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Lawyer Training Programs and Requirements

Becoming a lawyer requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Lawyers provide legal assistance to people by helping them understand and navigate the legal system. All lawyers must earn a bachelor's degree followed by a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an ABA accredited law school and obtain licensure in their practicing state by taking and passing a state bar exam. Prior to admission to law school an applicant typically must take the Law School Admissions Test (L.S.A.T.). Law school typically takes around three years to complete. Furthermore, during law school many students are hired for paid or unpaid clerkships or internships, which help to prepare them for the practical aspects of law practice. After passing the bar exam and obtaining licensure, many graduates obtain positions in either private, public sector or non-profit law practice or teaching. An ideal lawyer candidate will enjoy public speaking, and have a good grasp of analytic research and writing.

Required Education Bachelor's degree; Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree*
Other Requirements State bar exam passage to obtain state licensure*
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 10%*
Median/Average Salary (2014) $114,970*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Training Programs for Lawyers

Becoming a lawyer typically requires students to earn an undergraduate degree and attend three years of law school. Some students receive advanced law degrees, which enable them to specialize in a certain field, conduct research or teach.

Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring lawyers don't need to declare a specific major in which to earn their bachelor's degree. Rather, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that students major in degree programs that teach them potentially useful skills, such as writing, speaking, investigating and critical-thinking (www.bls.gov). Beneficial courses may include political studies, history, economics and philosophy. Students who want to specialize in a specific type of law can earn bachelor's degrees in a field relevant to the specialty, like business.

Law School

J.D. Degree

After earning a bachelor's degree, the next step is to graduate from law school and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Law schools accept students based on several factors, including their undergraduate grade point average and major, recommendations, personal essays, extracurricular activities, work experience and Law School Admission Test scores.

The Law School Admission Council, Inc. states that although all law school curriculums are similar, each school differs in teaching methods, clinical education and learning opportunities (www.lsac.org). During the first year of law school, students usually take courses on such subjects as civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property law, torts and legal writing. Later on, students can elect to take courses that are more specialized, such as labor law, corporate law or environmental law.

They also put their skills and knowledge to use by participating in clinical programs, which allow second- and third-year law students to apply what they learn into real-life situations. They work under the guidance of experienced lawyers to provide counsel, partake in court proceedings and perform other legal duties.

LL.M. Degree

Some lawyers choose to further their studies by earning a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree. A J.D. degree is required for admission into an LL.M. program, which provide global credibility and typically last one full-time academic year. Some LL.M. programs allow students to concentrate on one area of law, such as intellectual property or taxation, while others provide students with an advanced but broad law curriculum.

Requirements

Lawyers must be licensed by the bar association in the states where they plan to practice. Obtaining licensure requires candidates to earn law degrees through programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and pass bar examinations. A nationally accepted bar exam doesn't exist, but many states and districts use the Multistate Bar Examination, which covers constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, evidence, real property and torts.

Other tests that may be used are the Multistate Essay Examination, the Multistate Performance Test - which tests practical skills, local state bar exams, ethics tests and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination - which tests ABA's professional-responsibility and judicial-conduct codes.

Career and Salary Information

The BLS estimated in the years 2012-2022 that lawyers will see 10% growth in employment opportunities. The BLS stated that lawyers earned $114,970 as a median annual wage in May 2014.

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