How to Become a Lawyer in California – CA

Angelena Iglesia

  Law Careers in California California has the highest employment level of lawyers of any state in the nation as of May 2017, per information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At that time, 79,980 lawyers worked in the state, averaging an annual mean wage of $168,200 (making […]


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Law Careers in California

California has the highest employment level of lawyers of any state in the nation as of May 2017, per information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At that time, 79,980 lawyers worked in the state, averaging an annual mean wage of $168,200 (making California the second highest-paying state in which lawyers work, District of Columbia being the first). Attorneys working in certain areas of the state made even higher than average salaries. For example, those in the Glendale-Long Beach-Los Angeles metropolitan area averaged $170,201 per year; while lawyers working in the San Mateo-San Francisco-Redwood City metropolitan area averaged $189,660 annually. Additionally, California is the first state in the country that offers certification in legal specialization areas to  members of the Bar, offering them the opportunity to show their expertise in one of 11 areas of law practice (including admiralty and maritime law, bankruptcy law, criminal law and taxation law). Read on to discover how to join the almost 80,000 practicing attorneys in California.  


Get Your California Undergraduate Pre-Law Major

The State Bar of California mandates that you must have at least two years of an undergraduate education (equal to 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours). Alternatively, you may complete the equivalent through passing certain exams in the College Level Exam Program (CLEP) (see below).

If you are not sure that your pre-legal education qualifies, you may apply to have it evaluated by the Bar. This application must be accompanied by your official college transcripts and a fee of $100 by cashier’s check or money order only, payable to the State Bar of California. Mail application, fees and documentation to The State Bar of California, Office of Admissions, 845 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, CA 90017-2515.

Check to make sure that your undergraduate institution is accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If it is, it will make your later acceptance into an American Bar Association-approved law school much easier.

While the State Bar of California does not specify an undergraduate degree you must have prior to law school admission, there are some guidelines based upon CLEP test exemptions. If you have not completed at least two years of undergraduate studies, the State Bar has ruled that passing the following CLEP tests with a score of 50 or higher on each will fulfill the pre-legal education requirement:

  • College Composition and two 6-semester courses or 4 3-semester courses from the following:
    • Business
    • Science and Mathematics
    • History and Social Science
    • Foreign Language
    • Composition and Literature (Humanities only)
  • If you wish to register for the CLEP tests, you may do so online. Each exam costs $87, which may be paid online. Have your CLEP scores sent directly to the State Bar’s Office of Admissions, 845 S. Figueroa St; Los Angeles, CA 90017-2525, recipient code 7165.

The State Bar of California has ruled that you must complete at least 60 semester hours (90 quarter hours) of pre-legal education, equivalent to at least half the requirements for a bachelors degree. This coursework must be completed with a grade point average that would be acceptable for graduation by the institution at which it was completed.

Some undergraduate institutions employ pre-law advisors, whose job it is to assist students planning to attend law school. This assistance may come in the form of helping you choose wise courses and majors, writing letters of recommendation, and assisting you in gathering documentation when it comes time to apply to law school. If your school offers the services of a pre-law advisor, by all means take advantage of this valuable resource. 

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Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in California

The State Bar of California does not mandate that you graduate from an American Bar Association –accredited law school. However, ABA accredited or not, most law schools require that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, to gain entrance. Check with your school’s requirements to make sure.

The LSAT website provides sample questions and practice tests to help you prepare to take the exam. Additionally, preparation courses, workshops and seminars are offered in live settings and online:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in California:

  • LSAT Test Prep Course, Testmasters, locations in Berkeley, Chico, Claremont, Davis, Downtown Los Angeles, Fresno, Fullerton, Irvine, Long Beach, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Fernando Valley, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and West Los Angeles
  • LSAT Preparation Courses, Kaplan, offered at University of Southern California, Loyola Marymount University, California State University campuses and University of California Irvine, among other locations
  • LSAT Preparation Course, California State University-Stanislaus,

There are four sections to the LSAT:

  • Reading Comprehension – You will be presented with four reading passages and 27 questions, totaling 35 minutes. You must also write a 25-minute essay based on a passage. Your abilities to draw inferences from the passages, determine their main ideas, and understand and find information that is relevant will be tested in this section.
  • Analytical Reasoning – This section consists of 25 questions and takes 35 minutes. It will test your abilities to understand the effects of rules on outcomes and decisions, draw relationships between concepts, analyze problems, draw conclusions based on guidelines, and apply logic to complex situations.
  • Logical Reasoning – There are two logical reasoning sections, each taking 35 minutes and consisting of 25 questions. Your abilities to determine the main point of an argument, apply logic to abstract ideas, discover relevant information in a reading passage, analyze arguments, and evaluate arguments will be tested.
  • Essay Section- This section takes 35 minutes to complete, and tests your ability to form an argument based on facts you are provided, support an argument, and  express ideas in writing.

