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How to Sign Esq After Your Name

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Using Esq. after your name sounds very fancy, continental and somewhat upper-crust, and this is no coincidence, given its place in English history. But if you live in the United States and long to sign Esq. after your name, you'll need to become a practicing attorney first. The usual way to do that is to graduate from law school, then pass the bar exam.

If becoming an attorney is your dream, it's far from easy but totally doable. You need to develop and follow a game plan.

Using "Esq." After Name

What does "Esq." after a name mean? It stands for "Esquire," although you'll see the abbreviation as often as the word itself. In the United States, it is a title that indicates that a person is an attorney, but the significance was very different in British history.

You can trace "Esquire" etymology back to England in the Middle Ages. At that time, candidates for knighthood were given the title of Esquire, a cognate of "squire." The title indicated that a man was aspiring to noble rank. Later, the English extended the use of the term to other dignitaries, and someone called Esquire was ranked slightly above a gentleman but below a knight. In modern times, the English also apply the title to a type of English attorney known as a “barrister at law.”

This is very likely why the term came to be used in the United States as an indication that someone is an attorney. But hold on, it's not quite the same as using "JD" after your name.

Differentiating Esq. vs. JD

You may have seen an attorney's business card with "Esq." placed after the person's name, as in Robert Mueller, Esq. But other attorneys use the initials "JD" after their name to denote their legal profession. That represents Juris Doctor, the degree you earn when you complete law school.

So is there a difference between JD and Esq.? There is, and it's an important one in the legal world. Graduating from law school gives you the right to use JD after your name, like those who get a doctorate in biology or English can use Ph.D. But graduating from law school does not make you a lawyer or give you the right to practice law.

To be a lawyer, you have to pass a test called a bar exam in the state where you want to practice. And not everybody does. Many students attend law school with the intention of going into government work, politics or teaching; they don't even sit for the bar exam. Others attempt to pass the bar exam and fail. All of these people still have the right to use JD after their names, assuming they graduated from law school, but they cannot use Esquire. Only those who qualify to practice law by passing a bar exam have the right to use Esq. after their names.

Moving Toward Esquire

If your goal is to become a practicing attorney and use Esq. after your name, it's entirely possible. You know it's possible because many, many people do it. But if you are still in college or have been working in a different career, you may worry about how to get from here to there.

The steps most people take to become eligible to practice law in a state are:

  1. Sit for the LSAT test
  2. Get accepted into law school
  3. Graduate from law school
  4. Sit for and pass a bar exam.

Avoiding LSAT and Law School

Do you really need to take the LSAT and attend years of law school to be able to write Esq. after your name? The answer is a qualified no. In four states, it is possible to sit for the bar exam without having attended law school, and if you don't need to go to law school, you don't need to take the LSAT. But it may not be an easier way to proceed.

If you look back at the history of the practice of law in this country, getting a JD degree is a fairly new requirement. In colonial days, all legal professionals came over from England, a country that did not have law schools. Instead, English lawyers were trained through an apprenticeship system called the Inns of Court. Under that system, a would-be attorney worked with an experienced “barrister” who trained the apprentice in exchange for their work.

A version of this apprenticeship system was adapted in New York in the 1700s. Under this program, you had to undertake seven years of apprenticeship before you were able to practice law yourself. By all accounts, this was a grueling experience. Someone proposed law schools as a more equitable alternative – college programs training people in legal theory and procedure. In the 1870s, the concept was widely accepted. The American Bar Association lobbied to only allow law school graduates to sit for the bar exams and become attorneys.

Most states went along with this proposition. Today, only four states offer the option of taking the bar exam without attending law school. In these states, you can instead apprentice with a practicing attorney or judge. These states are:

  • California 
  • Virginia
  • Vermont 
  • Washington 

In California, this option is offered as the “Law Office Study Program.” To become an attorney under this program, you have to work in a practicing attorney's office for 18 hours a week for four years, take a legal knowledge exam at the end of the first year, demonstrate positive moral character, pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination and pass the California Bar Examination. Perhaps the most difficult part of this is finding an attorney who will agree to work with you in this.

Getting a Bachelor's Degree

The more standard road map to becoming an "Esquire" leads through law school. To apply for law school, you usually need to 1) graduate from a four-year college or university and 2) sit for the Law School Admissions Test, known as the LSAT.

