Immigration & NATIONALITY Law

News Update

Thank you to all those who took the Legal Specialist Examination on Oct. 27, 2015.

  • Results were sent via U.S. mail on March 15, 2016 to the address listed on your My State Bar Profile.
  • For security reasons, results will not be posted electronically nor released over the phone.
  • If you do not receive your examination results by April 1, 2016, first please ensure that your address listed on your My State Bar Profile is current and then submit a written request for duplicate letter of results to or by fax to 415-538-2180. Please do not request duplicate results prior to April 1, 2016.
  • This year, 75 percent of examinees passed the 2015 Legal Specialist Examination.
  • Post-Examination Applications are now available.
  • For more information, review the Examination results section below.

Becoming a certified specialist

Step 1: Register for the examination

Mark your calendar for the next examination on Oct. 24, 2017. Registration will be open in January 2017. You will be eligible to register if you have been practicing in the specialty area since January 2016 and you can complete and file your application documenting the remaining education, experience and references by January 2021. In the meantime, you can work toward the task, experience and education requirements noted below.

Step 2: Gain experience, complete education and secure references

In the meantime, previewing the general program rules, the standards applicable to this specialty and the post-examination application will help you to begin documenting the education and experience needed to complete your candidate packet. These requirements may be completed prior to the examination or up to three years after (through January 2021).

Although you will not file the post-examination application documenting your experience, education and references until after you pass the examination, many attorneys find it helpful to track their progress toward completion of the requirements prior to the examination. When you file your post-examination application, you will be able to include experience from the prior five years and education from the prior three years. 

Once a candidate has passed the examination, filed an application and been in practice for five years, the candidate's application will be ready for review by the advisory commission in the specialty and the California Board of Legal Specialization.

Preparing for the examination

First, be sure to read the general examination information page so you will know when to arrive, what to bring, and how the process works.

Second, click here for a free examination preparation packet, including sample essay questions and key facts about the examination. No multiple-choice questions are released for practice.

Third, know the code books allowed in the examination room. You may bring in a single professionally bound immigration and nationality code book so long as it is free from notes, markings, or tabs of any kind other than your name. You may not bring in ePublications or printouts of ePublications of any kind. Note that not all legal specialist examinations allow books to be brought into the testing room, and that you should arrive no later than 7 a.m. so that you will have time to register and have your book inspected before the examination announcements begin.

The following code books are approved for use during both sessions of the Legal Specialist Examination:

1.    Bender’s Immigration and Nationality Act Pamphlet, LexisNexis.

2.    Immigration and Nationality Act 2015 Edition, AILA.

Examination Preparation courses

Information about preparation courses taught by private providers for the 2017 Legal Specialist Examination is not yet available. This section will be updated as information is received. 

In 2015, The following private provider offered a preparation course for the Legal Specialist Examination:

CDs are now available for sale from the Immigration and Nationality Law Preparation Class recently hosted by Pincus Professional Education.

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 next Legal Specialist Examination. Though registration is not yet open for the Oct. 24, 2017 Legal Specialist Examination, you are encouraged to apply early. The deadline for filing petitions is Oct. 1, 2017.

You may apply for testing accommodations prior to registering for the examination, but your seat at the examination will not be secured until you register for the examination. Your testing accommodations petition will be taken on a space available basis at that time, and the fee in effect at the time that the examination registration is received will apply.

Examination results

2015 Legal Specialist Examination results were sent via U.S. Mail on March 15, 2016 to the address listed in each examinee's My State Bar Profile.

If you do not receive your application results by April 1, 2016, first please ensure that your address listed on your My State Bar Profile is current and then submit a written request for duplicate letter of results to or by fax to 415-538-2180. Please do not request duplicate results prior to April 1, 2016.

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 27, 2017 to Extensions cannot be granted beyond January 2019.

2013 Legal Specialist Examination results were mailed via U.S. mail on March 15, 2014. The deadline to file the 2013 post-examination has passed. If applicable, please file your application in accordance with your approved 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. You must complete all steps within three years (January 2019 for the 2015 examination).

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. 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, you will be contacted 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 Immigration and Nationality Law (revised 11/19/10).

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. Note that non-participatory classes and self-study classes can only fulfill half of your educational requirement, which is also true for your MCLE requirement.

Once your post-examination 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

Here are a few tips to remember:
  • Every three years, legal specialists are required to take 36 hours of legal specialist approved education or equivalent during their MCLE compliance period and to report compliance using a legal specialist education compliance form. To read more information about current certified specialists due to comply and to access a compliance card, visit our forms page.
  • Every five years, legal specialists must recertify their expertise in their field by filing a recertification application, but they do not need to take the examination again.

Contact us

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