One cannot join the legal profession and work as a lawyer in the United States without being licensed by a government to do so. In the United States, each state or territory regulates admission to practice law; the federal government does not license lawyers. Most states and territories regulate admission of new attorneys very similarly by requiring
- graduation from a law school (in most states, an ABA-accredited one);
- passage of a state-administered bar exam;
- passage of an ethics exam; and
- satisfaction of standards of character and fitness.
There are a wide variety of exceptions and variations, many of which are detailed on the State-by-State Review page of this site.
In some cases, it is possible to seek admission simultaneously to two different states. Whether this can be done depends generally on whether the two states at issue offer the state-specific portions of their bar exams on different days of the week. (The Multistate Bar Exam, offered in 49 states on the last Wednesday of July and February, is only part of those states' bar exams; there is also a state-specific portion, which in most states is offered on Tuesday or Thursday.) For more information, click on Bar Exams above.
Attorneys already admitted to one or more states may seek admission to another state. Whether this can be done by motion (without the need for taking a bar exam again) or requires taking the new state's bar exam depends on the states involved and their rules. See the State-by-State Review page for more information.