This Friday at 6:00 p.m. comes out the bi-annual California Bar Exam results for the July, 2014, Bar Exam. Thousands of candidates are holding their breath hoping for good news. For most of the approximately 4,000 who will pass the Bar Exam, after the inevitable celebration and getting past the excitement of their new professional status, it’s time to find a job!
But what does this mean to the average consumer? More and better choices? Not likely. New attorneys, like most nascent professionals, have much to learn. Why is this and how does a new attorney go about learning his/her profession? Further, if not a new attorney, what choices do consumers have in selecting an attorney and how does one go about finding the right attorney for his/her case?
The road to becoming a new attorney begins with the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). That test, combined with the college grade point average (GPA), determines which law school the candidate is qualified to attend. The higher the score(s), the better the law school. It’s no secret that law school is a difficult academic challenge, and it’s just the beginning. Any person who survives the rigors of law school must then take the California Bar Exam.
Without doubt, the California Bar Exam is one of the most rigorous challenges faced by any aspiring attorney. Months of post-law school study and three full days of examination leave the candidates physically and emotionally exhausted. If, after this ordeal, the candidate passes the exam, their life moves forward towards a long and hopefully rewarding professional career. If they don’t pass, it’s back to the books, their lives on hold until the next exam.
But what does the exam actually test and what is the candidate qualified to do if successful? The California Bar Exam is divided into three parts. First is the writing portion, known as “The Essays” (there are six essay questions on each Bar Exam). Next is the multiple choice portion, known as “MBE’s” (Multi-State Bar Examination). Finally, there are two performance tests (“PT’s”). All three sections test areas of law unique to the California Bar Exam, which are:
1. Business Associations
2. Criminal Law and Procedure
4. Civil Procedure
7. Community Property
8. Professional Responsibility
10. Constitutional Law
11. Real Property
12. Wills and Succession
14. Uniform Commercial Code (all of Articles 1 & 2, Article 9 concerning fixtures)
Let’s assume a candidate successfully passes the California Bar Exam. Can he/she now practice law? The answer is, “Yes”, in the sense that he/she has a license to advise clients on the law and to appear in all Courts of the State of California, but “No” in the sense he/she has no practical experience and little knowledge as to what it takes to successfully represent a client’s interest in Court. Using my experience as a family law attorney as a guide, I can say the following is the preferred method used by most lawyers when gaining the experience necessary to become a successful family law lawyer.
First, even while attending law school, they try to find work in a law office. If the candidate wants to be a prosecuting attorney, he/she tries to obtain a clerking job with the District Attorney. If he/she wants to work in the area of personal injury, he tries to find a clerkship with one of the many firms practicing in that area. Same for family law.
Once having gained experience as a law clerk, the next step is to become the new hire of a successful law firm. This can be daunting, but persistence pays dividends. For the more ambitious, one can strike out on his/her own, opening a new private practice.
But how does one choose between the many attorneys available to represent your interests?
Speaking in the area of family law (but knowing the same rules apply to most other areas of law), the first thing to do is ask others, including friends and family, if they’ve had a good experience. Referrals from those you trust is probably the best (but by no means the only) way to locate a competent attorney. Next, contact your local Bar Association. They refer to experienced attorneys in all areas of law. Further, try to find an attorney who practices in that part of town local to where your case will be heard. Remember, good lawyers know the law, great lawyers know the judge. If an attorney repeatedly practices inside the same court house, chances are he/she has familiarity with the Judge hearing your case.
Next, make sure the attorney you select has at least five (5) years of practice (in the area of your case) under his/her belt, also check to see if he/she maintains malpractice insurance. Ask if they have a specialty in your area of law. In the area of family law, that expertise is conferred by the State Bar of California, and the holder is known as a Certified Family Law Specialist. Holding this additional certification is further indication of competence. Finally, check on the California State Bar web site under “Attorneys”. There you can investigate the status of an attorney’s license, as well as any history of discipline.
Sometimes your budget dictates your choices – but keep in mind when selecting an attorney, this is not the time to skimp.
The Reape-Rickett Law Firm has many extremely qualified family law attorneys, all with a proud history of successful practice. We have younger attorneys with lower hourly rates, all of whom are supervised by extremely experienced, seasoned attorneys. We also have some of the finest and most experienced family law attorneys in practice today.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to all the new candidates, and say “Good Luck!”. Here’s wishing you the best in your new career!!