Only seven states, California, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming will let you become a lawyer without having to complete a Juris Doctor – the degree earned through a law school program. The jurisdiction where you want to practice will dictate whether you need additional time studying at a law school. For example, New York lets you sit for the bar exam if you earn 28 course credits at a law school and complete three years of study in a law office. Washington and California don’t require any law school coursework and let you sit for the bar exam after completing four years of law office study. Washington, however, specifies that the mentor you work under must have 10 years of experience as a lawyer or judge.
Study in a law office while working under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Check with your state first to see if it will allow you to use law office study, since you may need to obtain state approval before you begin to accumulate your hours of office study, as is the case in Washington.
File an application to take a state bar exam. As you near completion of the required law office study, you’ll need to file a bar exam application and pay a fee to your state to register for the exam. Each state will require documentary proof that you completed the requisite number of years of law office study and satisfy other requirements at this time.
Pass the bar exam. Bar exams are administered twice a year. The exams in all seven states require completion of the 200-multiple-choice Multistate Bar Examination, or MBE. Other portions of the bar exam will consist of essay writing, and depending on the state, may include a Multistate Essay Examination, or MEE, the Multistate Performance Test, or MPT, or state-specific essay questions.
Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. The two-hour MPRE exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions on lawyer ethics and professional responsibility. Although you will need to pass this exam before you can get admitted to a state bar, each state has its own requirements as to when the exam must be taken, which in some cases, can be done after you pass the bar exam.
Apply for admission to your state bar. Once you complete all study and exam requirements, the last step to becoming a practicing lawyer is to submit an application to your state for admission to its bar. Only after admittance can you begin working as a lawyer. These applications require extensive information about your employment, education, criminal and credit history, and therefore, may take some time to complete. After your state bar association reviews the application, and is satisfied with the background check it performs, it will admit you to the bar.
- National Conference of Bar Examiners - Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements
- New York State Board of Law Examiners - Court Rules for Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, Rule 520.4
- State Bar of California – How Do I Become a Lawyer?
- Washington State Bar Association – APR 6 Law Clerk Program
Michael Marz has worked in the financial sector since 2002, specializing in wealth and estate planning. After spending six years working for a large investment bank and an accounting firm, Marz is now self-employed as a consultant, focusing on complex estate and gift tax compliance and planning.