How to Become a Lawyer in Wisconsin: Education and CLE Requirements

Are you considering a career in law in the state of Wisconsin? Great choice! Wisconsin offers a unique and advantageous path to becoming a lawyer through its diploma privilege, allowing graduates of certain law schools to practice without taking the state bar exam. In this blog post, we will guide you through the steps on how to become a lawyer in Wisconsin, from education requirements to salary expectations, and provide you with essential tips for success in the legal profession.

What you’re about to learn in this guide:

  • Pathway to Practicing Law in Wisconsin includes obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, attending an ABA-approved law school and taking the Bar Exam.

  • Attorneys must fulfill Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements every two years and adhere to high standards of professional conduct.

  • Tips for success include pursuing strong academics, researching schools & preparing for the exam while staying informed on salary expectations & CLE requirements.

Pathway to Practicing Law in Wisconsin

Embarking on the journey to becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree, a necessary step for Wisconsin law school admission. Regardless of your undergraduate major, honing your critical thinking, writing, and communication skills will serve you well in law school and your future career.

Pursuing a legal career in Wisconsin offers the unique advantage of the diploma privilege. This privilege permits graduates from ABA-approved Wisconsin law schools to practice law without sitting for the state bar exam, saving you time and effort, and enabling a faster commencement of your legal career with reduced stress.

Bachelor’s Degree

To qualify for admission to an ABA-approved law school in Wisconsin, you need to have either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in any subject of your choice. Such flexibility enables you to follow your academic passions while building a robust foundation for excelling in law school and your subsequent legal career.

Marquette University Law School

Situated in Milwaukee, Marquette University Law School holds the distinction of being the sole ABA-accredited law school in Wisconsin. Attending Marquette offers several advantages, such as:

  • Practice-ready education

  • A strong reputation

  • Specializations in various legal areas

  • Flexible scheduling

  • A dedication to personal development

These benefits can help you stand out in the competitive legal job market and prepare you for a successful career.

Some of the specializations available at Marquette University Law School include:

  • Dispute resolution law

  • Sports law

  • Intellectual property law

  • Water law

Specializing in a particular area of law can provide you with a competitive edge and allow you to customize your education to align with your career aspirations and interests.

Diploma Privilege

In Wisconsin, the diploma privilege is a considerable advantage for law graduates, as it permits them to practice law sans the state bar exam. To qualify for diploma privilege, applicants must meet specific requirements, including:

  • Submitting character and fitness certification

  • Providing character reference questionnaires

  • Verifying employment

  • Obtaining transcripts

  • And other necessary documents.

The diploma privilege is a concept exclusive to Wisconsin, providing a streamlined pathway for graduates of ABA-accredited law schools in the state to practice law. This benefit can save you time, effort, and the stress of preparing for and taking the state bar exam.

Preparing for the LSAT

Should you choose to attend a law school outside the ambit of Wisconsin’s diploma privilege, taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) becomes necessary. The LSAT is a standardized test that assesses your skills in reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning, all of which are crucial for success in law school. The test includes four scored sections, an unscored experimental section, and a legal writing sample.

To prepare for the LSAT, consider the following:

  • Enrolling in a prep course

  • Utilizing online resources

  • Joining a study group

  • Taking practice tests and timed exercises

These strategies can help you become familiar with the test format and improve your test-taking skills. Remember, a higher LSAT score can increase your chances of being accepted into a prestigious law school and open doors to scholarships and other opportunities.

Applying to Wisconsin Law Schools

After earning your bachelor’s degree and preparing for the LSAT, your next move should be to apply to law schools in Wisconsin. The application process typically involves:

  • Submitting an application

  • Submitting transcripts

  • Submitting letters of recommendation

  • Writing a personal statement

  • Some law schools may require an interview as part of the admission process.

Application deadlines and requirements for Wisconsin law schools vary by institution, so it is essential to research each school’s specific criteria and adhere to their deadlines. Maintaining organization and thoroughness in your applications can distinguish you from other applicants and enhance your prospects of gaining admission into the law school of your choice.

Passing the Wisconsin Bar Exam

If you graduate from a law school that does not qualify for Wisconsin’s diploma privilege, you must sit for and pass the Wisconsin Bar Exam to practice law within the state. The exam is a two-day test consisting of the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and the Wisconsin Essay Exam.

The Wisconsin Bar Exam tests applicants on various subjects, including:

  • Constitutional Law

  • Contracts

  • Criminal Law and Procedure

  • Evidence

  • Real Property

  • Torts

  • Professional Responsibility

To clear the exam, you need to score at least 270 out of 400. Rigorous preparation and a solid grasp of the subjects being tested are key to passing the Wisconsin Bar Exam and securing admission to the state bar.

