The Legal Profession:

There are over 177,000 practising lawyers in the State of California, a state with a population of over 38 million people.


Lawyers must meet the admission requirements outlined in the Rules of the State Bar of California in order to practice law in the state (Title 4, Division 1).

The rules cover legal education, moral character and examination. In summary, candidates must have a minimum of two years of ‘pre-legal education’ at college level, a JD from an ABA-approved law school or approved equivalent, and a background check to determine ‘a positive moral character’. They must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and the Californian Bar Examination. The exam is acknowledged to be one of the toughest in the country, and is one of the longest with 18 hours of testing over 3 days.

The State Bar of California has produced a useful summary of admission requirements on its website.

Once admitted to practice, all Californian attorneys are required to complete 25 hours of continuing legal education every three years.

The State of California is a ‘recognised jurisdiction’ for the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) meaning Californian lawyers can fast track to dual qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Regulation of legal profession:

The State Bar of California, a branch of the state supreme court, regulates the profession. With more than 242,000 members (April 2013), it is by far the largest state bar in the country. Nearly 177,000 State Bar members actively practice law, the rest retain their licenses as inactive members.

Requalification:

There are two options for solicitors who want to practice in California: 

1. Qualify as a Californian attorney:

Solicitors admitted to practice in England and Wales are eligible to sit the state bar examination without the requirement to complete additional legal education. A summary document of the requirements is available from the State Bar of California, click here to download.

Queries regarding admission to the Bar should be directed to the State Bar’s Office of Admissions.

Note: foreign educated law graduates who are not admitted to practice are subject to additional rules, click herefor more information from the State Bar of California.

2. Practice as a Foreign Legal Consultant:

An alternative route for foreign lawyers to practice in California is available via a Foreign Legal Consultant license which permits foreign lawyers restricted legal practice within the State on the basis of their home country qualifications and experience.

The Bar has a useful guide to the registration process and the rules for FLCs on its website, including contact details for queries.

Outlook:

In June 2013 the State Bar of California’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform issued a recommendation that new attorneys will be required to complete 15 hours of practical skills training and 50 hours of pro bono service before being admitted to practice. If approved, the requirement could be in place as soon as 2015. The Law Society will monitor the Task Force’s work and update our members interested in taking the California if these recommendations take affect.