Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
The American Bar Association reports that there were 4862 resident, active attorneys who were members of the West Virginia bar in 2017. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the legal profession is expected to grow 8 percent across the country through 2026. Employers of lawyers which are expected to show the biggest growth nationwide include the federal government and large corporations, who are increasingly turning to hiring in-house lawyers in lieu of using outside law firms to save money. If you would like to become a member of the West Virginia bar, read on.
Under the rules of the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, there are many ways to gain admission to the state’s bar. These include admission by examination, admission without examination (reciprocity), as resident professors of law, and limited permission for public defender program attorneys or indigent legal services. We will first discuss admission by examination and touch upon the other methods of admission to the bar in Step 4 of this document.
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners specifies in its rules of admission to the bar that you must obtain an A.B. or B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), B.S. (Bachelor of Science), or higher degree from an accredited college, university or equivalent prior to attending law school. The school from which you obtain your undergraduate degree must be accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Requirements and Standards
Your undergraduate education must prepare you for entrance into an American Bar Association-accredited law school. While the ABA does not set standards or requirements for your undergraduate pre-legal education (beyond the fact that it must be completed at an accredited institution), there are recommendations for coursework and areas of knowledge that should be studied to ensure further success in law school. They include:
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners specifies in its rules for admission to the bar that your undergraduate degree must be at least a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or higher. The major that you should take has not been identified nor has the Board suggested it. However, it follows suit that if the ABA recommends coursework in the above-mentioned areas, your major should correspond to one of those areas to help you succeed in law school later. Therefore, recommended pre-law majors should include:
Pre- Law Advisor
Your undergraduate college or university may employ a Pre-Law Advisor, whose job is to assist pre-law students in choosing the right courses, majors and minors to best prepare you for law school. Your pre-law advisor can also help you prepare to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) , recommend the best law schools to which you should apply, and help you gather the necessary paperwork to make law school applications.
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners prefers that prospective members graduate from an ABA-approved law school (although there are provisions for those who attend non-ABA approved law schools, which will be discussed in Step 3). All ABA-approved law schools, and many non-ABA approved law schools, require that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, to gain admission to law school.
How to prepare
The LSAT website offers practice tests and other free materials to help you prepare for the exam. You may also opt to take one of the following LSAT exam preparation courses, seminars or workshops throughout West Virginia:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in West Virginia:
Skills and knowledge that are vital to law school success are tested on the LSAT:
LSAT Application Process
You may take the LSAT on a Monday or a Saturday in November, January, March, June and July. Not every testing center offers the LSAT on every date, however, so choose accordingly when planning to take the test at one of the following centers throughout West Virginia:
You must pay a testing fee of $190 by credit card when you register online to take the LSAT.
Receiving Your Score
You will receive your Score Report and Test Disclosure by email three weeks after you complete the exam. The lowest possible LSAT score is 120 and highest, 180.
The LSAT does not necessarily predict your future success in law school. It does, however, measure subjects that you will study in law school and knowledge used by attorneys every day.
You may request accommodations to take the LSAT if you have any documented disabilities. You must first register to take the LSAT, and then submit the Accommodations Request Packet (which can be found online when you register for the test). You must obtain and submit all required documentation by the deadlines listed here.
Kudos to you for passing the LSAT! This milestone is just the first along your path to becoming a member of the West Virginia bar. The second is to apply to law school. The LSAC can assist you in this endeavor as well. Indeed, if you apply to an ABA-approved law school (and some non-ABA approved law schools), it will require that you use the LSAC’s services.
Credential Assembly Service
One of the services uniformly required when applying to an ABA-approved law school is to utilize LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. The LSAC will help you compile transcripts and letters of recommendation, obtain evaluations, and apply electronically for you to the law schools of your choosing. You will be charged a fee of $195 for using this service.
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners prefers that aspiring attorneys graduate from ABA-accredited law schools in the United States (not necessarily in West Virginia). There are rules that apply if you graduate from non-ABA accredited law schools that are explained below. There are over 200 law schools across the United States currently holding ABA approval. A comprehensive listing can be found at the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. If you want to know how the ABA decides which law schools to approve, consult the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in West Virginia
Only one law school in West Virginia is currently ABA-accredited:
ABA Standard 303 of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools declares that ABA-approved law schools offer coursework in the following areas:
The ABA says that you must take at least 24 months to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, but cannot take more than 84 months to do so. One academic year must equal at least 130 days and span at least eight calendar months.
