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Litigation Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap

Litigation broadly means resolving a case through the court system. Lawyers who work in litigation can represent clients under a variety of circumstances, including traffic court, civil cases or patent disputes. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 0:59 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 1:24 Step 2: Take the LSAT
  • 2:09 Step 3: Earn a Law Degree
  • 3:05 Step 4: Become…
  • 3:35 Step 5: Find Employment

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Litigation Lawyer?

Degree Level Juris Doctor
Degree Field Law
Licensure/Certification Passing a bar exam and admission to a state bar association usually required
Experience Varies; some agencies hire directly out of law school and others require several years of experience
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research, and writing skills; ability to interact with and interview their clients and witnesses; vast knowledge and understanding of procedural practices
Salary $136,260 (2015 average for all lawyers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Litigation lawyers advise and represent clients before courts and in legal proceedings. Job tasks may include the drafting of legal documents, researching legal issues and arguing before courts. Lawyers work very long hours on a regular basis and appearing in court can be stressful.

The career also requires a specific skill set, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research and writing skills. These lawyers must also have the ability to interact with and interview their clients and witnesses in addition to vast knowledge and understanding of courtroom procedure. While the career is demanding, the salary potential is quite high. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that lawyers earned an average salary of $136,260 in May 2015. Now let's explore the career path toward becoming a litigation lawyer.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The path to becoming a litigation attorney begins by earning a bachelor's degree. Pre-law students aren't required to earn their degree in a specific subject, but common pre-law majors include history, English, political science and criminal justice. Be sure to attend an accredited bachelor's degree program as law schools generally only accept students who have completed an accredited program.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test

Most law schools require students to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardized, multiple-choice exam that measures reading comprehension and analytical and logical reasoning. It consists of four scored sections and one unscored section. The unscored section is used by test designers to evaluate new questions. The test also includes a 35-minute writing portion that is not scored but is sent to prospective law schools.

The Law School Admission Council, which administers the exam, recommends students familiarize themselves with all the LSAT directions and types of questions.The LSAT scale ranges from the lowest score of 120 to the highest of 180.

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Step 3: Earn a Law Degree

When accepting applicants, law schools consider a number of admission factors, such as grade point average, standardized test scores and extracurricular activities. When attended full time, law school typically takes three years to complete and the coursework becomes progressively more focused as the program continues.

The first year includes a core set of classes, such as civil procedure, constitutional law, property law and torts. In the second and third years, coursework is comprised of upper-level courses and electives that allow students to focus their studies on certain aspects of law. These years also incorporate clinical courses that provide valuable hands-on training working with clients under the direction of a practicing lawyer. Law students also participate in moot court trials, which simulate the trial experience and they may spend their summers interning at law firms or for judges.

Step 4: Become Licensed to Practice Law

An aspiring lawyer may not formally practice law until becoming licensed. The licensing requirements include graduating from an accredited law school and passing the bar exam. While some states administer their own exams, most use the Multistate Bar Examination. The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions answered over a 6-hour time period. Almost all states and jurisdictions also require passage of an accompanying ethics exam.

Step 5: Find Employment

Due to the high number of students graduating with law degrees, finding work as a lawyer is expected to be competitive. A newly admitted member of the bar may have difficulty finding employment in litigating cases right away. Instead, the lawyer may be hired as an associate and work with more senior lawyers to gain the experience needed to try his or her own cases. New lawyers should seek opportunities to familiarize themselves with the process, which may include sitting in on court proceedings and trials.

To become a litigation lawyer, you need to earn a bachelor's degree, take the law school admission test, complete law school and pass the bar exam before gaining the experience necessary to litigate cases.

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