How to Become a Lawyer in California (Steps and State Requirements)

California, known for its diverse and thriving economy, offers a multitude of opportunities for aspiring lawyers. The state boasts the highest employment level and mean wage for lawyers in the United States, making it a top destination for legal professionals. But how does one become a lawyer in California? This step-by-step guide on how to become a lawyer in California will walk you through the process, from obtaining an undergraduate degree to building a successful legal practice in the Golden State.

What you’re about to learn in this guide:

  • California offers a range of legal practice areas and earning potential for those who pursue a legal career.

  • Becoming a lawyer in California requires completing an undergraduate degree, passing the LSAT, enrolling in law school, obtaining a JD degree and taking the MPRE & CA Bar Exam.

  • To build successful practices one must gain experience through employment/volunteering, network with clients & other lawyers and use available resources.

Practicing law in California is both prestigious and rewarding. With a wide range of practice areas, including criminal law, bankruptcy law, and corporate law, there is no shortage of opportunities for growth and specialization. Furthermore, California lawyers enjoy substantial earning potential, as the average annual salary is reported to be $176,610. This figure may be influenced by factors such as demand for legal services and overall competitiveness in the legal job market.

Notably, California has several renowned law firms, including Baker McKenzie LLP, Arnold & Porter, and Irell & Manella, LLP, among others. These firms offer various opportunities for individuals who have completed a traditional law school education or alternative programs, such as the law office study program. In addition, California provides certification in legal specialization areas to members of the Bar, enabling them to demonstrate their proficiency in one of 11 areas of law practice, including criminal law.

However, initiating a legal career in California demands perseverance and rigorous effort. The Employment Development Department of the State of California forecasts that employment opportunities for lawyers in the state are likely to expand by 8% over the next decade. By 2028, the job market for lawyers is expected to rise significantly from the current level. This growth may be influenced by factors such as the number of students taking the law school admission test and the overall demand for legal services. Hence, it’s vital for future lawyers to thoroughly prepare and devote themselves to their chosen career path.

Essential Steps to Becoming a Lawyer in California

To embark on a successful legal career in California and become a lawyer, there are several essential steps that must be followed. These include:

  1. Obtaining an undergraduate degree

  2. Taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

  3. Enrolling in an accredited law school

  4. Completing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree

  5. Passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and California Bar Exam.

Let’s explore each of these pivotal steps that will guide you on your journey to becoming a licensed attorney in California.

Obtain an Undergraduate Degree

Before applying to law school, securing an undergraduate degree is highly recommended. Although there are no specific requirements regarding the field of study for your bachelor’s degree, opting for a relevant major can provide a strong foundation for the concepts to be studied in law school. Courses in legal studies, social sciences, and business can help cultivate research and writing abilities, as well as hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

You must verify that your undergraduate institution is accredited, as this is a requirement for admission into an American Bar Association-approved law school. Furthermore, pursuing an undergraduate degree in a related field can help you gain valuable knowledge and skills that will serve as a foundation for your legal education and future career as a lawyer in California.

Prepare for and Take the LSAT

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT), also known as the law school admissions test, is a standardized test required for admission to most law schools in California. The LSAT is designed to assess an applicant’s reading comprehension, logical and verbal reasoning abilities. Preparing for the LSAT is a critical step in the law school application process, as a strong LSAT score can significantly impact your chances of admission.

The LSAT is offered in California during the months of June, September, November, and January, with a registration fee of $180. The score range for the LSAT is 120 to 180, and you will receive your score via email three weeks after taking the exam.

Allocating enough time and effort for LSAT preparation is key, as this test significantly impacts your law school admission prospects.

Enroll in an Accredited Law School

Once you have earned your undergraduate degree and achieved a satisfactory LSAT score, the next step is to enroll in an accredited law school in California. Attending an accredited law school ensures that you receive a quality legal education while also offering valuable networking opportunities and preparing you for the state-specific components of the bar exam.

Law schools in California have some basic requirements for applicants. These include:

  • LSAT scores

  • A completed law school application

  • An application fee

  • Undergraduate transcripts

  • A personal statement

  • A letter of recommendation

Researching each law school’s specific admission requirements and deadlines is pivotal for a seamless application process, and the Law School Admission Council can be a valuable resource in this regard.

Keep in mind, your choice to attend law school will have a profound impact on your future legal career, so attending law school should be carefully considered.

Complete Your Juris Doctor Degree

Acquiring a Juris Doctor (JD) degree is an essential requirement to practice law in California. A typical JD program takes three years to complete and provides instruction in areas such as:

  • legal research

  • legal writing

  • professional responsibility

  • civil procedure

Building a strong foundation in these subjects is key to becoming a successful lawyer in California.

