How to Become an Attorney in California

Six Parts:Qualifying For Law SchoolEarning a Law DegreePassing the California Bar ExamMeeting Other California RequirementsSecuring EmploymentMaintaining Your California Law License

Becoming a lawyer in California is one of the most difficult, and most rewarding, career choices you can make. California is notoriously one of the most difficult bars to obtain membership in, and the steps necessary to do so include earning multiple college degrees, taking entrance examinations, and submitting yourself to an in-depth background check. Once licensed, you will be able to start your career as a California lawyer. In order to stay licensed, you will have to keep updated on the law through continuing legal education courses.

Part 1
Qualifying For Law School

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    Create a Law School Admission Council (LSAC) account. LSAC helps prospective law students navigate the law school application process and creating an account is a prerequisite to applying to most schools.[1] To create an account, follow the on-screen instructions found on LSAC's website.
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    Register for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Once you create an LSAC account, you will be able to sign up to take the LSAT. The LSAT is an important part of your law school application as it provides a standardized measure of certain skills considered important to law school success (i.e., reading and reasoning skills).[2] The test consists of five multiple choice sections and a writing sample.[3] The sections test your reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.[4]
    • To register, follow the on-screen instructions found on LSAC's website.
    • The LSAT is administered in June, October, December, and February.[5]
    • The LSAT costs $175.00 each time you take it.[6]
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    Prepare for the LSAT. After signing up for the LSAT, you will need to study in order to get the high scores necessary to get into a good law school. When you study, you should practice each of the sections and take practice exams. There are many ways to study, but some of the most common include:
    • Studying on your own;
    • Taking a prep course (e.g., the Princeton Review or Kaplan); or
    • Buying a prep booklet, which can be found online.
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    Apply to accredited law schools. Once you take the LSAT and receive a score you are comfortable with, you will need to log in to your LSAC account and apply to law schools. In general, every law school application will require you to fill out a general form, submit letters of recommendation, your LSAT score, and your college transcripts. When applying, only send materials to American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools, as their accreditation ensures your law degree means something.
    • Because you are trying to become a lawyer in California, try and go to school in California. This will help you build a network in the area you plan on practicing in.
    • California is one of the few states that will accept bar applicants from non-ABA accredited schools.[7] If you choose to go to an unaccredited law school, you will have to take and pass the First Year Law Students' Examination before you will be allowed to sit for the California Bar Exam.[8] You may choose this route because the cost of attendance is often much less than the cost of attending an accredited school.
    • Think about the cost of attendance. Law school is an expensive endeavor and you should think about the costs associated with attending each school you are applying to. Oftentimes, tuition can be as high as $42,000.[9] Due to the cost of living in California, if you are planning on taking out loans to attend law school, the cost of attending a California law school is likely going to be much higher than attending law school in another state.

Part 2
Earning a Law Degree

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    Devote yourself to your legal education. Law school can seem daunting at times, especially during your first couple of months. However, law school is manageable so long as you devote yourself to your studies. Remember the study habits you learned in high school and college and put them to good use. Throughout law school, you will be expected to devote a large part of your life towards:
    • Reading textbooks;
    • Outlining court cases;
    • writing essays; and
    • Preparing to answer questions in class.
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    Complete your first-year classes. In your first year of law school, classes will be chosen for you. You will be required to take courses on contracts, torts, constitutional law, property, and legal research and writing.
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    Take part in extracurricular activities including law review and mock trial. While in law school, do not simply glide through without taking part in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Employers will not only look at your academic achievements, they will also want to know what you did outside of the classroom.
    • Try being a part of law review, which are student run publications, are an incredibly useful way to spend your free time.[10] Students who participate in law review are much more likely to be hired over those who do not.[11]
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    Complete second and third year courses. During your second and third year of law school, you will have the opportunity to take a large number of elective classes, as well as some required ones. When you sign up for classes, think about an area of the law that interests you or an area you would like to work in.
    • For example, if you are interested in environmental and natural resources law, take classes like ocean and coastal law, hazardous waste law, and endangered species law.
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    Work during your summer breaks. Working while you are not taking classes is an integral part of having a successful resume. Do not take summers off. Most law schools will offer on campus interviews where law firms will come in and interview their students for summer positions. Talk to your law school about these opportunities and take advantage of them.
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    Graduate with a Juris Doctor (J.D.). After successfully completing three years of law school, you will graduate with a J.D. and you will be ready to obtain admission to the California Bar.

