According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2017, California had the highest number of employed lawyers of any other state in the country. During that time, around 79,980 lawyers were working, averaging a mean income of $166,200 annually, putting California second right after the District of Columbia in terms of the highest paying state for lawyers. Such statistics sound lucrative and might influence young individuals to pursue careers as personal injury attorneys, criminal lawyers, or in any other legal profession.
Do You Want to Practice Law?
If you’re looking to become a practicing lawyer in California, continue reading our guide on the training and education required to become one. There are four steps to becoming a lawyer in California, and they are as follows:
- Receive an undergraduate degree (Pre-law major).
- Take the Law School Admission Test.
- Attend law school in California.
- Take the State Bar.
- Admission to the California bar.
These five steps may seem straightforward, but there are different requirements to fulfill and options to explore. Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
Receive an Undergraduate Degree (Pre-law Major)
You may have heard that you require up to 7 years of education, or in certain cases, even more, to become a lawyer. Well, that is true!
The State Bar of California requires a minimum of 2 years of an undergraduate degree (60 semester hours) before you can pursue a law degree. Alternatively, you can also pass certain exams in the College Level Exam Program or the CLEP.
If you’re having doubts about whether or not your pre-legal education qualifies, you can always have your education evaluated by the State Bar. To do that, you must send in your application and official college transcripts to the Office of Admissions at the State Bar of California with the $100 fee. The fee is only payable to the State Bar of California through a cashier’s check or money order.
To make the entire process easy and avoid any issues with the Bar in the future, it is important that the educational institution you are studying at have national or regional accreditation, meaning that the US Department of Education must recognize your educational institution. This makes the process of acceptance into the bar easy.
Requirements and Standards
As per the State Bar of California, there is no particular type of undergraduate degree requirement. Alternatively, if you do not have an undergrad degree, you can appear on certain CLEP tests and fulfill the pre-legal requirement by passing the CLEP tests with a score of over 50.
Those looking to enter law school through clearing CLEP must choose 12 courses from the following, spread across either 2 semesters or 4:
- Science and Mathematics
- History and Social Science
- Foreign Language
- Composition and Literature (Humanities only)
To register for the CLEP tests, you can apply and also pay for the exams online. The cost of each CLEP exam will cost you about $89 (excluding any fee charged by test centers). You must send your CLEP scores to the admissions office at the State Bar of California.
The pre-legal education requirement requires students to complete a minimum of 60 semester hours before they can apply to law schools. The students must finish their coursework and meet the grade point average requirements of their school to graduate.
Take Advantage of Pre-Law Advisors
Some undergraduate universities have pre-law advisors to assist students in choosing their courses, writing letters of recommendation, and gathering the necessary documents to apply to law schools. Pre-law advisors can assess your skills and help you determine which law specialization could be the right study path for you. Perhaps you’re thinking of doing tax law, but your advisor may suggest considering criminal law because of your sharp attention to detail.
The Legal Profession is Full of Opportunities.
If your university offers pre-law advisors, make sure to take advantage of such services as they will make the entire journey to attending law school a much easier one.
Take the Law School Admission Test
To practice law, you need to clear your bar. To take the bar exam, there is no requirement in place by the State Bar of California to graduate from an accredited law school nor have any type of pre-law degree. Regardless of whether the law school you’re applying to has accreditation or not, you need to pass the law school admission test, also commonly referred to as the LSAT. Your LSAT scores will determine which law school you can apply to for admission. Higher scores on the exam make it easier for students to apply to prestigious law schools across the United States.
How to Prepare for the LSAT
Many students prefer to attend live LSAT prep courses offered by individuals or institutions to help them understand the paper pattern and how to answer the questions. Pre-law students may visit the LSAT website to download sample practice tests to assist them in preparing for the exam. Other students turn to online resources for guidance, which can include seminars, workshops, and videos.
Three different bodies provide LSAT prep courses, and these include Testmasters, Kaplan, and California State University – Stanislaus. Visit their websites for more information on where these organizations conduct their LSAT test prep courses in California.
What Does the LSAT Exam Consist Of?
There are four different sections in the LSAT, and these include reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and an essay section.
Reading Comprehension is a one-hour test section broken down into two parts: 35 minutes for answering short questions and 25 minutes for an essay. Part 1 of the reading and comprehension test section includes four reading passages and 27 questions to answer, while Part 2 of the test includes an essay based on one of the passages. The reading and comprehension test assess your reading skills by requiring you to read passages and draw conclusions, find the main ideas, and navigate the passages to find the required information.
