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Process of Becoming a Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a lawyer. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career as a lawyer. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a Lawyer?
  • 1:27 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:08 Step 2: Take the LSAT
  • 3:05 Step 3: Attend Law School
  • 4:32 Step 4: Pass the Bar Exam

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Lawyer?

Degree Level Juris Doctor
Degree Field Law (specializations can vary)
Licensure States require lawyers to pass a bar exam
Experience Most lawyers work as associates at firms before starting their own practice or getting into a partnership
Key Skills Excellent analytical skills plus strong communication, research, and problem-solving abilities
Salary $136,260 (2015 median salary for all lawyers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lawyers legally represent all sorts of clients including individuals, businesses, and government agencies involved in legal disputes. In order to advise and represent clients, lawyers interpret laws and rulings and process legal documents like contracts, deeds, and wills. Lawyers may focus on specialties within the legal system such as criminal law, marriage and divorce law, corporate law, taxes, family law, and litigation.

Lawyers of all kinds work on a full-time basis, although many work overtime and during evenings and weekends as their caseloads demand. Most lawyers work in an office setting, although some travel for meetings The job can be high stress, but income for lawyers is generally high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers earned an average salary of $136,260 as of May 2015.

Depending on the type of client being represented, these cases can become the subject of public frenzy, such as the high-profile case of OJ Simpson. But other times, cases are dealt with more privately, such as in private settlement cases. No matter the specialty or types of cases, all lawyers must follow strict requirements to practice law. Let's explore the pathway toward a career as a lawyer.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While there is no specific bachelor's degree prospective lawyers must earn, several subjects may help prepare students for law school. Common pre-law majors include English, history, political science, and economics. It's important for students to perform well in their undergraduate courses in order to earn acceptance into law school.

During undergraduate school, you can help prepare yourself for a career in law by participating in mock trials, fake trials that allow students to get exposure to the courtroom. Mock trials also offer the chance to develop a fundamental understanding of the judicial system and develop strong speech and critical thinking skills.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Advanced Legal Research
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  • Health Law
  • International Business, Trade, and Tax Law
  • International Law
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  • PreLaw Studies
  • Programs for Foreign Lawyers
  • Tax Law
  • US Law

Step 2: Take the LSAT

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a required standardized exam that applicants must take before entering a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The exam is offered four times each year and measures an applicant's reading, analytical, and verbal reasoning skills. This is one of several factors that law schools will take into consideration before assessing applicants for admittance. Questions on the exam cover reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.

Admission to law school depends heavily on your LSAT score, so it's important to prepare in advance. Many students take an LSAT preparation course or study independently. Additionally, since the LSAT is a rigorously timed test, students should take practice exams to become acquainted with the format and time constraints.

Step 3: Attend Law School

Nearly all states require lawyers to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the ABA. Law schools choose applicants based on a number of factors including minimum grade point averages and LSAT scores, application essays, and extracurricular activities. Law school takes three years to complete, and students can take courses that cover all areas of law.

The first year includes foundational courses, while the second and third years allow students to take electives in specialized areas of law. Curricula commonly cover topics like civil procedures, contracts, law and family relations, law process, legal research, evidence, constitutions, and property. The final year is focused on preparing law students for the transition into practicing law in the real world.

When selecting law schools to apply to, consider attending law school in the state you wish to practice. Doing so can prepare students for the state's Bar exam after law school, and schools tend to offer internships locally, which can lead to job opportunities. No matter where your law school is located, it's generally beneficial to participate in internships at law firms during the summers between semesters to gain essential experience and improve job prospects.

Step 4: Pass the Bar Exam

Each state requires law school graduates to pass the bar exam in order to practice. While each state may administer their own exams, some states have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination, which is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and composed of questions from the Multistate Essay Examination, Multistate Bar Examination, and Multistate Performance Test. Those who pass this exam can generally practice in any other state that also accepts this exam. Some states may allow students to take the bar exam before they graduate law school.

Here's one more tip for success: Obtain a clerkship after graduation. Clerkships are offered to new lawyers as a way of garnering experience and networking. Most clerkships are either federal or judicial, so they are especially beneficial for students interested in working in government. These positions are usually reserved for the students at the top of their class.

Lawyers must earn a bachelor's degree, take the LSAT, complete law school, and pass the Bar exam in their state to practice law.

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