Potential lawyers need Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees to practice law. The education path typically takes a total of seven years to complete, including four years of undergraduate coursework and three years of law school. After earning their J.D. degrees, lawyers must pass their state's bar exam and complete any other requirements necessary to be licensed before they can practice law. Some lawyers choose to specialize in a particular area of law by earning further degrees.
A bachelor's degree is required for admission into law school. Although the American Bar Association (ABA) notes that there are no specific undergraduate majors that best prepares aspiring lawyers for law school, it suggests that students complete coursework that stresses problem-solving, writing, critical reading, research, and oral communication. Accordingly, students may consider completing courses in English, political science, business, economics, and mathematics.
Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree
Admission to Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs is generally competitive. All ABA-approved law schools require applicants to sit for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Along with LSAT scores, admission is determined by an applicant's education, work experience, propensity for law, and general character. Some applicants may be required to sit for interviews and submit certified transcripts.
J.D. degree programs typically take three years of full-time study to complete. The first year of law school usually focuses on general law courses, such as contracts, criminal law, and legal writing. In the final years, students usually develop a specialty, such as corporate or labor law.
To gain additional experience with law and the legal process, students may participate in mock trials, contribute to law journal publications, and receive hands-on, supervised training in legal clinics. Some programs also incorporate clerkship programs, in which students work with attorneys at law firms and legal departments. Clerks may be responsible for drafting legal documents, working with judges, and conducting legal research.
Advanced Law Degrees
Lawyers who wish to specialize in specific concentrations of law may consider enrolling in a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree program. These programs generally last one year and focus on specialized fields, such as business or international law. Requirements vary according to the law school but typically entail 21-26 course credits.
Some law schools may offer joint J.D./LL.M. degree programs, which take 1-1.5 years of study in addition to J.D. degree programs. The ABA does not accredit any legal education programs besides J.D. degree programs.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median wage of $122,960 for lawyers in general. The top paying industries at that time included cable and other subscription programming; motion picture and video industries; highway, street, and bridge construction; computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing; and engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing. The BLS predicted average growth of 6% for lawyers from 2018-2028. Strong competition for jobs was expected, and lawyers with experience who are willing to relocate will have the best employment prospects.
To be a lawyer, you must obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree and complete all state licensing requirements.