Admission to the Wisconsin State Bar

Upon successfully clearing the Wisconsin Bar Exam, your next step is to apply for admission to the Wisconsin State Bar. The admission process includes submitting an application, providing character and fitness information, and paying the required fees. The character and fitness evaluation assesses your moral character and fitness to practice law, taking into account your background, criminal history, credit history, and other relevant information.

Upon successful completion of the admission process, you will be granted the right to practice law in Wisconsin. This achievement marks the culmination of years of hard work and dedication, allowing you to embark on your career as a lawyer in the state.

Salary Expectations

As a practicing lawyer in Wisconsin, your anticipated salary can fluctuate based on various factors including your area of law practice, the size of your firm, and your geographical location. On average, lawyers in Wisconsin can expect to earn a salary ranging from $60,085 to $115,340 per year.

Keep in mind that these figures are merely averages, and your actual earnings may be higher or lower, contingent on your specific circumstances. Building a successful legal career in Wisconsin often involves hard work, dedication, and a commitment to professional growth, which can lead to increased earning potential over time.

In order to keep your license to practice law in Wisconsin active, you need to meet the WI CLE requirements for Continuing Legal Education (CLE). Wisconsin attorneys, including any WI attorney, are required to complete a minimum of 30 CLE credits every two years, with at least three hours dedicated to ethics and professional responsibility. CLE courses help you stay informed of legal updates, refine your professional skills, and meet your ethical obligations as a lawyer.

CLE Credits and Courses

A variety of CLE courses and resources are available to Wisconsin attorneys, especially for those who are focused on a specific area of law, like a WI attorney principally practices. These courses cover a broad range of topics, from substantive law and legal ethics to professional responsibility. Completing Wisconsin CLE requirements and earning CLE credits enables you to retain your practice license and deliver top-notch legal services to your clients.

CLE courses are accessible for the current year and the two preceding years, ensuring that you have ample opportunities to meet your CLE credit requirements. Some courses may also be available online or through self-study, providing flexibility for busy professionals.

Reporting CLE Compliance

Attorneys in Wisconsin are required to report their CLE compliance to the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners by the end of their birth month. Compliance can be reported electronically via the CLE reporting website, making the process quick and convenient.

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued a temporary order. This order enables attorneys to obtain extra credits for completing on-demand CLE programs. This provides additional flexibility for meeting their CLE reporting requirements.

Pro Bono Services and Ethics

As a practicing lawyer in Wisconsin, understanding the significance of pro bono legal services and ethical considerations is of paramount importance. Every lawyer has a professional obligation to provide legal services to those unable to pay, ensuring access to justice for all members of society. Engaging in pro bono work not only fulfills your ethical obligations but can also enhance your professional skills and reputation.

In addition to pro bono services, lawyers must adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct and ethical behavior in their practice. Upholding these standards is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the legal profession and ensuring the public’s trust in the justice system.

Here are some tips to guide you towards success in the legal profession in Wisconsin:

  1. Pursue a strong academic foundation with a bachelor’s degree and prepare for the LSAT to gain admission to a reputable law school.

  2. Research and apply to Wisconsin law schools, keeping in mind the unique benefits of diploma privilege.

  3. Prepare thoroughly for the Wisconsin Bar Exam and navigate the admission process with diligence and attention to detail.

  4. Stay informed on salary expectations and strive for professional growth to enhance your earning potential.

  5. Fulfill your CLE requirements and report your compliance in a timely manner to maintain your license to practice law.

Adhering to these tips and maintaining a commitment to your professional development will pave the way for a successful legal career in Wisconsin, enabling you to make a significant difference in your clients’ lives and your community.


In conclusion, the path to becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin offers unique advantages, such as diploma privilege and the opportunity to attend Marquette University Law School. By pursuing a strong academic foundation, preparing for the LSAT, navigating the admission process, and staying committed to professional growth and ethical responsibilities, you can build a successful legal career in Wisconsin. Remember, the pursuit of a legal career is a long and rewarding journey, and with dedication and hard work, you can make a lasting impact in the field of law.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

It typically takes seven years of education and training to become a lawyer in Wisconsin – four years of undergraduate study, three years of law school, and passage of the bar exam.

Can you practice law in Wisconsin without passing the bar?

In Wisconsin, it is possible to practice law without taking the bar exam through diploma privilege. This is an alternative to passing the bar examination that is offered by the Supreme Court and the State Bar of Wisconsin, and is available only in this state.

Is Wisconsin bar exam hard?

With a pass rate of 59%, the Wisconsin bar exam can be considered quite challenging. It is usually considered to be less difficult than other state exams in the US like South Dakota and Nebraska.

What is diploma privilege?

Diploma privilege is a system in Wisconsin allowing law school graduates from specific institutions to practice law without taking the state bar exam, providing them with an alternate route to entering the legal profession.

Wisconsin attorneys are required to complete 30 credits of Continuing Legal Education every two years, including a minimum of three hours dedicated to ethics and professional responsibility.

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