Applications to sit for the LSAT are submitted online. You may choose a date in the months of June, September, November and January, and the test is offered on Saturdays and Mondays during those months. Each test center does not offer the test on every date, however, so check with the test center that you prefer for its dates:

  • College of Alameda, Alameda
  • Humboldt State University, Arcata
  • Berkeley City College, Berkeley
  • DOV Educational Services, Burbank
  • Crowne Plaza, Concord/Walnut Creek
  • Irvine Valley College, Irvine
  • Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
  • University of West Los Angeles, Chatsworth
  • California Northern School of Law, Chico
  • California State University, Chico
  • Alameda County Training & Education Center, Oakland
  • Samuel Merritt University-Health Education Center, Oakland
  • Folsom Lake College, Folsom
  • California State University, Fresno
  • Western State University College of Law at Argosy University, Irvine
  • California State University-Los Angeles
  • Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • John F. Kennedy School of Law, Pleasant Hill
  • California State University-Northridge
  • University of La Verne College of Law, Ontario
  • Chapman University, Orange
  • La Sierra University, Riverside
  • Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
  • Lincoln Law School of Sacramento, Sacramento
  • University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento
  • Skyline College, San Bruno
  • California Western School of Law, San Diego
  • Junipero Serra High School, San Diego
  • San Diego State University, San Diego
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego
  • University of San Francisco, San Francisco
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • University of California-Santa Barbara
  • Empire College School of Law, Santa Rosa
  • Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa
  • Monterey College of Law, Seaside
  • Humphreys College-School of Law, Stockton

You must pay $180 to register to take the LSAT (as of November 2018). This fee is payable online by credit card when you register or by check or money order payable to the Law School Admission Council.

Your LSAT score will be emailed to you by the LSAC three weeks after you sit for the exam. You will not be told your score if you call the LSAC office, due to confidentiality clauses. Only you and law schools to which you will apply will receive your LSAT score. You may request that your pre-law advisor receive your LSAT score by filing a release of information form with the LSAC.

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Go to Law School in California

Featured Law School:


University of Dayton

Campus Locations:
Programs: Online Hybrid Juris Doctor: ABA-approved JD program


Once you have completed your undergraduate pre-law education and passed the LSAT, you are ready to apply to law school.

All ABA-accredited law schools, and some that are not ABA-accredited, require applicant to make use of LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service when applying for enrollment. This valuable service makes the application process streamlined. If you use the CAS:

  • Transcripts: Complete Transcript Request Forms for each institution you have attended, whether or not you graduated from that institution. This goes for both domestic and international schools.
  • Letters of Recommendation and Evaluations: Give the LSAC names of people who are going to write your letters of recommendation and evaluate your work and/or character. The LSAC will instruct you to print forms to give to these individuals. These forms must be sent along with the recommendation letters they will mail directly to the LSAC.

Cost: The LSAC charges $195 for the Credential Assembly Service, which is payable online. This fee encompasses the summaries of your college transcripts that LSAC will produce, law school reports they will create, letters of recommendation and online evaluations they will process, and electronic applications they will submit on your behalf to the ABA-approved law schools of your choice.  

Under rules of the State Bar of California, you may attend an accredited or unaccredited law school. The Bar has rules and guidelines for both schools approved by the American Bar Association and those accredited by the State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners. They also allow you to complete four years of study, with a minimum of 864 hours of preparation, at a registered, unaccredited correspondence or distance learning law school. There are separate rules for approved/accredited and unaccredited law schools. If a law school is approved by the American Bar Association, it is automatically exempt from the State Bar of California accreditation rules and considered to be approved by the State Bar. A list of current ABA-approved law schools across the country is included here.