You need at least 58,000 minutes of instruction time to graduate with a J.D. degree, and 45,000 of those minutes must be in attending regular law school classes. The total is roughly equivalent to 83 semester hours of credit or 129 quarter hours of credit.
Online Law Degrees
Your law school must offer you the opportunity for real-life field placements and/or to interact with live clients. Many ABA-approved universities offer clinics in which law students work with a certain group of real-life clients, such as the indigent, women and children, and minorities. You may have the opportunity to work in civil law, criminal law, or areas such as taxation, property, wills and trusts, or immigration.
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners says that you must graduate with a J.D. degree or L.L.B. degree (the Canadian equivalent of the J.D. degree) in order to be admitted to the state’s bar. If you already have a J.D. or L.L.B. degree, or are interested in a non-practicing law degree, other options exist:
Post-JD and non-JD degree programs:
ABA-approved law schools offering these degrees are listed here.
Non-ABA Approved Law Schools
If you graduate form a non-ABA approved law school, you might still be eligible for the West Virginia Bar if you meet one of the following qualifications:
The West Virginia Board of Law Examiners may allow you to take the bar exam prior to receiving your J.D. degree, if you have completed all requirements for your degree but will not receive the actual degree before the bar exam is scheduled to be administered. The West Virginia Bar Examination is given annually on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July of each year.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
Before taking the West Virginia bar exam, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). This exam, administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), is typically offered while you are a student in law school, or you may register online. You must receive a scaled score of at least 75 on this exam. You have 25 months from the time of passing the West Virginia Bar Exam to pass the MPRE, but the WV Board of Law Examiners prefers that you pass it prior to admission on examination to the WV bar.
Just as it was important to prepare before taking the LSAT, preparation is key to your success in passing the West Virginia Bar Exam. Online study guides are available from the National Conference of Bar Examiners to help you prepare for the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), Multistate Essay
Exam (MEE) and Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), all of which make up the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) that West Virginia uses.
The West Virginia Bar Exam is given over two days. The first day consists of answering two 90- minute questions from the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). These questions involve practical tasks expected of attorneys, such as preparing legal briefs, client letters, memorandums, contracts, settlements, etc. On the afternoon of the first day, you will take the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE). You must write six essays on topics to include commercial paper, agencies, conflict of laws, family law, corporations and limited liability companies, wills, trusts and future interests, sales, partnerships, secured transactions, and federal civil procedure.
The second day consists of the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), 200 multiple-choice questions given over three hours. Subjects tested on the MBE include contracts and sales, Constitutional law, torts, real property, evidence, criminal procedure and criminal law.
Per AdaptiBar.com, here are the overall pass rates for students who took past administrations of the West Virginia Bar Exam:
Other Ways to Gain Admission to the Bar Reciprocity
If you wish to gain admission to the West Virginia bar by means of reciprocity without passing the state’s bar exam, you must have been actively practicing law in another state for five of the past seven years. You must also show to the Board that the standards for bar admission in that state are equivalent to those of West Virginia. States that West Virginia considers reciprocal as of September 8, 2016:
You must complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:
Resident Professor of Law
If you hold a full-time faculty position at an ABA-approved law school in the state, you may apply for West Virginia bar admission as a Resident Professor of Law. You must first complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:
If you are enrolled in a qualified graduate law school program in West Virginia, or work for a qualified legal services or public defender program in West Virginia, you may apply for limited permission to the West Virginia bar. To apply to the West Virginia bar on the basis of limited permission, complete the NCBE’s Character and Fitness Application and pay applicable fees to the NCBE for the report. Then you must mail the following documentation to the West Virginia Board of Law Examiners, City Center East, Suite 1200B, 4700 MacCorkle Ave. SE, Charleston, WV 25304:
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
Once you have passed the West Virginia bar exam or have been admitted without examination on one of the bases above, a Certificate of Eligibility will be issued by the Board. You must appear before the Supreme Court of Appeals within twelve months of receiving the certificate, take the oath of office, and sign the roll of attorneys maintained by the Clerk of the Supreme Court of Appeals. The oath is as follows: "I do solemnly swear or affirm that: I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia; that I will honestly demean myself in the practice of law; and, to the best of my ability, execute my office of attorney-at-law; so help me God." After you complete this process and pay necessary fees, you will receive a Certificate of Admission and be considered a member of the West Virginia bar.