During law school, you may also choose to explore specific areas of law through elective courses, such as cybersecurity law or patent law. Pursuing a specialized area of law can help you stand out in the competitive legal job market and cater to the unique needs of your future clients.

Furthermore, earning a JD degree from an accredited California law school provides the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the legal profession.

Pass the MPRE and California Bar Exam

After completing your JD degree, the next crucial step to becoming a licensed attorney in California is to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and the California Bar Exam. The MPRE is a two-hour, multiple-choice test that covers the ethical considerations of legal practice. It is recommended to take the MPRE after completing a professional responsibility course during law school.

The California Bar Exam, also known as the California Bar Examination, is a rigorous test that assesses your legal knowledge and skills, as well as your understanding of ethical conduct. The exam consists of five essay questions, a 90-minute performance test, and 200 multiple-choice questions. Preparing for and passing the California Bar Exam is a critical milestone in your journey to becoming a practicing lawyer in the state. Success in this challenging exam demands dedication, determination, and strategic study habits.

Alternative Routes to Practicing Law in California

While completing a JD degree from an accredited law school is the most common route to becoming a lawyer in California, the state also offers alternative routes to practicing law. Rule 4.29 of the State Bar of California allows legal studies to be completed outside of a law school setting. This includes completion of legal education in a law office or judges’ chambers.

However, pursuing this alternative route comes with strict requirements and is less common than the traditional path. To fulfill the requirements for legal education in a law office or judges’ chambers, you must study for a minimum of 18 hours a week for 48 weeks, equivalent to one year of study, under the supervision of a practicing lawyer or judge with a minimum of five years of good standing in the state bar.

While this alternative route may provide a unique learning experience, it can be challenging to find a supervising attorney or judge who is willing to commit to this long-term endeavor.

Maintaining Licensure and Continuing Education

After becoming a licensed attorney in California, it is important to keep your license active by staying abreast of changes in the legal field and completing the required continuing education credits. California lawyers must fulfill a minimum of 25 hours of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) training within a three-year period. This training must encompass legal ethics, competence matters, and the elimination of bias.

Completing MCLE shows your commitment to maintaining relevance in your legal practice and upholding the highest professional responsibility standards. Moreover, taking advantage of resources such as professional organizations and legal software can help you stay informed about the latest trends and developments in the legal profession, ensuring that you continue to provide top-notch legal services to your clients.

Establishing a successful legal practice in California involves more than just earning a law degree and passing the bar exam. Gaining practical experience is crucial for honing your legal skills and understanding the real-world challenges that lawyers face. You can acquire this experience through employment at a law firm, volunteering with a legal aid organization, or interning with a government agency.

Networking also plays a significant role in developing a successful legal practice. Attending legal conferences, joining professional organizations, and utilizing online networking platforms can help you connect with potential clients and other legal professionals. Building strong relationships within the legal community can lead to valuable referrals and collaborations, ultimately contributing to the growth and success of your legal practice.

Lastly, making use of available resources can significantly improve your practice. Some resources to consider include:

  • Professional organizations, which can provide support and guidance in various aspects of your legal career, from continuing education to practice management.

  • Legal software, which can streamline your workflow and help you stay organized.

  • Online resources, such as legal research databases and forums, which can provide valuable information and insights.

By staying informed and utilizing these resources, you can navigate the complexities of the legal profession and build a thriving legal practice in California.


Becoming a successful lawyer in California is a rewarding and challenging journey. By following the essential steps to obtaining a law degree, passing the California Bar Exam, and building a successful legal practice, you can create a fulfilling and prosperous career in the Golden State. With dedication, hard work, and a commitment to lifelong learning, you can make a lasting impact in the legal profession and the lives of your clients.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many years does it take to become a lawyer in California?

Becoming a lawyer in California requires a minimum of seven to eight years, including three or four years of law school and passing the state bar exam. You must complete an ABA-accredited Juris Doctor program or another approved form of law study to qualify for the exam.

Can you become a lawyer in California without a law degree?

California allows aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without a law degree by completing a four-year law office study program. This exam consists of only essay questions, and could qualify an individual to practice law without going to law school.

How hard is it to become a lawyer in CA?

Becoming a lawyer in California is a challenging process requiring several college degrees, entrance exams and applications. It takes dedication and hard work to become a lawyer in the state but is ultimately rewarding.

Is 30 too late to become a lawyer?

It’s never too late to become a lawyer! Many successful law school applicants are 30 or older and draw upon their prior skills and experiences to build fulfilling second careers. You won’t be alone in this journey and you will be surrounded by people of all ages and backgrounds in your law school class.

What is the average salary for a lawyer in California?

The average salary for a lawyer in California is $176,610 per year.

Scroll to Top