the American Bar Association, the North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners requires all who sit for their bar exam to not only have a Juris Doctor (J.D. ) law degree but also to have completed pre-legal education. Most ABA-accredited law schools mandate that you have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in order to be accepted into law school as well.
ABA-approved law schools will require that your undergraduate degree is completed at a college or university that is nationally or regionally accredited. The accreditation agency must be listed with the U.S. Department of Education in order for ABA-accredited law schools to accept your undergraduate education.
Requirements and Standards
You are not required to take specific courses during your undergraduate education. The coursework that you do take should interest and challenge you, and help to develop your skills in problem-solving, oral communication, and written communication. Many pre-law students take coursework in mathematics, business, economics, political science, philosophy, history, and communications.
You are not required to obtain your bachelor’s degree in any certain major – as long as it is obtained at an accredited undergraduate institution. You may receive a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in any major you choose. Undergraduate majors took from the above-mentioned subject areas, however, often are the most useful to students as they begin their law school years.
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LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in ND
After completing the first step and receiving your bachelor’s degree, you must take and pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test. This six-hour-long standardized examination is required for admission into an ABA-accredited law school in the United States. It is one of the most important examinations that you will ever take in your pursuit of a law career.
How to prepare
The Law School Admission Council has provided excellent study resources free of charge at the LSAT website. Some students opt to take other LSAT review programs, both online and in-person, which may be associated with a cost. Such resources in North Dakota include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in North Dakota:
- LSAT Prep Class, TestMasters, multiple ND locations including Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks
- LSAT Test Prep, PowerScore, online
The LSAT is broken down into four scored, 35-minute sections. There are three types of multiple-choice questions on the LSAT: logical reasoning, analytical reasoning and reading comprehension. You will also face an unscored 35-minute section of experimental questions, and a 30-minute writing sample. The experimental section is unscored, but you will not know which section that is. The writing sample is also unscored but will be sent to the law schools to which you apply for admission.
The LSAT is offered in November, January, and March, on Mondays and Saturdays. If you observe the Sabbath on Saturdays, other test dates will be made available to you. You may also make advance arrangements for accommodations if you have a disability or need special equipment to take the test when you apply online. For 2019, three examination centers exist in North Dakota:
- University of North Dakota, Grand Forks
- Minot State University, Minot
- Dickinson State University, Dickinson
Receiving Your Score
Possible LSAT scores range between 120 and 180. You should receive your scores by mail about three weeks after sitting for the examination. There is just one ABA-approved law school in North Dakota, the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks. The average LSAT score of the applicants it accepts as of 2019 is 148.
Go to Law School in North Dakota
Once you have passed the LSAT, you are ready to apply to ABA-approved law schools across the country. Even though North Dakota only houses one, the Rules of the North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners simply state that you must graduate from an ABA-approved law school, not one within the state. So feel free to apply to any of the over 200 ABA-accredited law schools nationwide that are listed in the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools.
Credential Assembly Service
All ABA-accredited law schools across the nation insist that you use the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when applying for enrollment. As you already have an LSAC account from taking the LSAT, this process should be easy. The CAS will help you get transcripts from your undergraduate institutions to a centralized location, as well as letters of recommendation and evaluations from others. The CAS will collate all of this material and produce up to five law school reports for you to use when applying to up to five ABA-approved law schools. The CAS will also submit these applications to the law schools you choose electronically. Your LSAC account is valid for five years.
The North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners’ rules for admission state that, in order to take the state’s bar exam, you must receive a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a law school that is fully or provisionally approved by the American Bar Association. Non-ABA-approved law school graduates and graduates of foreign law schools are not eligible to take the North Dakota bar exam.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in North Dakota
As mentioned above, just one law school in North Dakota holds ABA accreditation:
- University of North Dakota School of Law, 215 Centennial Drive, Stop 9003, Grand Forks, ND 58202
Most students are in law school for at least three years. In the first year, you will usually take prescribed coursework that is common to most ABA-approved law school curricula. Years two and three are often devoted to internships and electives within the field of law. Courses that are common to most ABA-approved law schools include:
- Professional responsibility
- Constitutional law
- Civil law and procedure
- Criminal law and procedure
- Lawyering skills
Online Law Degrees
(For students who choose to focus on a subset of law other than an attorney.)
Most ABA-accredited law schools mandate that students complete a practical experience program designed to use the knowledge learned in the classroom and hone lawyering skills. These types of programs may be in-house legal clinics, in which students work with indigent clients in an on-campus legal clinic setting; or off-campus law offices, government agencies, or nonprofit institutions. Your work in a clinical experience program is graded not only by your on-site supervisor but often by a law school faculty member as well.