Part 3
Passing the California Bar Exam

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    Apply to take the California Bar Exam. The biggest obstacle to practicing law in California is the California Bar Exam. This is a three day exam meant to test your knowledge and understanding of the legal theories necessary to be considered a qualified attorney. To register, you will need to visit the California State Bar website and apply.[12]
    • When you register for the California Bar Exam, you will be required to pay a $677.00 fee if you are a general applicant (i.e., you are not an attorney in another jurisdiction).[13] If you are planning on using a laptop, there is an additional $153.00 fee.[14]
    • The exam is administered twice a year; once in February and once in July.[15]
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    Study for the California Bar Exam. Once you register for the exam, you will need to start thinking about the study process. Consider taking a bar prep course to learn how to succeed at the Bar exam itself. A bar preparation course will go through not only the law you need to know, but also test taking tips and considerations.
    • Bar prep courses typically offer a combination of in-person and online instruction over several weeks, and cost a few thousand dollars.[16]
    • Bar prep courses boast far higher passage rates than the state averages. For example, Themis states that 75 percent of first-time test takers who completed their program passed the California bar.[17]
    • California's bar exam is notoriously one of the most difficult in the country due to its three day length, its 16 hours of exam time, its testing of both state and federal law, and its inclusion of a performance test.
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    Take the exam. The California General Bar Examination consists of a written section that includes six essay questions and two performance tests along with the 200 multiple-choice questions for the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE).[18]
    • For example, the July 2014 examination included essays on contracts and remedies, evidence, business associations and professional responsibility, criminal law and procedure, trusts and community property, and torts. The two performance tests were writing an objective memorandum and writing a persuasive brief.[19]
    • You will receive an admissions ticket that includes the dates and times of your exam and the location of your assigned testing center. You also will receive a bulletin that describes the schedule for testing each day and provides a list of items prohibited at the testing center.[20]
    • Carefully review the rules regarding items such as mobile phones that are prohibited in the testing center, and make sure you don't bring anything with you that isn't allowed.[21]
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    Pass the examination. Three or four months after taking the California Bar Exam, your results will be posted online. [22] If you passed the exam, your applicant number will show up on the pass list. If your number is not on that list, you did not pass the exam. Do not get discouraged if you did not pass. You can take the exam as many times as you need to, and many smart people have had to take it more than once.
    • If you did not pass, you will get a detailed letter in the mail. Your result letter will include your raw scores on each of the eight parts of the exam, your total raw and scaled written score, your MBE scaled score, and your total scaled score.[23]

Part 4
Meeting Other California Requirements

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    Send in a moral character evaluation. This evaluation asks detailed questions about your academic, work, and financial history. Complete honesty is mandatory. This moral character evaluation is one of the many reasons California tends to be a difficult bar to gain membership in. Their evaluation is much more in-depth and probing than many other states.
    • If you have any concerns, such as a prior criminal conviction or an accusation of plagiarism, you should secure the assistance of an attorney to help guide you through the bar admissions process. People have been denied admittance for these reasons.
    • If the character and fitness committee calls you in for an interview, you should prepare for the interview with a lawyer.
    • A copy of the evaluation can be found on the California Bar website.
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    Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The MPRE is a standardized test meant to gauge your knowledge and understanding of the standards of professional conduct, a code that all attorneys are required to abide by.[24] While you can take this test at any point after your first year of law school, you should consider taking it during your third year. It is at this point that you will have likely taken a professional responsibility course in law school, which will make studying for and passing the MPRE much easier.
    • The MPRE costs $80.00.[25]
    • The MPRE is offered every year in March, August, and November.[26]
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    Comply with family support requirements. Applicants to the California Bar must comply with any and all California court-ordered child or family support obligations.[27]
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    Provide your Social Security number. In order to be accepted to the California Bar, you must provide your social security number, or apply for an exemption.

