Immigration & NATIONALITY Law

Becoming a certified specialist

Step 1: Register for the examination

The page you are reading now will provide key immigration and nationality law specific information you need to prepare for the examination. 

Also visit the general testing page located in the Certification tab for key information, such as when to arrive and what to bring to the exam.

Register soon for the legal specialist examination on Oct. 27, 2015 to secure your space. Sites can fill up quickly. Also prices rise after Sept. 1 and no registrations will be taken after Oct. 1, 2015.

You are eligible to register if you have been practicing in the specialty since Jan. 2014 and you can complete and file your application documenting the remaining experience, education and references by Jan. 2019.

Step 2: Gain experience, complete education and secure references

The Legal Specialist examination is on Oct. 27, 2015. In the meantime previewing the rules 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 Jan. 2019).

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 located 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 bankruptcy 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 specialty 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 2014 Edition, LexisNexis, ISBN 9781630438005.

2.    Immigration and Nationality Act 2015 Edition, AILA, ISBN 9781573703703.

Examination Preparation courses

The following provider has scheduled a preparation course for the 2015 Immigrantion & Nationality Law Legal Specialist Examination:

Pincus Professional Education will offer a preparation class for the Immigration & Nationality Legal Specialist Examination on May 28 and 29 in Los Angeles.

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. The deadline for filing petitions is Oct. 1, 2015 for this legal specialist examination. 

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 above. Your application 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 will be sent via U.S. Mail on March 15, 2016 to the address listed in the private address field of My State Bar Profile. Be sure to update this address by March 1, 2016 to ensure that your results are sent to your desired address.

2013 Legal Specialist Examination results were mailed via U.S. mail on March 15, 2014 to the address found on your State Bar profile.

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 Jan. 2017 cannot be entertained.

A post examination application form is available. You can also visit the forms page on the legal specialization page.

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 (Jan. 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 that compliance using a legal specialist education compliance form. Group 2's reporting deadline has been extended to June 30, 2015 and their card can be found here.  
  • 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.