How to Become a Lawyer: Law Schools & Careers
Prospective lawyers must undertake a series of steps to practice law, including completion of undergraduate and graduate degrees, examinations and licensing processes. Prior to embarking in this journey, those interested should ask themselves why they want to become a lawyer and if they are willing to commit several years to study law in order to do so. For those who answer affirmatively, the following guide outlines the various academic, skill-building, and licensing steps required to begin a career practicing law. There can be an excellent payoff by the hard work it takes to become a lawyer — the median annual salary is $126,930, with salaries that exceed $200,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
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How to Become a Lawyer
Step 1Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program You Enjoy
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for admission to law school. No singular field of study is recommended by the American Bar Association at this level. In fact, the ABA notes that students gain admission to law school from nearly every area of study, ranging from political science to mathematics. Common undergraduate majors for prelaw students include English, political science, economics, business, philosophy, and journalism. There’s no correct major to pursue to get into law school. But according to legal educators, prospective J.D. students who take classes they enjoy report better GPA scores. And given the importance of your undergraduate GPA in the law school admissions process, focusing on coursework you enjoy can help you become a competitive candidate.Step 2Pass the Law School Admission Test
Along with an undergraduate degree, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a core component of the law school admissions process. Admissions officers use scores from the LSAT as an objective measure to assess the knowledge and quality of applicants. The examination includes five multiple-choice question sections and an unscored writing sample. The LSAT measures candidates’ skills in critical areas of future legal work, including reading comprehension, information management, analysis and critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation.Step 3Identify Law Schools and Complete Applications
After finishing an undergraduate degree, some students choose to forego further education, while others gain professional experience in other fields prior to enrolling in law school. Regardless of the timing, prospective students should only consider law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. In addition to overall GPA, undergraduate coursework, and LSAT scores, other admission factors may include community service, organizational affiliations, and recommendation letters from educators, alumni, or legal professionals. The Law School Admission Council is a great resource for students in the research phase of the law school application process.Step 4Earn a Juris Doctor Degree
The Juris Doctor (JD) is the nationally recognized degree for practicing law in the United States and is currently offered by 205 ABA-accredited law schools. Prospective students should have knowledge of the faculty, areas of study, tuition, and curriculum prior to applying. There are numerous specialties within legal practice and students should select a program that offers a focused curriculum in their area of interest. For example, students may choose to concentrate in areas of real estate, property, criminal, environmental, tax, or family law. Typically students can complete their Juris Doctor in three years of full-time study. Popular concentrations include:
Corporate law: Corporate or business law is a lucrative field with responsibilities such as the formation and dissolution of corporations, mergers and acquisitions, corporate disputes, and more.
Family law: Family law deals with legal relations between families such as marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, adoption, and child welfare.
Labor law: Labor attorneys deal with relations between workers and employers, often representing one side or the other on matters including discrimination, compensation, and collective bargaining.
Civil rights law: Civil rights lawyers work to protect individual’s civil rights, often representing individuals in matters against or relating to the government.
Health law: Health law is a broad field that focuses on everything related to healthcare, including healthcare policy, patents, and medical malpractice.
Intellectual property law: Attorneys in this type of law work to protect the intellectual property of clients through patents, trademarks, and copyright.
Tax law: Tax lawyers work closely with the tax code, often working on tax policy, and representing clients in tax matters.Step 5Pass the Bar Examination
Most states require lawyers to graduate from an ABA-approved law school and pass the state bar examination prior to qualifying in that state. Although each state sets its own testing guidelines, the bar exam is commonly a two day process: day one is spent completing the Multistate Bar Examination while day two focuses on writing examinations covering various legal matters. In addition to the bar examination, the state board of bar examiners also consider the candidate’s educational background, competence, character, and ability to represent others in legal matters prior to offering full legal licensure.Step 6Advance Your Career
There are many opportunities for lawyers to advance their careers. Freshman lawyers generally start out as associates, working closely with seasoned lawyers to hone their craft. After several years of successful practice, attorneys may rise to become partners in a firm while others may choose to open their own law office. Some may move beyond practicing law and become a judge or shift into public positions. Lawyers may also pursue further education at both the masters and doctoral levels. The Master of Law (LLM) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are two common choices for lawyers interested in careers involving research and academic scholarship.
What Does a Lawyer Do?
Lawyer Career Basics
Lawyers are licensed by their state’s bar association to represent clients on a wide range of legal matters. Law is a broad field, but professionals typically provide legal advice, perform research, gather information, draft legal documents, and more. A spectrum of options is available, allowing legal professionals to pursue opportunities in corporate, private, government, and international settings.