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How to Become a Federal Attorney

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In order to practice as an attorney in any given jurisdiction, a person must be "admitted to the bar." This is most easily recognized and understood when discussing practicing law in separate states because each state is a jurisdiction. For instance, a person who is licensed to practice law in California cannot practice law in Oregon unless he has been admitted to practice there. What is less commonly known is that, in order to practice law in a federal court, an attorney must be admitted to the bar of that particular federal court.

Graduate from law school. Regardless of which jurisdiction a person would like to practice law, it is uniform that she must graduate from law school. Furthermore, in most jurisdictions, a person must graduate from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school to sit for a bar exam.

Gain admittance to the bar of a state or territory. All states and some territories, such as Puerto Rico, are inidividual legal jurisdictions. In order to become admitted to practice law in a federal court, you must first become a member in good standing of the bar of a state or territory. In some cases, such as United States District Courts, it must be the jurisdiction in which the federal court is located or represents. In order to become admitted to state or territory jurisdictions, you must pass the jurisdiction’s bar exam.

Complete the admission packet to the federal court. Each federal court has its own admissions procedures--whether it is the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit or the United States Supreme Court. The practice requirements and admission fees vary depending on the court. Contact the clerk of court’s office for the court to which you seek admission and request an application packet. Complete and submit the application with the correct fee.

Seek a position as a federal attorney. There are a wide variety of attorney positions within the federal government. For instance, the United States Attorney General’s Office hires federal prosecutors, the Federal Defender’s Office provides representation to indigent defendants on the federal level, the Securities and Exchange Commission hires federal securities attorneys and the United States Courts of Appeals hire staff attorneys to help research and write opinions. You can find these job postings on the Federal Government job listing website, “USAJobs.”


Krystal Wascher has been writing online content since 2008. She received her Bachelor of Arts in political science and philosophy from Thiel College and a Juris Doctor from Duquesne University School of Law. She was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 2009.