The following California law schools hold ABA accreditation:

  • California Western School of Law, 225 Cedar Street, San Diego, CA 92101-3046
  • Chapman University Fowler School of Law, One University Drive, Orange, CA 92866-1032
  • Golden Gate University School of Law, 536 Mission Street,San Francisco, CA 94105-2921
  • Loyola Law School, 919 S. Albany Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
  • Pepperdine University School of Law, Odell McConnell Law Center, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90263-4655
  • Santa Clara University School of Law, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053-0001
  • Southwestern Law School, 3050 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90010-1106
  • Stanford Law School, Crown Quadrangle, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, CA 94305-8610
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law, 1155 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101
  • University of California at Berkeley School of Law, 270 Boalt Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
  • University of California at Davis King Hall School of Law, 400 Mrak Hall Drive, Davis, CA 95616-5201
  • University of California at Irvine School of Law, 401 E. Peltason Drive, Suite 1000, Irvine, CA 92697-8000
  • University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, 1242 Law Bldg, 385 Charles E. Young Drive East, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
  • University of California Hastings College of the Law, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102-4707
  • University of La Verne College of Law, 320 East “D” Street, Ontario, CA 91764
  • University of San Diego School of Law, 5998 Alcalá Park, San Diego, CA 92110-2492
  • University of San Francisco School of Law, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
  • University of Southern California Gould School of Law, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0071
  • University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law 3200 Fifth Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95817-2705
  • Western State University College of Law at Argosy University, 1 Banting, Fullerton, CA 92618
  • Whittier Law School, 3333 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92626-1501

Accredited law schools have been approved by the State Bar of California’s Committee of Bar Examiners, which oversees and regulates these schools. Law schools in California that are currently approved by the State Bar are:

  • Cal Northern School of Law, 1395 Ridgewood Drive, Suite 100, Chico, CA 95973-7802
  • Empire College School of Law, 3035 Cleveland Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403-2122
  • Glendale University College of Law, 220 North Glendale Avenue, Glendale, CA 91206-4454
  • Humphreys University Drivon School of Law, 6650 Inglewood Avenue, Stockton, CA 95207-3861
  • John F. Kennedy University College of Law, 100 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-4817
  • Kern County College of Law, 1731 Chester Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93301
  • Lincoln Law School of Sacramento, 3140 “J” Street, Sacramento, CA 95816-4403
  • Lincoln Law School of San Jose, 384 S Second St, San Jose, CA 95113-2711
  • Monterey College of Law, 100 Col. Durham Street, Seaside, CA 93955-7300
  • Pacific Coast University School of Law, 1650 Ximeno Avenue, Suite 300, Long Beach, CA 90804
  • San Diego Law School, Alliant International University, 10455 Pomerado Rd, San Diego, CA 92131
  • San Francisco Law School, Alliant International University, One Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133
  • San Joaquin College of Law, 901 5th Street, Clovis, CA 93612-1312
  • San Luis Obispo College of Law, 4119 Broad St., #200, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
  • Santa Barbara College of Law, 20 E. Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-2606
  • Southern California Institute of Law-Santa Barbara, 1525 State Street, Suite 202, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-2500
  • Southern California Institute of Law-Ventura, 877 South Victoria Ave., Suite 111, Ventura, CA 93003-5377
  • Trinity Law School, 2200 North Grand Avenue, Santa Ana, CA 92705-7016
  • University of West Los Angeles School of Law-San Fernando Valley, 9201 Oakdale Avenue, #201, Chatsworth, CA 91311
  • Ventura College of Law, 4475 Market Street, Ventura, CA 93003-7774
  • University of West Los Angeles School of Law – West Los Angeles, 9800 South La Cienega Boulevard, 12th Floor, Inglewood, CA 90301-4423

Unaccredited law schools in California must still register with the State Bar. These include correspondence, distance-learning and fixed-facility law schools in the state. Currently registered and unaccredited law schools in the state include:

  • American Institute of Law, 18411 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite 416, Torrance, CA 90504
  • American International School of Law, 16491 Scientific Way, Irvine, CA 92618
  • California Southern University School of Law, 3330 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
  • Northwestern California University School of Law, 2151 River Plaza Drive, Suite 306, Sacramento, CA 95833-4133
  • Oak Brook College of Law And Government Policy, P.O. Box 26870, Fresno, CA 93729-6870
  • Taft Law School, 3700 S. Susan St., Office 200, Santa Ana, CA 92704-6954
  • San Francisco International University College of Law, 400 Oyster Point Blvd, Suite 422, South San Francisco, CA 94080