Analytical reasoning is a 35-minute section of the LSAT consisting of 25 questions testing students on their analytical and deduction skills. It tests students’ ability to understand the impact of rules on the decisions made and the outcome of them. It also tests students on how well they can draw conclusions based on the provided guidelines and use logic to solve complex scenarios.
Logical reasoning is a two-part LSAT section, with each part requiring 35 minutes to complete. Both parts have 25 questions each and test students on their ability to pick out main points from an argument, use logical thinking to conceptualize ideas, and identify relevant information. It also tests students’ ability to analyze an argument and evaluate it.
The essay part of the LSAT is a 35-minute section and tests students’ writing abilities in creating an argument from the presented facts, supporting arguments with the information provided, and expressing their ideas.
What is the Application Process for LSAT?
Students wanting to take the LSAT must apply online. While the LSAT is typically administered nine times a year, students can only take the LSAT three times in a single testing year. Students can take the LSAT in January, February, March, April, June, July, August, October, and November. Make sure you check with the test centers near you for the dates they offer the LSAT, as it may vary across different testing venues.
Are There Any Fees to Take the LSAT?
According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the LSAT fee for the testing years 2021–2022 is $200, including writing. This is just the basic fee, and there are additional charges for different services, such as:
- LSAT score preview – $45 – $75
- Official candidate LSAT score report – $50
- Score audit – $125
- Test date change – $125 – $200
You can pay the fees online using your credit card during the registration process or with a check payable to the Law School Admission Council.
When Will You Receive Your LSAT Score?
When you register for the LSAT, you provide them with a valid email address. This is important as all the students will receive the LSAT test scores after three weeks of taking the exam at the provided email addresses. For your convenience, you may want to call the LSAC office to know your score, but due to confidentiality reasons, they will not tell you the score. The LSAC only provides the LSAT score to the student via email and to the law schools, they are applying to. However, you can request your undergraduate institution’s pre-law advisor on filing a release form and requesting the test scores.
Applying to Law Schools in California
After completing your pre-law education and clearing your LSAT, you can now apply to a law school. The majority of the law schools in California, regardless of their American Bar Association accreditation, require young aspiring law students to apply using the LSAC official application process service, also known as the Credential Assembly Service (CAS).
When applying to your choice of law schools in California using CAS, you will require the following documents:
- Transcripts: Transcript request forms requires the educational institution you studied with to provide the law schools with your official transcripts. You are not allowed to send in your transcripts directly, and it is your responsibility to ensure that the educational institutions send them directly to the LSAC’s office. The online portal will guide you and help you generate links for the transcript request forms for every law school you have selected.
- Letter of Recommendation: You will need to provide the names of relevant individuals to the LSAC for them to assess your work and character through a form. Once you provide the names, the LSAC portal will guide you in printing the forms which you will have to take to provide to the mentioned individuals. These individuals must then fill out the form and attach their letter of recommendation to it before sending it directly to the LSAC.
To use CAS, law students must pay $195 to LSAC, payable online. The fee covers the entire process of applying to law schools, such as producing transcript summaries, creating law school reports, evaluating recommendation letters, submitting the application to the ABA-accredited (American Bar Association) law schools, and more.
State Bar of California does not have any requirement where students must only complete their law school from ABA-accredited one. Some students may find that the unaccredited law school near their home provides them with a more flexible opportunity than an accredited one far away. If you wish to study at an unaccredited law school, you can, but the rules for accredited and unaccredited law schools remain different.
Some of the accredited law schools in California are Stanford Law School, Monterey College of Law, Pacific Coast University School of Law, Western Sierra Law School, and many more. These schools are automatically exempt from the State Bar of California’s accreditation rules and also approved by them.
Law schools that do not have any accreditation must register with the State Bar, and some of these include the American Institute of Law, Taft Law School, and California Southern University, among many others.
The mentioned law schools have a campus study mode where students must live on the campus or nearby and attend the lectures in person. However, if you’re not able to give time to the campus study mode and are looking for something more remote, there are registered but unaccredited distance learning law schools such as Abraham Lincoln University School of Law, California School of Law, St. Francis School of Law, and more.
Requirements of Attending Law School in California
The entry requirements of law schools in California depend on their accreditation and mode of study.
- ABA-accredited law schools: There is a set curriculum established by the ABA to ensure complete learning across all relevant courses, such as legal analysis, legal research, and professional responsibility, among others. According to the ABA, an accredited law school’s academic year should be no less than 8 calendar months. To graduate, a student must complete a total of 83 semester hours and at least 24 months to receive the Juris Doctorate (JD) degree.
