California Law License Qualifications

California is pretty unique in ways of qualifying for a law license. It actually provides a larger number of ways to get a license. However, a big hurdle is that the the bar exam is very competitive. So while there are many ways to qualify for the exam, it’s not going to be easy for everyone to pass since there is a tough cut-off rate for licensing.

It is still probably best to graduate from an ABA-approved law school. But California also permits you to graduate from any other school approved by the State Bar or complete 4 years of study at an unaccredited school. There is also a special program that allows you to work for 4 years with a licensed attorney or judge. If you use this route, the attorney must be licensed in California and practicing for at least the 5 years preceding the start of your training.

Be aware that you are supposed to register with the State Bar within 90 days after starting a program of legal studies. And you are generally required to finish 2 years of undergrad college studies. Most applicants will not be accepted into an accredited law school without this, anyway. But some unaccredited schools may allow it. You must be at least 18 to get a California law license.

Some individuals must pass the First Year Law Student’s Examination. These are individuals who are attending an unaccredited school or who are working with a judge or lawyer (law office/judge’s chambers program). But if you are at a state or ABA-approved school, you are usually exempt from this test. The exception is if you had not completed two years of undergraduate study.

As far as tests go, you must pass both the MPRE and the California Bar Examination. The passing MPRE score is at least 86, which is the scaled score. This passing score differs from state to state. The California bar exam is not standardized in the same say since it is not a national test. So there is no set passing score. The MBE is national, but that is only the multiple-choice part of the California bar exam, which also has essay questions and performance tests.

A background check for moral character and fitness is the other requirement for this license.

Some out-of-state lawyers want to move to California. They may have to take the California bar. But they can take the Attorney’ Examination if they have practiced as a licensed attorney for 4 years in the other state.

The July 2015 California Bar Exam had an overall pass rate of 46.6 percent. The First-Year Law Student Exam had a low 25 percent in October of 2015. The Attorneys’ Exam had a 34.9 percent rate in the July 2015 administration.

Use the Office of Admissions Online Applications page to register for a California law license. This page has related applications for registration after beginning studies, registration for the bar exam, etc.

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