The North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners requires you to obtain a J.D. degree before sitting for the state bar exam. At North Dakota’s ABA-accredited law school, you may also elect to pursue special certificates or joint degrees, including:
- Indian law certificate
- Aviation law certificate
- J.D./MBA (Master of Business Administration) dual degree
- J.D./MPA (Master of Public Administration) dual degree
Law Student Registration
The North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners requires all law students who intend to take the state’s bar exam to register with the Board by October 1 of your second year of law school (or 14 months after the first day of your first year of law school). You will begin the registration process the Law Student Registration Form, which also contains more information. Also filed at this time will be the following:
Take the North Dakota State Bar Exam
When you have your J.D. from an ABA-approved law school, you are ready to apply to take the North Dakota state bar examination. Remember, non-ABA approved law school graduates and graduates of foreign law schools are not eligible to take North Dakota’s bar examination.
North Dakota administers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, and the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). You can find valuable study aids for these tests free of charge at the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) website. If you prefer to take a bar review course that may charge a fee, these options are available for North Dakota test takers:
- North Dakota Bar Review Course, Themis, online
- North Dakota Bar Exam Tutoring Program, Ameribar, online or in-person
The North Dakota bar exam consists of the NCBE’s Uniform Bar Exam (UBE). It is given over two days, on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of July or February (the February administration will be held only if at least 10 people apply). On the first day of the exam, you will encounter two Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) questions and two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks. Day two is devoted to the 200 multiple-choice questions Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). Subjects that you could possibly encounter on the UBE include:
- Business associations
- Constitutional law
- Conflict of laws
- Criminal law and procedure
- Family law
- Federal civil law and procedure
- Real property
- Uniform Commercial Code (sections on Negotiable Instruments and Secured Transactions)
- Trusts and Estates
- MPT- skills tested in tasks given:
- Ability to sort complex facts, separating what’s relevant from what’s irrelevant
- Ability to analyze the administrative, case, and statutory materials and apply them to the principles of the law
- Ability to apply relevant law to relevant facts to settle the problem of a client
- Ability to recognize and settle ethical problems
- Ability to communicate effectively through writing
- Ability to complete a normal lawyering task within a deadline
- Constitutional law
- Real property
- Criminal law and procedure
Bar exam applications will be posted online at the North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners website prior to each administration. If you have already registered as directed by the Board during your second year of law school, you will use the Supplemental Bar Examination Application for Third-Year Law Students. This application will update and carry over the information you provided when you registered with the Board. If you filed your law student registration on time when you were supposed to, you must pay $75 now with your Supplemental Application. The fee must be payable to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) by check or credit card and will be used for your supplemental character and fitness investigation. You must also include a $150 bar exam fee payable to the State Board of Law Examiners by March 1 for the July exam or December 1 for the February exam. A late fee of $100 is added if submitting after March 1 and before May 1 for the July exam, and after December 1 and before December 15 for the February exam. A late fee of $150 is added if submitting after May 1 and before June 1 for the July exam, or after December 15 and before Jan 1 for the February exam. The board will accept no applications after June 1 for the July exam and after January 1 for the February exam. Along with your application, include the following:
- A passport-style 2” x 2” recent photograph of yourself
- The original and one copy of your completed Supplemental Application
- One original executed Exam Petition form
- One original executed Authorization and Release form
- Have your law school send an official transcript directly to the Board showing that you have received your J.D. degree
Mail all information to State Board of Law Examiners, Judicial Wing, 1st Floor, 600 E Boulevard Ave, Bismarck, ND 58505-0530.
According to Dakota Student, in 2017 the bar exam pass rate for students of the University of North Dakota was 72 percent. In 2016, it was 73 percent and in 2015, 76 percent.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
The North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners also requires applicants for admission to the bar to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) with a scaled score of at least 85. Any MPRE scores from the past five years will be accepted. You may apply online with the NCBE to take this exam.
Reciprocity Based on Practice
If you have been a member of the bar of another jurisdiction for at least the past five years, you may be eligible for reciprocal admission to the ND bar based on practice. You must have actively practiced law in that jurisdiction in a competent manner for at least four of the past five years. Use the Admission on Motion application to begin the application process.
Reciprocity Based on Test Scores
If you have already taken the MBE or the UBE within the past two years in another jurisdiction, you may be eligible for admission to the NB bar based on your test scores. This may occur if:
- you received an MBE scaled score of 150 or better in the past two years in another jurisdiction
- you received a UBE scaled score of 260 or higher within the past two years in another jurisdiction
You must also have been eligible for admission to the bar of the jurisdiction in which you passed the examination. To begin the process, use the Admission on Motion-Eligibility Based on Test Score application.
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
It takes approximately seven weeks after completion of the North Dakota bar exam to receive your scores via mail. You will also be notified at that time, if you passed the bar exam, of the date, time, and location of your bar admission ceremony, in which you will take the attorney’s oath of office.