  • Abraham Lincoln University School of Law , 100 W. Broadway, Suite 600, Glendale, CA 91210
  • American Heritage University, School of Law , 1802 East G St., Ontario, CA 91764
  • California School of Law, 5276 Hollister Ave, #262, Santa Barbara, CA 93111
  • Concord Law School at Purdue University Global, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 362, Los Angeles, CA 90067
  • St. Francis School of Law, 895 Dove St, 3rd Floor, Newport Beach, CA 92660
  • California Desert Trial Academy College of Law, 45-290 Fargo St., Indio, CA 92201
  • California Southern Law School, 3775 Elizabeth Street, Riverside, CA 92506
  • People’s College of Law, 660 S. Bonnie Brae Street, Los Angeles, CA 90057
  • Western Sierra Law School, 8690 Aero Drive Suites 115-90, San Diego, CA 92123
  • Pacific West College of Law, 2011 West Chapman Avenue, Orange, CA 92868
  • Irvine University College of Law, 18000 Studebaker Rd, Suite 300, Cerritos, CA 90703
  • Lady Justice Law School, 901 20th St., Bakersfield, CA 93301

ABA-Accredited Law Schools

ABA Standard 303 lists the curriculum areas that an ABA-approved law school must cover. These include law, legal analysis, reasoning, legal research, oral communication, problem solving, legal writing, history of the legal profession, professional responsibility, and live client interactions through things such as field placement or pro bono work. An academic year must last at least eight calendar months over 130 days. You must complete 83 semester hours of credit to graduate, and the time it takes to receive your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree must be at least 24 months long but may not take longer than 84 months.

State Bar-Accredited Law Schools

In order to receive a J.D. degree from a State Bar-accredited law school, you must complete at least 1200 hours of study or 80 semester hours of credit over a period of at least 90 weeks of full-time study or 120 weeks of part-time study. This course of study must take you at least 32 months to complete but no longer than 84 months to complete. The school must provide at least six semester units of competency training through teaching practical skills. The curriculum must include the subjects tested in the California State Bar Exam and a course in professional responsibility. Therefore, subjects that must be taken are Constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, remedies, community property, torts, business associations, professional responsibility, trusts, wills and succession.

Unaccredited Law Schools: Fixed Facility

To graduate from an unaccredited, fixed facility law school in California, you must complete a four-year program requiring at least 270 hours of class attendance per year. The curriculum must cover the subjects tested on the California State Bar Exam (see above) and include six semesters of competency training/practice-based skills.

Unaccredited Law Schools: Correspondence

To graduate from a correspondence law school in California, you must complete a four-year program requiring at least 864 hours of preparation and study per year. The curriculum must cover the subjects tested on the California State Bar Exam (see above) and include six semesters of competency training/practice-based skills.

Unaccredited Law Schools: Distance Learning

To graduate from a distance learning law school in California, you must complete a four-year program requiring at least 864 hours of preparation and study per year. The curriculum must cover the subjects tested on the California State Bar Exam (see above) and include six semesters of competency training/practice-based skills.

Study in a Law Office or Judges’ Chambers

Under Rule 4.29 of the State Bar of California, you may complete your legal education in a law office or judges’ chambers. This must be equivalent to four years of legal study in an unaccredited law school. You must study for at least 18 hours a week for 48 weeks to equal one year of study. Your study must be supervised by an attorney or judge who has been a member of the state bar in good standing for at least five years, who personally supervises you for at least five hours each week, and examines you at least once per month. This supervisor must report to the Bar every six months on a special form the number of hours and type of study completed.

Foreign Law Schools

If you attended a foreign law school, you may qualify for California bar admission if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have a law degree from a foreign law school and have completed one year of legal education at an ABA-approved or State Bar of California-accredited law school
  • Have a legal education (without a degree) from a foreign law school and have studied law in a U.S. law school, law office or judge’s chambers, and have passed the First-Year Law Students’ Examination

Under certain circumstances, you may need to pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination. Also known as the “baby bar,” this exam must be taken in the following situations:

  • You have completed a full year of study in an unaccredited, registered law school
  • You have completed a full year of study through the Law Office Study Program
  • You have completed a full year of study at a State Bar- or ABA-approved law school but don’t have two years of college work.

Given in June and October every year in Los Angeles and San Francisco, this seven-hour exam includes essay and multiple-choice questions. Subjects that are covered are criminal law, contracts and torts, plus the Uniform Commercial Code Articles 1 and 2.  Deadlines to register for the June administration are April 1 and for the October administration, August 1. You may apply for this exam online.  Make sure to register with the Bar as a law student before filing to take the exam.

