Law Exam Cave

How to Become a Lawyer

If you’re contemplating entering into the legal profession, you’ve got a fair bit of work ahead of you. Many people consider taking the path of law well before college or university and begin the trajectory as early as high school. Others decide a little later in life while trying to figure out what to do with that philosophy degree they just spent four years working towards. No matter the timing, it’s important to understand all that becoming a lawyer entails.

Obtaining a license to become a practicing lawyer in the U.S. requires many years of focused and strenuous work. Not to mention, the costs associated with attending university and then law school are likely to incur you with a sizable amount of student loan debt.

That being said, if you have a passion for justice and the legal system, all that hard work could pay off. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a career in law generally leads to a six-figure salary.

Some of the skills and essential qualities that someone with interest in law should possess include analytical, problem-solving, research-oriented, and interpersonal. In addition, lawyers need to have impeccable communication and public speaking skills. They must also be able to naturally and objectively evaluate relevant and applicable information.

In this post, we’ll go over the steps one might take to pursue a career in law and how to ultimately become a licensed lawyer.

Step 1: Research the Legal Field

The first step is likely the one that brought you here. Before applying to legal programs, it’s important to take the time to conduct some research and decide whether or not this path is right for you. The Discover Law portal on the Law School Admission Council website is a helpful resource to help you become more acquainted with a career in law.

It might also be a good idea to reach out to your family lawyer or anyone you know who has one and see if they might consider providing you with an informational interview. Reading books on communication and reasoning skills can also be a valuable practice.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

If you haven’t got one already, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to be considered for law school. While there are no strict criteria on what types of degrees law school applicants should have, it’s recommended that aspiring lawyers take courses that involve extensive reading and writing. Common undergraduate majors for pre-law students include English, political science, economics, business, philosophy, and journalism.

Step 3: Pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

The Law School Admissions Test will determine whether a law school will consider your application. These test scores will assess the student’s reading comprehension level, information management, analysis, and critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation.

In addition to passing the LSATs and applying for law school, aspiring legal professionals also have the option of reading the law as a legal apprentice, which does not require taking the LSATs or attending law school. While it is a less common route and only permitted in California, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, New York, Maine, and Wyoming, it’s still an option worth considering.

Step 4: Apply to Law Schools

Now that you’ve decided upon attending law school, you should devote time to researching the schools that appeal most to you. It’s recommended only to consider schools that have been accredited by the American Bar Association, from which you will need to obtain a license to be a practicing lawyer.

Depending on the level of prestige of your preferred school, you will need impressive GPA scores, LSAT scores, and recommendation letters from educators or legal professionals to be accepted. Tuition won’t be cheap either. See the Law School Admission Council for a valuable resource on researching the law school admissions process.

Step 5: Earn a Juris Doctor Degree

The Juris Doctor (J.D.) is the degree you will earn upon successfully graduating from an ABA-accredited law school. At this point, you will want to narrow in on your preferred area of focus and what legal specialty you hope to build a career in. Students can complete their J.D. typically within three years.

There are several specialties within the legal practice you may choose to concentrate on, including:

  • Corporate law
  • Labor law
  • Civil rights law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Tax law

It should be noted that possession of a J.D. may not be sufficient for all legal positions, with some requiring or advising additional specialized training. These careers include:

  • Business law. A business lawyer may require an MBA and a J.D.
  • Family law. A background in counseling or social work with a J.D. is advisable.
  • Health law: Aspiring health lawyers typically possess a master’s in public health as well as a J.D.
  • Medical malpractice: Having attended a dual J.D.-M.D. program may be beneficial for this profession.
  • Patent law: Patent attorneys must have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a technical academic discipline or have sufficient scientific, engineering, or technical training. They also need to pass the patent bar exam administered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Step 6: Pass the Bar Examination

Upon graduating from an ABA-accredited law school program, law school graduates must pass the bar examination for the state they plan to practice in. The exam takes place over two days and involves written testing on various legalities. The state board of the bar will also examine the candidate’s educational background, skill set, character, and competency in legal matters before they can receive a legal license.

Step 7: Build Your Career

Now that you are a fully licensed legal professional, it’s time to embark upon your career within your chosen field of study. Typically new lawyers will start out working as associates of law firms. From there, you have the potential to advance your career practicing law or pursue other academics, such as by obtaining a Master of Law (LLM) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

While setting forth upon a career in law is no easy feat, if you have a passion and drive for justice and the legal system, it can be an enriching experience that leads to an illustrious career.