Seeking Admission To The California Bar From Another State? What Should You Know?

If you're a practicing attorney seeking to move to the Golden State, you may be concerned about the prospect of taking (and passing) what has been determined to be the most difficult bar exam in the United States. Fortunately, for those who have already been successfully practicing law for several years in another U.S. jurisdiction, admission may be easier than you expect. Read on to learn more about what you'll need to do to gain admission to the California Bar, as well as your continuing legal education requirements once you've become a California-licensed attorney.

Will you need to take the California Bar Exam to gain admission? 

New attorneys just graduating from law school are required to take several difficult tests before becoming a licensed attorney: the First Year Law Students' Examination, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), and the California Bar Exam. Failing any one of these three tests could prevent you from becoming an attorney in California, although you'll only be required to retake the specific tests you fail -- passing one is passing for life. These tests are each administered on a state-wide basis several times per year, generally timed around law school graduations (with some extra time built in to permit studying).

However, those who have already been practicing law in any other state in the U.S. for at least four years may be able to gain admission by taking only the Attorneys' Examination, which is much shorter than the MPRE and California Bar Exam and involves some essay questions based on California law. Like new attorneys, you'll also be subject to a moral character determination, which generally involves an interview on various moral and ethical issues conducted by a California-licensed attorney. You may be asked if you've ever committed a crime, what you would do if you suspected a client of providing false testimony, or other questions that could reflect on your moral character. If you've had any disciplinary proceedings filed against you in your home state, this could potentially impact your ability to gain admission -- even if you're able to pass all the relevant examinations on your first try.

What continuing legal education requirements are imposed on California attorneys?

Once you've gained admission to the California Bar, you'll be required to obtain a minimum number of hours of continuing legal education each year in order to keep your law license active. This is usually termed the minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement. After your admission, you'll need to gain at least 25 hours of MCLE (including 4 hours of ethics-specific courses) over the next three years. Once this three-year cycle ends, your 25 hours will start again. You can choose to spread out these MCLE hours over your three-year reporting period or try to get them all out of the way early by taking a weeklong intensive course or a number of shorter MCLE courses in a brief period of time.

If you'd like to keep your former state bar admission active while practicing in California, you should be able to fulfill both states' requirements through the same courses rather than having to take MCLE courses specific to both California and your other state. However, you'll need to review the ethics hours requirement for your other state to ensure you're getting enough hours to comply with both states. You'll also be responsible for reporting your own MCLE hours to each agency (or requesting that the MCLE sponsor submit this information on your behalf). Failure to properly or accurately report your MCLE hours could result in the temporary suspension of your law license, and willfully continuing to practice law without an active license could result in the permanent revocation of your California law license or even public ethics charges. 

For information on how to fulfill the California MCLE requirement, contact a company like TalksOnLaw.