Lawyers advise clients in legal matters. Also called attorneys, lawyers may advocate for their clients and defend them in court. These roles require lawyers to have extensive training in legal procedure, writing and research. After earning an undergraduate degree, aspiring lawyers must complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.). All lawyers must pass their state's bar exam to practice.
Educational Requirements for a Lawyer
Let's take an in-depth look at the educational requirements for lawyers. Aspiring lawyers must complete law school. Applying to law school requires graduating from a bachelor's degree program and, in nearly all cases, taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Applicants wanting to specialize in a particular field of law may consider an undergraduate degree in that field. For example, students who want to become tax attorneys might study accounting, while those interested in environmental law may consider majoring in environmental science.
While no particular field of study is required for applying to law school, aspiring lawyers should hone their reading, speaking and argumentation skills while in college. Courses in political science and English may help students advance these skills and provide a medium for presenting facts and arguing positions. Students may also use these classes to strengthen critical thinking skills and prepare for the LSAT.
Law school students typically study for three years and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree upon successful completion of their degree program. There is no mandated or standardized curriculum, but most law schools provide a comprehensive overview of the field, with courses from civil procedure to property law. Students learn legal writing and are taught to conduct research in legal libraries and online.
After the first 1.5 years, students may begin enrolling in specialized courses like environmental law or bankruptcy law. Students may also apply for externships that allow them to observe and participate in daily legal procedures. Additionally, most programs offer law clinics in a particular field, such as environmental law, in which students work with attorneys to research precedents and meet with clients.
Gaining Admission to the State Bar
After earning a J.D. degree, law school graduates must take and pass the bar exam for the state or U.S. territory in which they plan to practice. Depending on the jurisdiction, the bar exam may consist of several different tests, such as the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). Most jurisdictions also test applicants on their knowledge of appropriate professional conduct.
Salary and Career Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 6% job growth for lawyers in the years 2014-2024. The BLS also indicated that lawyers earned median salaries of $114,970 as of May 2014.