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What Education or Type of Degree Is Needed to Be 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 bar licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Potential lawyers need Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees to practice law. The education path typically takes a total of seven years to complete, including four years of undergraduate coursework and three years of law school. After earning their J.D. degrees, lawyers must pass their state's bar exam and complete any other requirements necessary to be licensed before they can practice law. Some lawyers choose to specialize in a particular area of law by earning further degrees.

Required Education Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Other Requirements State bar licensure
Projected Job Growth 10% from 2012-2022*
Median Salary (2014) $114,970*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Degree

A bachelor's degree is required for admission into law school. Although the American Bar Association (ABA) notes that there's no specific undergraduate major that best prepares aspiring lawyers for law school, it suggests that students complete coursework that stress problem-solving, writing, critical reading, research and oral communication (www.americanbar.org). Accordingly, students may consider completing courses in English, political science, business, economics and mathematics.

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree

Admissions

Admission to J.D. degree programs is generally competitive. All ABA-approved law schools require applicants to sit for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Along with LSAT scores, admission is determined by an applicant's education, work experience, propensity for law and general character. Some applicants may be required to sit for interviews and submit certified transcripts.

Curricula

J.D. degree programs usually take three years of full-time study to complete. The first year of law school typically focuses on general law courses, such as contracts, criminal law and legal writing. In the final years, students usually study a specialty, such as corporate or labor law.

Additional Studies

To gain additional experience with law and the legal process, students may participate in moot trials, contribute to law journal publications and receive hands-on, supervised training in legal clinics. Some programs also incorporate clerkship programs, in which students work with attorneys at law firms and legal departments. Clerks may be responsible for drafting legal documents, working with judges and conducting legal research.

Advanced Law Degrees

Lawyers who wish to specialize in specific concentrations of law may consider enrolling in Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree programs. These programs generally last one year and focus on specialized fields, such as business or international law. Requirements vary according to law school, but typically entail 21-26 course credits.

Some law schools may offer joint J.D./LL.M. degree programs, which take 1-1.5 years of study in addition to J.D. degree programs. The ABA does not accredit any legal education programs besides J.D. degree programs.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median wage of $114,970 for lawyers in general. The top paying industries at that time included industrial machinery manufacturing, metalworking machinery manufacturing, and semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing. The BLS predicted average growth of 10% for lawyers from 2012-2022. Strong competition for jobs was expected, and lawyers with experience who are willing to relocate will have the best employment prospects.

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