- State Bar of California accredited law school: If you’re looking to receive a JD from a law school accredited by the State Bar of California, students must complete at least 80 semester hours over 90 weeks for those studying full time and around 120 weeks for those studying part-time. If you manage your studies properly, you can complete the course in 32 months. Law schools are also required to provide competency training, and the curriculum must include the relevant subjects tested on the State Bar exam. Some of the subjects include constitutional law, torts law, trusts, criminal law, and real property law.
- Unaccredited law schools – fixed facility: Students looking to attend an unaccredited fixed facility law school must complete at least 4 years of the program, which accounts for around 270 hours of class attendance annually. Just like the State Bar of California accredited law schools, the curriculum for unaccredited law schools includes subjects tested by the bar and a six-semester competency training.
- Unaccredited law schools – distance learning: If you’re looking to graduate from an unaccredited law school offering distance learning, you must complete a four-year program with a minimum of 864 hours of study and preparation annually. The curriculum and competency training requirements remain the same.
When Can You Take the Baby Bar?
The Baby Bar, also known as the first-year law student examination, is a day-long, intense exam and a stepping stone for law students to start thinking like a lawyer. If you’ve completed a full year of study at an unaccredited, registered law school, or through the law office study program, or at a State Bar or ABA-approved law school, you are eligible to take the baby bar.
The baby bar exam is only available twice a year, in June and October, in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is an intense 7-hour examination that includes essays and multiple-choice questions.
Law students will not receive any credit for their first year of studies until they clear the baby bar exam. You can apply for the exam online, but before you do that, make sure you register with the bar as a law student.
The State Bar of California lays down guidelines on how to become a member of the California Bar. This includes having a JD or bachelor of law degree from an ABA or State Bar of California accredited law school. Those studying in registered but unaccredited law schools must provide proof of four years of study and clear the baby bar before they can become a member of the California Bar.
Law school graduates have another hurdle that they need to clear before they can start practicing law, and that is submitting a Moral Character Determination application before bar admission. It takes around 180 days to complete the moral character determination, so you must send in the application in your last year of law school.
If you pass your California Bar exam but have not submitted your Moral Character Determination, you will not be able to become a bar member, restricting you from practicing law.
You Do Not Need to Go to Law School to Become a Lawyer
California is one of the four states that still allows young students to become lawyers without ever going to a law school or having a law degree. This is a great option for those looking to make a career transition or perhaps avoid the $100,000 or more tuition fees of law school.
For example, the Law Office Study Program in California allows you to forego law school to become an attorney, even without a law degree. However, you must fulfill the following conditions to be able to practice law:
- Four years, 18 hours a week of work at a practicing attorney’s law office or judge’s office.
- Pass the baby bar.
- Clear the Moral Character Determination.
- Clear the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.
- Pass the bar examination.
Although the option to forego law school can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, there are some challenges associated with individuals going through such apprenticeship programs.
First, you may find it difficult to find a practicing attorney willing to take you in and mentor you throughout the program. The states providing apprenticeship programs do not provide any assistance in terms of finding practicing attorneys.
The bar pass rate of individuals going through these apprenticeship programs remains quite low due to the fact that attorneys do not prepare their apprentices for the exam, whereas law schools have a proper curriculum to follow and constant study support.
That said, law schools often fail to prepare their students for actual practice, whereas apprenticeships provide the apprentices with considerable practical law experience after they complete the program. There are a lot of pros and cons to consider, so before you make the decision to apply to a school, consider all the angles.
Apprenticeship programs are great for those in nonlawyer careers looking to become an attorney. This could include paralegals or even Hollywood actresses wishing to pursue a career as a lawyer or even Hollywood actresses.
For example, Kim Kardashian, a socialite, influencer, and Hollywood actress, recently took to social media to share her success in passing the baby bar, although she has never gone to a law school before, nor does she have a law degree. Kim Kardashian was able to find two practicing attorneys willing to take her in and mentor her throughout the four-year program.
Whether you decide to pursue a career as a lawyer through an apprenticeship program or a law school, it is important to self-study, practice your reading and writing skills, and start thinking like a lawyer. The journey is a challenging one, and you must focus on time management and scheduling throughout the four years.
Some students like to join study groups where they discuss and learn the law together, while others prefer to attend bar prep courses provided by private institutions to help them pass the bar exam. Whatever you decide to choose, remember to be fully committed and put in the hard work at all times.
If you’re looking for more information on the law, legal careers, and alternative programs, visit Ehline Law today!