Do some law schools allow you to apply without getting a bachelor's degree first? A few do, so if you really want to go this route, it's not impossible. For example, Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University allows "exceptional" students to apply to law school after two years of college. You'll need excellent grades and a strong LSAT score.

Taking the LSAT

The LSAT is a test designed to assess the skills needed for success in law school. The skills tested include reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning and writing. It is a half-day exam given six times a year around the United States and also at some international locations.

The LSAT has been revised several times over the years and the current version contains six sections. Four of those have multiple-choice questions; the other two are an experimental section and a writing section. Scores are calculated on a scale of 120 to 180.

Start preparing for the LSAT several months before you intend to take it. Many different companies offer test preparation assistance that can be very useful. You can also buy books and other materials and study yourself. It is particularly useful to work through a few practice tests so that you become familiar with the format. The LSAT is unlike any test you have ever taken since it tests mental processes, not knowledge.

Getting Into Law School

Law schools can afford to be picky about who they admit and most of them are. That's why college and LSAT scores are important. You need to arm yourself with good grades and an impressive LSAT score to be accepted into law school. Arguably, the LSAT score is even more important than your undergraduate record since it offers a better idea of how a student will perform in law school.

In addition to grades and test scores, most schools ask for a personal statement. This is a several page document you write about your life and goals. It gives you a chance to add information that bolsters your application or to explain information that might not look good. Be sure that you give yourself sufficient time to write and edit this statement and make it stand out.

Many schools also require several letters of recommendation. You can ask college professors who appreciated your work or supervised an internship to write a letter for you. Ask about the letter as early as possible to give the person ample time.

Graduating from Law School

Law school is generally a three-year program. Once you get going, it sometimes feels like it will never end. No matter where you go, you'll need to work hard. Joining study groups can help keep you on track. Working as an intern for a law firm in the summers can give you practical experience to which to anchor your legal knowledge, as well as a head start on a winning resume.

The big day arrives and you are awarded your Juris Doctor diploma. Yes, you now have the right to use those two initials JD behind your name. But you still can't use Esq. because you aren't a practicing attorney yet. You need to pass a bar exam first.

Taking the Bar Exam

You will need to take the bar exam in whatever state you intend to live and work. It is a difficult test and lasts several days, with three-hour sessions in the morning and afternoon.

Is the bar exam the same in all states? It is not, although it is getting closer to being uniform. More than half the states (33 as of 2019) have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), a standardized bar examination.

The UBE consists of the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination and the Multistate Performance Test. States using the UBE have the option of adding a state law section to the test as well. States that do not use the UBE as their bar exam include California and Florida.

California is reputed to have the hardest bar exam in the country. This is supported by the passage rate, the lowest of any state at between 40 and 45 percent. In 2017, 12,985 people took the exam and 5,768 passed it. If bar passage rate is any indicator, Oklahoma is the easiest bar to pass. A full 80 percent of those taking the exam in 2017 passed it. But take into account that only 421 people sat for it.

Some people take the bar exam in more than one state immediately after finishing law school. This can be a good idea if you aren't sure where you want to ultimately settle or you plan to do work that takes you to courts in two different states. But remember that many states make it easier to take the bar exam if you have been practicing as an attorney in another state for a certain amount of time.

Calling Yourself Esquire

You passed the bar exam. That's wonderful news, and now you have earned the right to start calling yourself Esquire. But that doesn't mean you should. It just isn't a comfortable title to use verbally. "Hi, I'm Jean Doe, Esquire," is a phrase that should never cross your lips. In fact, it is almost always a faux pas to speak the word "Esquire" in reference to yourself. Save it for introducing a distinguished colleague.

Even using the title in writing is not universally approved, since "Jean Doe, attorney" is clearer and less pompous. But some attorneys do use it. If you can't wait to get that Esq. after your name, use it ("Jean Doe, Esq.") on your business cards, on stationery and in the signature block at the end of a letter or email. Do not use JD and Esquire together, however. It is either Jean Doe, Esq. or Jean Doe, J.D. but never Jean Doe Esq., J.D. That's over the top, even for a lawyer.