Under State Bar of California rules, it is preferred that you have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Bachelor of Laws (L.L.B.) degree from a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Association or the State Bar of California in order to become a member of the California Bar. Alternatively, you may provide proof that you have studied law for at least four years in a registered, unaccredited school (or in a law office or judges’ chambers as specified above) and passed or received exemption from the First-Year Law Students’ Exam.

The State Bar of California requires that all applicants for bar admission submit a Moral Character Determination application. They recommend that you begin this process during your final year of law school, as it may take up to 180 days to get the results. If you pass the bar exam but do not have a completed moral character determination, you will not become a bar member.  Make sure that you have first registered with the Bar as a law student (which you should have done when you took the First –Year Law Students’ Exam). This application may be submitted online.

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Take the California State Bar Exam

Once you have completed your pre-legal and legal education and met the state bar’s requirements, and if you are at least 18 years old, you may apply to take the California bar exam.  It is given in February and July over two days in various locations throughout the state.

Free and low-cost study aids for the California bar exam are provided at the State Bar of California website. They include study outlines and sample questions, as well as questions and answers from past exams
The National Conference of Bar Examiners website provides free study resources for the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion of the California bar exam.  
Should you wish to take a bar exam preparation course or workshop, many are available throughout California. They include:

  • Bar None Review workshops, Orange County area
  • BARBI Bar Review Course, Culver City, San Diego, Orange, Seaside, Long Beach, Los Angeles
  • California Bar Exam Review, Themis Bar Review, arranged through your law school
  • California Bar Review Course, Kaplan Test Prep, Online and at various CA law schools

During the first day of the exam, you will have three essay questions in the morning and one performance test in the afternoon. Subjects that you can expect to encounter include Succession, Trusts and Wills, Torts, Remedies, Real Property, and Professional Responsibility.

On the second day of the exam, you will take the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. This is a six-hour long exam consisting of 200 multiple-choice questions. You will be tested on your knowledge of Constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts.

You must first register as a law student with the State Bar of California Office of Admissions. You may register online to do this, as well as register online to take the California Bar Exam. Your registration with the bar must be approved within 10 days of submitting your bar exam application. You must provide your social security number before you will be allowed to register. Do not use a Tax Identification Number. Once your online application has been successfully submitted, you will receive a confirmation email from the state bar. The bar will then send forms to all schools you attended asking them to certify that you have met the pre-legal and legal education requirements. Schools must also submit official transcripts to the bar’s Office of Admissions.
Testing centers for the February 2019 administration of the California Bar Exam are listed here.

At the time of your online application, you will be instructed to pay exam fees.  In 2018, the general exam fee is $650. If you plan to use your own laptop to take the exam, an extra fee of $150 is charged.

Your exam results will be mailed to you no later than four months after you take the exam. You may also access them online on a date that will be issued to you post-exam. The pass rate for first-time takers of the February 2018 administration of the California Bar Exam was 42.8%. For the July 2017 exam, 61.4% of first-time test takers passed.

In addition to passing the Bar exam, you must pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). This exam is typically taken after completing the first year of law school. Information and study guides for the MPRE can be found at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.

You must apply for admission to the Bar within five years of passing the bar exam. You will be notified of the time and place for you to participate in a ceremony and take the oath of office. This is a requirement of the State Bar in order to be able to practice law in California, not just a ritual.

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[email protected] or call 415-538-2115.

The  California Judicial Branch is divided into three sections:

  • Supreme Court – highest court in the state, can review decisions of the Court of Appeal and all death penalty sentences. Located at 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102-4797
  • Courts of Appeal – this court reviews superior court decisions contested by a party to the case. There are six appellate districts in California, each with a Court of Appeal:
    • 1st District- 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
    • 2nd District-
      • Divisions 1-5, 7, 8 – Ronald Reagan State Building 300 S. Spring Street 2nd Floor, North Tower Los Angeles, CA 90013
      • Division 6 – Court Place 200 East Santa Clara Street Ventura, CA 93001
    • 3rd District- 621 Capitol Mall, 10th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814
    • 4th District-
      • Division 1- 750 B Street, Suite 300,San Diego, CA 92101
      • Division 2- 3389 Twelfth Street, Riverside, CA 92501
      • Division 3- 601 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, California 92701
    • 5th District- 2424 Ventura Street, Fresno, CA 93721
    • 6th District- 333 West Santa Clara Street, Suite 1060, San Jose, CA 95113
  • Superior/Trial Courts – 58 courts throughout California, one in each county, that hear civil cases, criminal cases, family, probate and juvenile cases.

Now that you are a member of the California Bar, think about joining a professional support organization such as:

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