What Does Bar Stand for in the Bar Exam or Bar Association?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Oct 31, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Answering what the “Bar” stands for in the Bar Exam or Bar Association in California is best done by visualizing a courtroom.  Picture any courtroom you have seen in person or on TV. No matter which courtroom you are thinking of, you will likely remember a railing in the middle of the courtroom separating the spectators from the lawyers and judge.

This railing that blocks (or bars) the public from the attorneys is quite literally, a bar. If you are a licensed attorney, you are allowed to cross the threshold. If you are not a lawyer, you cannot cross the threshold unless you are involved in the court proceedings. Over the years, lawyers became known as “members of the bar” as that’s where the lawyers are called to present their case to the court.

What is the State Bar?

The State Bar of California is the regulatory arm of the California Supreme Court. It’s the official government agency responsible for licensing attorneys in the state. Licensed attorneys are members of the State Bar. According to its website, the mission of the California State Bar is to protect the public. Attorneys are generally required to meet certain continuing legal education requirements and pay annual fees to remain licensed.

In addition to setting admission requirements for practicing law, the State Bar also handles disciplinary actions if a lawyer violates one of the ethical rules they are required to follow (such as confidentiality and avoiding conflicts of interest). The State Bar will investigate complaints about lawyers from the public. It will conduct disciplinary hearings as necessary, and can suspend or disbar an attorney depending on the severity of the offense.

What is the Bar Exam?

To become a licensed attorney, you must have a legal education, satisfy character and fitness requirements, and pass the bar exam. It’s called the bar exam because it’s one of the admission criteria regulated by the State Bar.

One you pass the bar exam, along with the character and fitness requirements, you are permitted to practice law. California is one of the few states that allows aspiring lawyers to take the bar exam without going to law school, but there are still specific legal education requirements that must be met.

The California Bar Exam is notoriously difficult. In February 2021 it had a 37% pass rate.

Law school graduates studying to take the bar exam often sign up for in-depth “bar prep” or “bar review” courses.  These courses are very intensive reviews of everything they learned in law school in a short time prior to the exam.

What is the Bar Association?

A “bar association” is a professional organization for attorneys in a particular geographic area. Membership in bar associations is generally voluntary. Lawyers may be members of multiple bar associations.

There is an American Bar Association that lawyers all over the country might join. In California, the statewide bar association is the California Lawyers Association. Lawyers will likely also join a local county bar association.

Bar associations usually have different sections for specific areas of the law. This allows attorneys to network with other professionals in their practice area and provides opportunities for keeping up with new developments in the law. Bar associations often provide access to continuing legal education programs. Attorneys can use these programs to meet certain annual requirements to maintain their license.

If you’re facing criminal charges – whether for a drug offense or white collar crime – and need a defense lawyer, you’ll want to make sure that they are licensed members of the bar in good standing.

You can check on the State Bar website by searching the attorney’s name. While it is very rare, occasionally someone tries to engage in the unlicensed practice of law, which is against ethical rules and could be part of an illegal scam.

Last Updated on October 31, 2021