|Degree Level||Undergraduate degree; Juris Doctorate|
|Licensure||Must have passed the bar examination|
|Key Skills||Research, writing, speaking, analytical, and interpersonal skills; word processing, online legal research sites (Westlaw), and online case management filing programs|
|Salary||$136,260 (2015 average for lawyers)|
Sources: CareerBuilder.com job postings (August 2012), O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), State Bar of Wisconsin
Lawyers are qualified to practice any area of law once they graduate law school and pass the bar exam. However, many choose to specialize in limited areas of law. By specializing, they can develop expertise that makes them more effective in their chosen areas of law than general practice attorneys. Different specialties have unique requirements that play a significant role in the way a legal case is handled. A few specialized areas of law include health care, intellectual property, personal injury, corporate law and criminal law. Despite being specialized, these attorneys are paid about the same as other lawyers, which is, on average, $136,260 per year, as of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
Admission to law school first requires a bachelor's degree. The degree field or course of study for the bachelor's degree is left to the discretion of the student, but it's important to maintain a high grade point average. Law schools generally only accept applicants with the best academic records.
Graduates who want to attend law school must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and pass with a minimum required score. The LSAT has three multiple-choice sections covering reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning and a written essay section, which is not graded, but is provided to law schools along with the test scores.
Applicants to law school are required to sign up for the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), which administers the LSAT. The CAS assembles a Law School Report for the student and makes it available to the law schools where the student has applied for admission. This report contains the student's LSAT scores, his or her letters of recommendation and the personal essay required by law school admission departments, as well as his or her undergraduate transcripts and a grade point analysis.
Graduate From Law School
It takes three years of full-time attendance to graduate law school. Law school courses generally include civil as well as criminal law and procedures, contract law, torts, legal writing and research, constitutional law, ethics and specialty law courses. Law students who intend to practice in a law specialty should take law courses that correspond to their desired area of specialty.
Pass the Bar Examination
All states require law school graduates to take and pass the state bar examination before being able to practice as a lawyer. Each state has its own requirements. A lawyer must pass the bar exam in each state he or she intends to practice.
Gain Experience & Get Certified
Most employers prefer to hire specialized lawyers who have at least five years of experience. This experience is often gained by working as an associate or with a small law firm that specializes in the areas of law in which the lawyer wishes to specialize. In this manner, the experienced staff serve as mentors for the aspiring specialty lawyer, while he or she gains the experience needed to land the desired position.
Once aspiring specialty lawyers gain significant experience in their desired specialty area, they may want to look into third-party certification from certification programs that have been accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA)). The ABA's Standing Committee on Specialization has a list of criteria that third-party certification programs must require their applicants to meet. Lawyers looking to gain certification from these ABA-accredited, third-party certification programs must:
- Demonstrate substantial involvement in the specialty area
- Compile reference letters from legal and judicial professionals
- Pass a written examination related to the subject area
- Complete a minimum of 36 hours of specialty training in the previous 3-year period
- Be willing to re-certify in the specialty area every five years
Continuing Legal Education in the Chosen Specialty
One of the best ways to obtain education in a chosen specialty is to take continuing legal education classes offered in that specialty. Most state bar associations publish CLE courses that are available. CLE classes also keep the practicing specialized attorney current with the latest developments in his or her law specialty.
In summary, to become a specialized attorney, you must obtain an undergraduate degree, take the LSAT, apply to law school, graduate from law school, pass the bar exam, gain legal experience, and get certified.