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How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer in California?

October 20, 2022 | Purdue Global Law School

Becoming a lawyer requires dedication. In addition to the financial investment of law school and the rigorous studying required for the bar exam, law school students need to be prepared for the time commitment of becoming a lawyer.

Find out how long it takes to become a lawyer in California and how you can potentially speed up the process.

How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Lawyer in California?

All in all, it takes a minimum of seven to eight years to become a lawyer in California, including the time spent earning your undergraduate degree. Depending on when you take your exams and whether you pass on your first attempt, the process might end up taking longer.

Listed below are the typical steps to becoming a lawyer in California and a description of how long each step takes. For more information, read our guide, “How to Become a Lawyer in California.”

  1. Earn your undergraduate degree. This typically takes four years, though some schools offer accelerated bachelor’s degree programs that can be completed sooner.

  2. Apply to law school. Many schools require you to submit your application and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores at least several months prior to the start of the semester. If your school requires the LSAT, keep in mind that there are a fixed number of LSAT testing dates per year and it can take several months to prepare for the exam.

  3. Pass the First-Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSE) after your first year of law school, if applicable. You only need to take the FYLSE if you’re attending an unaccredited registered law school or completing a law office study program. It’s recommended that students take several months to study for the exam. Because the exam is only offered twice a year and it may take a few months to receive your scores, your overall path to becoming a lawyer may be delayed by three months or more if you are required to take the FYLSE.

  4. Complete your law degree. Juris Doctor degrees typically take between three years and four years to complete, depending on whether they are structured as full-time or part-time programs.

  5. Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Passing the MPRE is required before you can sit for the California Bar exam. Completing the exam typically does not add any additional time onto your path to becoming a lawyer, since it can be taken any time after your first year of law school.

  6. Pass the State Bar of California’s moral character screening. Before you can practice law in California, you’ll need to receive a positive moral character determination from the State Bar. This process can take several months, but as long as you submit your request to the State Bar toward the beginning of your final year of law school, it should not slow down your timeline for becoming a lawyer.

  7. Pass the California bar exam. The California bar exam is offered two times a year—in February and July. Most applicants spend several months studying full time for the exam.

  8. Get admitted to the State Bar of California. After you pass the bar exam, you can officially be admitted to the State Bar of California. This request is usually processed fairly quickly.

How Long Is Law School in California?

Juris Doctor programs in California typically require three years of full-time study or four years of part-time study. The accreditation status of the college may also affect how long you are required to attend law school.

Here is the State Bar of California’s breakdown of legal education requirements based on the type of school you attend:

  • Three or four years of study at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA)

  • Three to seven years of study at a law school accredited by the State Bar of California.

  • Four years of study at a State Bar-registered, fixed-facility law school

  • Four years of study with a minimum of 864 hours of preparation at a registered unaccredited distance-learning or correspondence law school

Purdue Global Law School is accredited by the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California and our online Juris Doctor degree is structured as a four-year, part-time program.

Do You Need to Attend Law School to Become a Lawyer in California?

California is one of the few states that allows aspiring lawyers to bypass law school.

Instead of going to law school, you can fulfill the State Bar of California’s legal education requirements by studying for four years under the supervision of a state judge or attorney. However, finding a judge or attorney to sponsor you will be difficult if you do not have prior experience and connections in the field. To secure an apprenticeship, you will likely need to have completed previous legal education or have some background experience working in a legal support role.

The law office study program takes four years to complete—about the same amount of time it takes to earn a JD degree. If you go the law office study route, you will also need to pass the FYLSE. For these reasons, completing a law office study program is unlikely to shorten your path to becoming a lawyer.

Ways to Accelerate Your Path to Becoming a Lawyer

If you’re looking for the fastest way to become a lawyer in California, there are a few things you can do to speed up the process.

Complete an Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Program

If you don’t have an undergraduate degree yet, you may consider enrolling in an accelerated bachelor’s degree program. Many colleges around the country offer accelerated versions of their undergraduate programs. For example, Purdue Global offers ExcelTrack programs for students who have professional experience in their field.

Most law schools in California don't place restrictions on your undergraduate degree choice, so your bachelor’s degree does not necessarily need to be tied to legal studies.

Complete a Full-Time or Accelerated JD Program

As mentioned above, full-time JD programs take three years to complete while part-time JD programs take four years. That said, some schools in California offer accelerated JD programs that allow you to complete your JD in as little as two-and-a-half years.

Students who are interested in full-time or accelerated JD programs should be aware that these programs have rigorous curriculums that may not allow you to work while completing your studies. If you want to be able to balance law school, work, and personal life, a part-time JD program may be a better fit for you.

Take the Bar Exam As Soon as Possible

Another way to shorten your path to becoming a lawyer is to take the California bar exam as soon as possible once you become eligible. As mentioned, the California bar exam is offered twice a year, in February and July. If you graduate in May, for example, you can spend the next two months studying full time and plan to take the July exam.

If you are not able to study full time, you may want to take more time to prepare and opt for the February exam instead. The California bar exam is considered one of the most challenging bar exams in the country due to its high cut score. In February 2022, 53% of first-time applicants passed the exam, the State Bar of California reports. If you don’t pass the exam, you will need to wait six months for the next testing date.

Earn Your JD Online with Purdue Global Law School

Purdue Global Law School’s online Juris Doctor program is designed to prepare students for becoming a lawyer in California. The 100% online, part-time format makes it possible for you to fit your studies into your busy schedule.

To learn more, reach out to Purdue Global Law School today.

About The Author

Purdue Global Law School

Established in 1998, Purdue Global Law School (formerly Concord Law School) is Purdue University's fully online law school for working adults.

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