Lawyer: Educational Requirements for Becoming a Lawyer

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a lawyer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Are you interested in learning about the process of becoming a lawyer? Attorneys must have a Juris Doctor degree, which typically takes three years to earn. Clerkships and other programs give aspiring lawyers experience before they take the bar exam required in all states.

Essential Information

Lawyers, also called attorneys, advise clients on legal issues, such as property and personal rights. These professionals also represent clients in courts of law. As such, lawyers are responsible for having a thorough understanding of the law, as well as legal precedents. Lawyers have a law degree and must be licensed in the state in which they practice.

Required Education Juris Doctor degree
Other Requirements Pass state-specific bar exam
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6%
Median Salary (2015)* $$115,820

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring lawyers must first complete bachelor's degree programs before applying to law school. Although the American Bar Association doesn't designate a particular path of study for prospective law students, some colleges and universities have pre-law programs that can supplement majors in political science, history or related fields. Students in these programs fulfill the requirements for their majors, as well as additional courses in constitutional law, legal research and related classes. Students wishing to specialize in a field like taxation may consider gaining undergraduate experience in accounting through a major, internship or employment.

Students in these majors generally have numerous writing assignments and research projects which can prepare them to read legal briefs. Assignments may range from covering theoretical concepts in political science to making arguments in moot court, a seminar-like activity allowing students to play various roles in a trial.

Applying to Law School

In order to enter law school, applicants must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as undergraduates. Students then submit college transcripts, LSAT scores and completed applications. After reviewing applications, law schools notify candidates whether they are accepted or not.

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree

Law school generally lasts three years and culminates with a student receiving a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Programs begin by covering fundamental topics in civil procedure and constitutional law. This may be done through case-study and precedent analysis, which is when students read over previous cases in order to understand the arguments made by both sides and the final decision rendered. Once core requirements are complete, students in their second and third years may take electives, such as bankruptcy or family law.

Students may gain more practical experience by participating in clerkships or clinical programs. These opportunities allow law students to help prepare cases, revise arguments and gain better understandings of day-to-day practices in law offices or courts.

The Bar

In order to practice law, attorneys must be licensed. Although some states practice reciprocity, allowing lawyers who have passed another state's bar to practice within their borders, each state has its own respective licensing exam. Additionally, some states may require graduates to take the Multistate Performance Test, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, a local state bar exam or all three exams.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 6% job growth for lawyers in the 2014-2024 decade, which is about average. The BLS also stated in May 2015 that lawyers earned $115,820 as a median annual salary.

A bachelor's degree must first be obtained before applying to law school. After earning a J.D. degree in law school, aspiring lawyers must pass the bar exam gain licensure in their state; in some cases, states may require additional examinations to obtain a license to practice law. The median salary for attorneys is a six-digit figure, according to 2015 BLS data.

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