The State Bar of California certainly does not discriminate on the basis of age. Or does it?
The basic requirement to practice law in the State of California is passing the California Bar Exam. California, unlike other jurisdictions, does not offer reciprocity to attorneys licensed in other States, so if you are planning a move to California or if you are on your second or third career you will have to take and pass the California Bar Exam.
So that means you have to study.
For those of us far removed from our law school days, the prospect of spending countless hours in a stuffy library seems less than attractive. We already went to school. We put our time in and we certainly do not want to revisit those long outlines and endless cases. Yet the California bar exam is the same exam for those fresh out of school as it is for applicants 20 to 30 years removed from school.
Yes, California does offer the one-day Attorneys’ exam, but it is still the same test minus the MBE. (Multistate Bar Examination). Recent law school graduates are lucky in that the information they learned in law school is relatively fresh. They can dig into their mental file cabinets and pull out the requirements of a binding contract, and they can name at least a few exceptions to the Hearsay rule. They might even be able to cite the Rule Against Perpetuities although it is unlikely they actually know how to apply it.
Why is it then that the State Bar does not give credit for experience? Should lawyers in practice have to deal with an exam that, at best, tests minimal competence? Why should trial lawyers have to memorize ALL of the exceptions to hearsay if they only raise about two or three in court? And why must a patent attorney or transactional lawyer need to know about California community property if he/she NEVER intends to practice family law? Well, that is enough of that. These are valid questions, but the reality again is that if you seek admission to the State Bar of California you will have to pass the California Bar Exam.
There is some good news in all this. Because you have a wealth of experience in multiple disciplines you are in fact far more sophisticated than the recent law school graduate. You have context, and you can by sheer experience in the world frame a decent argument. This is an advantage. You have heard more, done more, researched more, tried more, and failed more often than your average newbie. You will by default come into the exam with the knowledge that life, in fact, goes on with or without a license to practice in California. You have perspective, and perspective has street cred on this exam.
But now let’s talk mechanics. Your experience is no substitute for an intimate knowledge of 17 substantive areas of law. You must master these and be able to apply the knowledge to complex essay fact patterns, and you must do so quickly. The California Bar Exam is a fast exam and requires you to have the mental acumen to recall specific elements and convey them in an organized “lawyerly” manner. Regaining these skills takes time and practice. If you are a seasoned attorney from another State or you are seeking admission to practice long after graduation make sure to give yourself enough time to master the material.
We have said this over and over again: You cannot cram for the California Bar Exam in six to eight weeks. You need at least a three to four-month lead time in advance of any exam in order to ensure a successful result. You want to take your time and you want to be able to integrate studying with your already very busy professional life. If you are considering a July bar exam, then you should start exploring your options in March. Take your time, talk to experts in the field, and use a review course like Executive Bar Review to custom tailor a study plan that works for you and not the masses.
To answer our very first inquiry, no, you are not too old to pass the California Bar Exam. Time and an expert approach are your friends. Use them.