What are the features of becoming a lawyer in the USA?


In order to become a practicing lawyer in the United States and be able to represent the interests of a client in court, you must be a member of the legal community (“bar”, hereinafter in this article, instead of the American term “bar” we will use the term “Bar Association”). At the same time, each US state has its own judicial system and sets its own rules for admission to the state bar association.

Why “bar”?

Used in American law, the term "bar" (American Bar Association, State Bar of Illinois, etc.) literally means "railings". At the beginning of the 16th century, the railing divided the hall in the English Inns Court into 2 parts - in one there were teachers, and in the other part, there were students and listeners. Students who successfully completed their studies and officially became lawyers were “called into the [law] community” by crossing the symbolic physical barrier (“bar”) and thus becoming “admitted into the [law] community”. Later, this term meant a wooden railing separating the judge's seat in the courtroom from the place where the accused were together with their lawyer. The first legal qualification exam in the United States was established by the Colony of Delaware in 1763 in the form of an oral examination administered by an acting judge. By the end of the 19th century, examinations were already taken by a commission of lawyers, and in writing.

Requirements for some states

As we indicated earlier, each state has its own Bar Association admission rules that must be followed by a lawyer wishing to practice law. After analyzing the requirements of various states for candidates, we come to the conclusion that in order to obtain attorney status in the United States, a candidate needs to obtain a law degree, successfully pass a personality test, pass a qualification exam, and pay a membership fee. Let's consider each of these requirements in more detail.

As a general rule for most states, a candidate for attorney status must have at least a Juris Doctor from an American Bar Association accredited institution.

States such as California and Georgia require eligibility rules to attend government-approved educational institutions that are not accredited by the American Bar Association. To learn about this, see Georgia bar exam requirements. New York State pays special attention to overseas law graduates, with most Bachelor of Laws holders eligible to take the bar exam and, upon successful completion, become an attorney.


A different approach to the assessment of a candidate's performance is used in the state of Arizona, where persons who have received a law degree from educational institutions not accredited by the American Bar Association are not allowed to take the qualifying exam. The legality of such a rule has been the subject of repeated review in the Arizona courts, but the court has always supported the arguments of the Arizona Bar Association. In other words, graduates from educational institutions not accredited by the American Bar Association cannot obtain attorney status in the state of Arizona, but this is not an obstacle to obtaining status in other states.

A feature of American law in terms of the requirements for candidates for obtaining the status of a lawyer is the possibility of acquiring such status without obtaining a legal education. To do this, the applicant must (if permitted by the regulations of the particular state) have successfully completed the "Reading the law" program. There are additional requirements in New York State that applicants who complete the Law Reading program must also attend law school for at least one year.


In all states of the United States, applicants for attorney status undergo a Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an exam that tests knowledge of the rules of professional responsibility of attorneys. Most candidates by the time of graduation have already passed such an exam, as a rule, it is taken immediately after studying the subject "Professional Responsibility of a Lawyer" (a required course in all educational institutions accredited by the American Bar Association).

The next step necessary to obtain the status of an attorney is the passing of a qualifying examination. Most states conduct a Uniform Bar Examination (UBE). In the states where UBE is held, it is allowed to additionally test the knowledge of candidates under federal law through a test. The unified exam consists of three parts:

  1. The Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a standardized test of 200 multiple choice questions covering key areas of law: constitutional law, obligation law, criminal law and process, federal civil procedure rules, federal evidentiary rules, and land law. The status applicant has three hours to answer 100 questions in the morning session and the same amount of time to answer the questions in the afternoon session (the exam is taken in February and July);
  1. An essay (Multistate Essay Examination, MEE) is a unified, albeit not standardized, test that analyzes a candidate's ability to analyze legal issues and communicate them effectively in writing. Topics range from the above-mentioned topics and include questions in areas such as corporate law, commercial law, inheritance, and family law (the exam is also taken in February and July);
  1. A performance test (Multistate Performance Test, MPT) is a test in which each candidate must perform a standard task for a lawyer (for example, write a statement or letter). The candidate is provided with the case file and a "library" containing the necessary case-law materials plus some inappropriate materials.

After passing all the necessary exams and if all the requirements discussed above are met to obtain the status of a lawyer, the candidate has to go through the oath procedure. The mechanics of this procedure vary widely from state to state, but in general, the essence boils down to an oath of a candidate to comply with the law and the subsequent inclusion of the candidate on the register of legal practitioners.