Criminal Law (state) and Criminal Law (federal)

Becoming a certified specialist

Creating a full application for certification is a two-step process. You must take and pass an examination in your area of law. After passing the examination, you will file a post-examination application documenting your experience, education and references.

You can start your preparation today no matter when the next examination will be taking place. Many attorneys begin accumulating the experience and education prior to taking the examination, while other attorneys wait until after passing the examination to fulfill those requirements. See the rules and applications for the time limits that apply. Here is an overview of the steps involved in completing an application for certification. Certified specialists need to recertify every five years, but they will not need to take the examination again as part of that process.

Taking the exam

The next legal specialist examination is on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. The legal specialist examination is offered every other year in odd years.

A free preparation packet for the upcoming exam will be posted in early 2015, and registration will begin in spring 2015. There will be exam locations in both Northern and Southern California.

Note:  You will choose one examination, either the Criminal - State Law examination or the Criminal - Federal Law examination.  Use the same application to register for either examination, marking your preference on the form.

If you want to prepare early, you can use the 2013 Access a free Criminal Law Legal Specialist Examination Preparation Packet until the new packet is available. The packet includes key facts, exam topics and all released essay questions, but does not include multiple-choice practice questions.

Prep courses

The Department of Legal Specialization has not been advised of any preparation classes at this time.

The Department of Legal Specialization is not affiliated with any commercial preparation class and derives no financial benefit from any educational provider. The department provides this information solely for your convenience.

Testing accommodations

If you have a physical, learning or mental disability, you may file a petition for testing accommodations when taking the legal specialist examination.

Apply now for testing accommodations to ensure that there is ample time to complete your application. This can be done even before general examination registration opens. Use these petitions for testing accommodations only.

October 2013 examination results

Examination results were mailed via U.S. mail on March 15, 2014 to the address found on your State Bar profile. Results will be not be released via phone, fax, or e-mail, and will not be sent to anyone other than the examinee. The results are mailed from the San Francisco office of the State Bar. Note that even when results are mailed at the same time, they may travel at different rates. Attorneys with in the same firm may get their letters on different dates. The State Bar of California does not have control over the letters once they leave the State Bar facility. If you do not receive your results by April 1, 2015, please contact the State Bar in writing at to request duplicate results. Duplicate requests cannot be entertained prior to April 1, 2015, and duplicate requests cannot be accepted by phone. Please adhere to these policies for best results.

If you have passed the legal specialist examination, you are eligible to proceed to the next step in the certification process and to file your post-examination application immediately if you wish. You must file this application, or a request for an extension, by April 25, 2015. Request for extension should be sent to Requests for dates later than January 2017 cannot be entertained.

Post examination applications are available here or by visiting the forms page on the legal specialization home page.

Special instructions for those who passed the 2011 legal specialist examination:

If you passed the legal specialist examination in 2011, your post-examination application will be accepted through Jan. 31, 2015 if you have requested and received an extension to that date. Request an extension by sending an email to explaining the reason for the extension and the date through which you are requesting the extension.

What happens after the examination and what can you complete before the examination?

After passing the examination, you will be asked to demonstrate your experience and education and references in a post-examination application.

While you will file the post-examination application after the examination, you can fulfill the requirements prior to the examination or take up to three years after the examination. If you have not filed your post-examination application within 18 months after the administration of the examination, you will be asked to provide the State Bar with an estimate of the time that you plan to file your post-examination application.

View a post-examination application from one of the past examinations. You can also view the rules and standards below for full details about the requirements. The application process is designed to be interactive. You are welcome to call or e-mail the department of legal specialization if you have any questions. If the California Board of Legal Specialization or its advisory commissions have any questions, they will contact you and allow you to address any questions or supplement your application.

The general Rules Governing the State Bar of California Program for Certifying Legal Specialists govern the program requirements, but must be read in conjunction with The Standards for Certification in Criminal Law (revised 5/16/08).

When taking educational courses, be sure to save your certificates of participation, as you will need them when filing your post-examination application. Pre-approved legal specialist education information can be found on the Certification Provider Search page. You may also petition for credit for MCLE-approved courses and MCLE approved self-study in your area of law.

Once your application is complete

The Department of Legal Specialization will send out questionnaires to your references. Once the references have been returned, your application will be complete. An advisory committee with expertise in your area of law will review the applications and provide a recommendation to the California Board of Legal Specialization, who will make the final certification decision. The process generally takes about six months from the time you file your post-examination application.

Current certified specialists and recertification

Legal specialists must recertify their expertise in their field every five years by filing a recertification application, but they do not need to take the examination again.

Note that in 2015, the schedule for reporting education will change under the new rules adopted by the State Bar Board of Trustees effective Jan. 1, 2014 and referenced above. Certified specialists recertifying in 2014 will not report in this new way. Rather, they will report 60 hours of education over the five-year period on their recertification applications. Similarly, certified specialists who are reporting MCLE compliance by Feb. 1, 2014 do not need to report legal specialist education compliance as part of that process.

Contact us

Questions? Contact the Department of Legal Specialization at or at 415-538-2120.