Should I Become a Divorce Attorney?
Divorce attorneys are experts in the legal filings, asset division, and child custody aspects of marital separation and dissolution. They work to ensure that their clients' rights are protected throughout the divorce process and try to ensure their client receives a fair settlement once the marriage is legally dissolved. Long work hours are often required, and travel is sometimes necessary.
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|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree plus a Juris Doctor (law degree)|
|Degree Field||Family law|
|Licensure||State licensure is required (Bar exam)|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal, written, research, problem-solving, analytical and organizational skills; knowledge of federal and state divorce and custody laws, knowledge of document management softwares like Adobe Acrobat; accounting software to bill clients; project management and database software; and research programs such as LexisNexis or WestlawPRO|
|Salary (2014)||$114,970 (median salary for all lawyers in 2014)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONET OnLine.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step toward becoming a divorce attorney is earning a bachelor's degree. There is no required major for law school acceptance, though aspiring attorneys might benefit from studying pre-law to receive education in legal concepts and to ensure all prerequisite courses are included in their undergraduate study. The American Bar Association (ABA) suggests that students engage in multidisciplinary study that includes philosophy, government, mathematics, and English. A degree in sociology, political science, or history would likely fulfill these recommendations.
- Participate in mock trials. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends that aspiring attorneys participate in mock trials hosted by either a school or lawyer's office. Mock trials allow students to work alongside licensed lawyers and learn how court proceedings work.
Step 2: Pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
Prospective students must take the LSAT as part of the law school admissions process. The LSAT uses multiple-choice questions to test students' abilities in logical reasoning, reading comprehension and analytical reasoning. Acceptance into most law schools is contingent upon a minimum LSAT score.
- Take an LSAT prep course. The LSAT, like the SAT, does not test a student's knowledge of any particular discipline. Instead, it tests how an individual analyzes information and makes judicious conclusions based on that information. The exam is also timed, requiring test takers to employ proper time management skills. Many private companies offer tutoring options for prospective law students, which may be a good investment for individuals wanting to receive a high score and attend a top tier law school.
Step 3: Earn a Law Degree
Law school is a postgraduate program that begins with a broad education in law and ends with specialty courses. Typically, it takes three years of study to earn a law degree. A student's law school must be approved by the ABA or by his or her anticipated state of legal practice. Students typically begin their legal studies with classes in legal writing, torts, contracts, and constitutional law. They then move on to upper-level courses such as family law, where they learn basic knowledge of family discord, divorce settlement, property management, domestic violence, and child custody.
- Submit research and writing to law journals. Law schools typically have their own law journal that's issued on a regular basis. The BLS advises that law students compile research and publish legal articles through their school's law journal in order to gain experience and stand out within the law program.
- Develop negotiation skills through practical experience. Most law programs include trial simulations and other field exercises so that law students can gain real world experience before graduation. For prospective divorce attorneys, some marital or divorce classes might require negotiation of a marital separation agreement in an actual family court.
Step 4: Pass the Bar Examination
Graduating from law school doesn't give attorneys the power to practice divorce law; that status is only achieved by passing a state's bar exam. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), eligibility to take the bar exam comes after completing bachelor's degree coursework and graduating from law school. Few states allow students to take the bar examination before graduation.
Per the NCBE, some states accept graduates of non-ABA approved law schools if they meet other requirements. Students should also check with their local bar admissions agency to determine which written bar examination(s) it accepts. Most states accept scores from the Multistate Bar Examination but may also request that prospective attorneys take additional tests. There's no specialty bar examination for divorce attorneys. Except in limited cases, the bar examination must be taken in the state where a divorce attorney wishes to practice.
Step 5: Continue Education
Continuing education (CE) is required in almost every state for attorneys to maintain bar status. State CE requirements vary and may need to be completed annually or every 2-3 years. A divorce lawyer can continue his or her education through the ABA's Center for Professional Development. In addition to ensuring that a divorce attorney doesn't lose his or her bar status, continuing education can help a lawyer stay current with laws and advances in the field.