Congratulations, new member of the West Virginia bar! As a new lawyer in West Virginia, you have 24 months to fulfill the Bridge the Gap requirement. This involves in-person attendance at a training seminar in the state. IT is free but mandatory to attend one of the two seminars offered.
Now that you have your new legal license, where do you plan to work? Small and large legal firms throughout West Virginia employ new attorneys, as do corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Or perhaps you would like to start a sole proprietorship? The West Virginia State Bar Association’s Young Lawyer’s Section can assist you with all of these endeavors. The website also has a practice guide to the laws of the state, which can be quite handy when you are first starting out as an attorney in West Virginia.
The State of West Virginia’s offices in each county typically employ attorneys in a variety of capacities. Other government agencies that employ lawyers include the Department of Agriculture in Harper’s Ferry, the Department of Justice in Clarksburg, the Department of Homeland Security in Martinsburg, the United States Air Force in Charleston, and the Department of the Treasury in Parkersburg.
While West Virginia currently does not house any Fortune 500 companies, other corporations make their headquarters in the state and may be in need of legal help. Some of these include WVU Medicine in Morgantown, MedExpress in Morgantown, ESMARK in Wheeling, Special Metals Corporation in Huntington, and WesBanco in Wheeling.
Major law firms are located throughout West Virginia, with names such as Steptoe & Johnson PLLC in Charleston; K&L Gates LLP and Reed Smith LLP, both in Wheeling; Spilman, Thomas & Battle with offices in Charleston, Morgantown and Wheeling; and Dinsmore & Shohl LLP in Huntington, Lewisburg, Morgantown, Wheeling and Charleston.
Legal specialty certification
The National Board of Trial Advocacy provides certification services for attorneys who wish to specialize in certain areas of the law. Certifications include civil trial advocacy, social security disability, and family law. If this interests you, contact them at (508) 384-6565 for more information.
Requirements for maintaining license
The West Virginia Bar Association requires lawyers in the state to complete 24 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) every two years to maintain membership in the Bar. At least 3 hours must be in legal ethics, office management, substance abuse, or elimination of bias in the legal profession. You may submit CLE credits online. Approved providers and courses are listed here.
Court Systems in West Virginia
The West Virginia Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Magistrate Courts, Treatment Courts and Mass Litigation Panel.
The Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state and the court of last resort. According to its website, it is the busiest appellate court in the United States. Five Supreme Court justices hear appeals of decisions over all matters decided in the circuit courts, some family court decisions, and worker’s compensation appeals. It is located at Building One, Room E-400, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East, Charleston, WV 25305-0830.
The Circuit Courts are the state’s trial courts of general jurisdiction. They hear civil cases of over $300; civil cases in equity; proceedings in habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, prohibition, and certiorari; and all felonies and misdemeanors. They also receive appeals from magistrate court, municipal court, some family court decisions, and administrative agencies, (except for worker’s compensation appeals). The 55 counties in West Virginia are divided into 31 circuits. Court information by county is listed here.
Family Courts hear cases of family matters including divorce, paternity, grandparent visitation, annulment, separate maintenance, parental responsibility, and family support. There are 27 family court circuits throughout West Virginia. Court information by county is listed here.
Magistrate Courts exist in all 55 counties in West Virginia (usually at least two magistrates per county). Magistrate courts preside over civil cases of less than $5000, misdemeanor cases, and preliminary examinations in felony cases. They also issue and record affidavits, complaints, arrest warrants and search warrants in criminal cases, set bail, and decide on plea agreement and collection matters. They issue emergency protective orders in domestic cases and may handle involuntary mental commitments.
Treatment Courts are also known as problem-solving courts. Their goal is to help people overcome addictions and mental illnesses that might have led them to commit crimes. Types of treatment courts in West Virginia include 8 juvenile drug treatment courts, 14 adult drug treatment courts, one adult mental health court (the Northern Panhandle Mental Health Court composed of Marshall, Brooke, Hancock and Ohio Counties), and one adult reentry court in the First Judicial Circuit (comprised of Brooke, Hancock and Ohio Counties).
The Mass Litigation Panel was established by the Supreme Court of West Virginia in 2010 to handle cases involving mass litigation. It is located at 1900 Kanawha Blvd., East Building 1, Room E-100, Charleston, WV 25305.
Elective membership organizations
Now that you are a member of the West Virginia bar, you should consider joining a professional support organization such as:
West Virginia Resources
Lawyer Career Specialties
W Virginia Statistics:
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