You’ve Been Admitted to the Bar in North Dakota
Congratulations on your admission by examination to the State Bar Association of North Dakota! This statewide mandatory regulation organization for lawyers is the oldest unified bar association in the United States, founded in 1899. It currently has over 2900 members, and you are now one of them! You should familiarize yourself with the Handbook for New Members, which will outline the Bar’s Young Lawyers Section (in which you are automatically a member if you have practiced for less than five years or are under age 36), the Continuing Legal Education requirements (more on that later), and programs such as lawyer referral and volunteer lawyer/pro bono services.
The sheer vastness of North Dakota makes it an excellent state in which to start your own solo practice as a new lawyer. If you wish to do so, you may want to review the article “Opening a Law Office” in the 2014 edition of GP Solo, a publication of the American Bar Association. This article provides valuable information for attorneys wishing to become sole practitioners.
If you prefer to join an established law firm in North Dakota, you have numerous options. Some of the most well-known law firms across the state include personal injury firm LaBine in Grand Forks; multipractice firm Boyce, Greenfield, Pashby & Welk in Sioux Falls; domestic relations and criminal law firm Camrud, Maddock, Olson & Larson Ltd in Grand Forks; general practice firm the Solem Law Office in Beulah; and criminal and civil litigators the Chapman Law Firm in Williston.
Other opportunities for recent law school graduates may exist with non-profit agencies, legal services, and the government. Such organizations may include Legal Services of North Dakota in New Town, Minot and Fargo; the North Dakota Commission on Legal Counsel for Indigents in Williston; North Dakota State Government offices in Bismarck; and the Department of the Air Force in Fargo.
Legal specialty certification
If you want to practice in a specialized legal area, there are a few options for certification. The American Board of Certification (ABC) offers certification services for specializations in business bankruptcy, consumer bankruptcy creditors’ rights. When you apply for certification, you must also pass an examination. The ABC can be contacted at (319) 365-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish further information on their certification process.
The National Board of Trial Advocacy provides certification services for specializations in civil pretrial advocacy, social security disability advocacy, family trial law, criminal trial law, and civil trial law. You must pass an examination before certification will be conferred. Contact the NBTA at (508) 384-6565 for more information.
Requirements for maintaining license
To maintain your license to practice law in North Dakota, you must fulfill mandatory Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements. This entails accomplishing 45 hours of CLE every 3 years. Three of these hours must be in ethics. Contact the State Bar Association of North Dakota’s CLE Department for further information.
Court Systems in North Dakota
The North Dakota Judicial System has the following structure:
- Supreme Court– North Dakota’s highest court, the Supreme Court is made up of five justices, each of whom must be a licensed attorney in North Dakota as well as an ND and US citizen. There are two major tasks performed by the Supreme Court: judging and administering. The Supreme Court’s judging duties are by acting as an appeals court that hears appeals from the ND Court of Appeals. It administers the court system throughout the state and supervises the state’s lawyers. The ND Supreme Court is located in the Judicial Wing, First Floor – State Capitol – Bismarck, ND 58505-0530.
- Court of Appeals– The North Dakota Court of Appeals only hears cases assigned to it by the state’s Supreme Court. It is made up of three judges who are selected from active and retired judges and attorneys in North Dakota. There have been some years in which the ND Court of Appeals has had no cases assigned to it by the ND Supreme Court. It is also located in the State Capitol in Bismarck.
- District Court– The district courts are North Dakota’s courts of general jurisdiction. They have original and general jurisdiction in all cases throughout the state including criminal felony and misdemeanor cases, and they have a general jurisdiction in the state’s civil cases. Juvenile matters are also tried in the ND District Courts. North Dakota has seven judicial districts:
- Northwest Judicial District– Burke, Divide, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward & Williams Counties
- Northeast Judicial District– Benson, Bottineau, Cavalier, McHenry, Pembina, Pierce, Ramsey, Renville, Rolette, Towner & Walsh Counties
- Northeast Central Judicial District– Grand Forks & Nelson Counties
- East Central Judicial District– Cass, Steele & Traill Counties
- Southeast Judicial District– Barnes, Dickey, Eddy, Foster, Griggs, LaMoure, Ransom, Richland, Sargent, Stutsman & Wells Counties
- South Central Judicial District– Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, Logan, McIntosh, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan & Sioux Counties
- Southwest Judicial District – Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope & Stark Counties
- Municipal Court– These courts have jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances. They are found in many municipalities in North Dakota, listed here.
Elective membership organizations
- North Dakota Defense Lawyers Association
- North Dakota Association for Justice
- North Dakota State’s Attorneys Association
- North Dakota Tribal Judicial Institute
- North Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
2021 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.