What does it take to become a lawyer?

Lawyers must possess a degree from a law school and then pass a difficult test known as the bar exam to receive authorization to practice law in the state in which they pass the exam. Most law schools are either three or four year programs. Virtually everyone entering law school must have a college diploma and take a pre-entrance test called the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT).

After graduating from law school, applicants must then take the bar exam, which is a two-day test in most states (in some states it is three days). Most aspiring applicants take a preparation course, as the bar exam tests person's knowledge in at least 20 different areas of the law. The test features a difficult 200-question multiple choice exam known as the Multistate exam. This exam—national in scope—tests knowledge of six core areas: (1) contracts; (2) torts; (3) property; (4) constitutional law; (5) criminal law; and (6) evidence. Most states also feature an essay portion of the exam, which focuses more on state law.

What is the American Bar Association?

The American Bar Association (ABA) is the largest voluntary professional association of lawyers (or any group of professionals) in the world with more than 400,000 members. It provides law school accreditation (approval), provides continuing legal education services, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work and a variety of other legal services. The ABA's stated mission is "to serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession."

After they graduate from law school, students must study for and pass the bar exam administered by the American Bar Association before they can practice (iStock).

After they graduate from law school, students must study for and pass the bar exam administered by the American Bar Association before they can practice (iStock).

Can all law school graduates take the bar exam?

Most law school graduates take the bar exam, but there are exceptions. Every bar school applicant must fill out a detailed form. Most state supreme courts have rules that require bar applicants to show that they have the character, fitness, and moral qualifications to practice law. The vast majority of graduates are able to successfully apply to sit for the bar (take the bar exam). However, some graduates—because of past criminal histories, serious credit issues, or character problems—do not receive approval to take the bar exam. For example, if a student commits plagiarism in law school, that may raise a red flag to those who interview the applicant for bar admission—even if the student received punishment in law school and went on to graduate.

If a person passes the bar exam, is he or she automatically entitled to practice law?

No, in many states a person can pass the bar exam but still not pass a character and fitness examination, which may occur after the bar test. Passing the bar exam is simply one part of the applicant's responsibility. He or she must also demonstrate to an interviewer—usually a practicing attorney in his or her locale—that he or she is fit to practice law.

A well-known case in Illinois involved an admitted white supremacist named Matthew Hale, who graduated from Southern Illinois law school and passed the bar

LegalSpeak: Ohio Supreme Court Governing Bar Rule 1. Admission to the Practice of Law

Section 1. General Requirements.

To be admitted to the practice of law in Ohio, an applicant shall satisfy all of the following requirements:

(A) Be at least twenty-one years of age;

(B) Have earned a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university in accordance with any of the following:

(1) Prior to admission to law school;

(2) Subsequent to admission to law school, through completion of courses and credits other than those received in law school, if the applicant has made a record of academic achievement that is satisfactory to the Court and receives Court approval;

(3) From participation in a joint bachelor's/law degree program that has been reviewed and approved by the Court, requires at least seven years of full-time study, and results in the award of both a bachelor's degree and a law degree;

(C) Have earned a J.D. or an L.L.B. degree from a law school that was approved by the American Bar Association at the time the degree was earned or, if not located in the United States, from a law school evaluated and approved in accordance with Section 2(C) or Section 9(C)(13) of this rule; to the practice of law and have been approved as to character, fitness, and moral qualifications under procedures provided in this rule; ...

(D) Prior to taking the Ohio bar examination or being admitted without examination pursuant to Section 9 of this rule, have demonstrated that the applicant possesses the requisite character, fitness, and moral qualifications for admission;

(E) Have passed both the Ohio bar examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, or have been approved for admission without examination pursuant to Section 9 of this rule;

(F) Have taken the oath of office pursuant to Section 8(A) of this rule....

exam. However, an Illinois Committee on Character and Fitness refused to allow him to practice law.

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