Part 5
Securing Employment

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    Look for a job early. Many jobs will come from people you meet in law school. You should spend time in law school thinking about the kind of law you want to practice and try to meet lawyers who work in the field. Do not wait until after you graduate to start thinking about these things.
    • A great way to get a job is to clerk during your summers. Clerking may not pay much, but you will meet practicing lawyers who will remember you when you graduate. Always remember to keep in touch with your summer employers after you return to school in the fall.
    • You also can volunteer while in law school at different legal aid organizations or for a state's attorneys office. Sometimes you can even get course credit for this work.
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    Take part in campus interviews. Law firms will often register to interview students on campus. These interviews usually happen once a year and may be open to all students or just a subset of students (e.g., just third year students). Even if you don't think you have strong credentials, it doesn't hurt to introduce yourself to potential employers.
    • When you sign up for on-campus interviews, be sure you review what you need to bring. Generally speaking, you should bring a resume, transcript, and a writing sample. Some employers will ask for other materials (e.g., references).
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    Search online. In today's world, a lot of job openings are being posted online. Because of this, you should look online daily for potential lawyer openings in California. If you find an opening, apply for it using a tailored resume and cover letter.
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    Set up informational interviews. After taking the bar exam, you should identify attorneys whose practices you would like to learn more about. Draft a letter (not an email) and introduce yourself. Be sure to mention who gave you their name.
    • In the letter, explicitly state that you are not asking for a job. You will get a better response this way.
    • Develop a list of questions and take notes. Be engaged.
    • Ask the attorney if she knows anyone else you can talk to, and be sure to send a thank you note afterwards.
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    Attend bar events. While it costs money to join your state's bar organization, this money spent could reap big rewards as you make new contacts and introduce yourself to people. Be sure to have a business card or resume available and speak confidently.
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    Volunteer. Even though you are a qualified attorney, you might still need to volunteer in order to keep your skills sharp and to build a resume. Volunteer opportunities may be posted online, but you can also mail a resume or pick up a phone and call.
    • Working for free can pay off big time. If the firm or organization suddenly has an opening, you may be hired quickly.

Part 6
Maintaining Your California Law License

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    Stay up to date with continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. Once you have been accepted to the California Bar, you will be required to update your membership every so often by completing required legal education classes, which are meant to keep you abreast of updates in the law.[28]
    • In California, you are required to complete 25 hours of approved CLEs every three years.[29]
    • You will report your compliance online through the California State Bar website.[30] When you are admitted to the California Bar, you will be given a compliance group that corresponds with your last name. The compliance group you are in will dictate when you will have to submit your CLE data.
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    Abide by required ethical standards. As an attorney, you will be held to a strict ethical standard. Any deviation from the ethical standard may result in the suspension or termination of your license to practice law in California. Keep track of new or updated ethical standards and make sure you understand the expectations.
    • The California Rules of Professional Conduct can be found on California's State Bar website.[31]
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    Stay out of legal trouble. In addition to abiding by rules of ethics, lawyers must also stay out of legal trouble in order to keep their license to practice law. Generally speaking, traffic tickets will not cause you to lose your license to practice law. However, if you are dishonest about these types of infractions, you may be suspended or disbarred for not following upholding your ethical obligations.
    • Legal trouble stemming from violent crimes (e.g., domestic violence) and crimes of dishonesty (e.g., fraud) are the things that are most likely to get you into real trouble with the California Bar.

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