Going to law school? If you’re not Elle Woods, then you’re in for a tough journey ahead. However, students who follow the steps in this article will skip a few headaches between now and the bar exam.
What is a Lawyer?
Lawyers in the United States can pop up in so many aspects of people’s everyday lives. Mortgages, patented law, and court cases are just a few ways lawyers work every day.
So, what do lawyers do? Generally, lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes. Lawyers provide assistance on civil and criminal legal matters. Many lawyers specialize in specific types of cases. They can spend some of their time in a courtroom or none at all. Either way, lawyers spend time preparing and researching cases so they can win in court.
To succeed, lawyers must have critical thinking, problem-solving, research, and interpersonal skills, among many others. You may think earning a law degree is complicated, however, do not worry, as the steps below inform you how to become a lawyer as smoothly as possible.
1. Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program before Attending Law School
Completing an undergraduate bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for students to attend law school and pass the American Bar Association’s bar exam. However, the association doesn’t have a recommended undergraduate degree program for those who wish to pursue law school. In an undergraduate program, students are taught English, history, political science, business, philosophy, and journalism. While no particular major is recommended, it is beneficial to potential law students to take pre-law courses to aid them when taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
So how long does it take to become a certified lawyer? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, after graduating high school, it typically takes seven years of full-time study to become an attorney. This breaks down to four years as an undergraduate and three years earning a Juris Doctor. After that, students have to prepare for and take the bar exam.
Since students have a long journey ahead of them in attending an undergraduate program and preparing for law school, take the time to consider whether a career in law is your passion. There is plenty of time to re-route your career trajectory if that is your wish. If you are determined on a career in law, continue to step two.
2. Prepare to Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The next step on the road to becoming a lawyer is preparing to take the LSAT. This challenging half-day test scores between 120 and 180. The test covers logical and analytical reasoning, with reading comprehension. Additionally, there is an essay portion of the test. The essay is not reflected in the final score but potential law schools read it.
The LSAT’s average test score is 152, while anything over 160 sets students up for success at more prominent law schools. Students should study for the LSAT by setting up a study schedule and spending time studying each week. Taking the practice LSAT is an excellent idea for students to see where they are up against and know how much studying is needed. Many students prepare for the LSAT over a three-month period with 20 hours of studying a week.
3. Apply to Law School
Next is time to apply to law school! The timing of this step can vary depending on each student. Some students choose to gain real-world experience prior to applying for law school, while others apply directly after earning a bachelor’s degree.
When deciding which college to attend, ensure your shortlist contains accredited law schools. When attending a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), students are expected to take the bar examination. Other important factors students should consider when applying to law school is the bar exam preparation universities offer, faculty, curriculum, and libraries and research resources available.
Along with a student’s LSAT score, other prerequisites for admission into a law program can include overall grade point average (GPA), recommendation letters, and undergraduate coursework, to name a few. The Law School Admission Council website, lsac.org, is an excellent resource for students to find their future law school.
4. Attend Law School and Earn a Degree
Now students have to put in real work and earn a law degree. Full-time law school students generally take three years of law school education.
The nationally recognized degree for practicing law in the US is known as the Juris Doctor degree. In this step, it’s necessary for students to choose a specialization so they can take a curriculum based upon their interests. For example, areas of specialization can include criminal, environmental, property, real estate, public interest, tax, and family law. Electives in these specializations can consist of intellectual property, corporate practice, and administrative law.
Courses offered while earning a Juris Doctor degree can include legal skills, contracts, civil procedure, constitutional law, and torts. A legal skills course introduces students to the elements of practicing law, while constitutional law teaches students about the constitution and its effect on the legal system. Contracts courses study the basic principles of contracts, while civil procedure classes explore court procedures that do not involve criminal matters. Additionally, a torts course analyzes civil liabilities of conduct with topics such as malpractice.
There are plenty of opportunities for students looking to attend law school, including attending an in-person institution, an online law school, or a hybrid of both.
According to the US News 2021 Best Law Schools, a few top law schools in the US may sound familiar. Topping the list includes Yale University, Stanford University, Harvard University, and Columbia University. A few other schools on the list include the University of Chicago, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania (Carey).
Yale University: The law school at Yale is the number one education institution for potential lawyers in the country. The full-time tuition for the program is $66,128. Grades don’t exist at Yale as students are only graded by honors, pass, low pass, credit, and failure. The Ivy League School offers small classes of 20 people or less.
Stanford University: This leading research university – true to their Silicon Valley roots – gives students opportunities to create joint degrees, invent a new course, and explore law’s intersections with dynamic disciplines. The tuition to attend the number two law university in America is $64,554.
Harvard: Attending the number three law school in America will cost students $67,081. Students will get hands-on experience starting their first year at Harvard Law with Student Practice Organizations. Through these organizations, students will help local musicians understand copyright law or represent state prison inmates at hearings, to name a few.
5. Pass the Bar Exam
In order to practice law in any state in the US, after graduating from law school, students have to take the bar examination. Each state has its own set of regulations; and the exam is typically taken over two days. Day one of the bar examination involves taking the multistate examination, while day two of the exam focuses on writing covering various legal matters.
Educational background and the ability to represent others are additional considerations that the bar examiners will take into account before offering legal licensure. It’s important to note the bar exam is effective in the state an individual takes it in, and if you choose to practice in a different state, then you have to retake the test. All 50 states require individuals to pass their specific states bar exam.
6. Become a Lawyer
Upon passing the bar exam and receiving licensure from the state board, students are hired by a law firm. Recently licensed attorneys typically start as associates in established law firms. There, you work with experienced lawyers to hone their craft before becoming a partner or opening their own law practice. Other career opportunities include applying for legal positions in corporations. Students can also choose to further their education in the form of a Master of Law or Doctor of Philosophy degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a lawyer is $122,960, with the higher end being $208,000. Additionally, the job outlook for lawyers is six percent or about as average as other occupations.
Students who are looking for additional resources can find them at Career Karma. Career Karma can assist prospective lawyers from the beginning of their careers when applying to law school all the way to securing the perfect job.