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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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January 16, 2001: Becoming a Lawyer; Gifting to Minors

Q: I want to be a lawyer like you.

A: I am flattered but remember never be afraid to change your mind if you run across something that you like better as you go through school.

There is no required undergraduate course of study as there is in many professional programs. One of the best students in my law class was an ancient Greek and Aramaic linguistic scholar. My law school evidence professor was a world famous Shakespearean actor before he went to law school and became a just-as-well-known-and-respected trial attorney. Having sat on a law school admission committee reviewing law school applicants, there is no advantage given to someone having a "pre-law" major or a business major. And to the best of my knowledge, there is no corollary as to success in law school between those undergraduate majors and any others.

Traditionally, to become a licensed, practicing attorney, an undergraduate degree (4 years) is necessary, along with graduating from an accredited law school (3 years), and then passing a bar exam in the state where you wish to practice.

But these requirements vary widely from state to state. Some states do not require an undergraduate degree in order to attend law school, although several years of college might be required. And in some states there is no requirement that the law school even be accredited in order to qualify a graduate to take the bar exam.

Additionally, in two or maybe three states, working under the direction of an attorney for a certain number of years (such as seven to ten years) will qualify a person to take the bar exam in those states.

It is also not necessary to take a bar exam in each state where permission to practice is required. Once a lawyer passes the exam in a state and practices for a given number of years (such as seven), then he or she can be admitted in many sister states "on motion" and maybe an additional requirement of taking a modified bar exam, although some states require taking the full-blown exam all over again.

Finally, many states will allow an attorney to practice on a limited basis if he or she is "sponsored" by a member of that state's bar. We saw this in the recent turmoil involving the presidential election in Florida.

So there are many paths and ways to practice law. Ultimately where there is a will, there is a way, so do not narrow your life's choices too quickly.

Q: My parents would not listen to me. They gave my minor children stock but title the certificates directly in their names.

A: Anyone, including a minor, can own property. But a minor can not enter into binding contracts. Thus, as long as nothing "legal" needs to be done (like selling the shares), then the property just sits there. You, as the parent, do not have the legal right to deal with your child's property.

Normally, gifts to minors should be made under various custodial arrangements or under state statutes often known as "gifts to minors." The gift can also be made using various trusts.

In your case, if it becomes necessary, you might have to go to court and have a conservatorship set up so that someone has the legal authority to deal with the property. Needless to say the cost to do this may be much more than the value of the gift, not to mention the administrative headaches.

Thus, gently suggest that next time your parents coordinate either with their attorney or your attorney to make certain that everything fits together properly.

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