How Many Years of College to Be a Lawyer? Prospective lawyers must complete a series of steps to become lawyers. Lawyers typically need about seven years of college. After high school, interested students need to complete a bachelor’s degree, which usually requires four years of study.
Then, they must complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which involves three more years of coursework. Law school graduates also need to pass their state’s bar exam and obtain licensure before practicing law.
How Many Years of College to Be a Lawyer?
Understanding how to pursue a career in law can help you plan your path and expedite the time it takes to reach your goal. In this article, we discuss what a lawyer does, answer the question, “How many years of college does it take to become a lawyer,” provide the steps to follow this career path, and share answers to frequently asked questions for people thinking about the role.
Steps to Becoming a Lawyer
Lawyers have to complete extensive education, practical training, and testing to start practicing law. If you’re considering a career as a lawyer, start by researching the typical job responsibilities of a lawyer and thinking about whether the occupation would suit you. The basic steps for becoming a lawyer include:
Law schools require a university degree or at least three years of undergraduate study. The programs accept people with a wide range of degrees or fields of study, so you can choose any major you prefer. Some of the most common undergraduate majors for lawyers include criminal justice, economics, English, sociology, political science, philosophy, and business. No matter which majors you choose, try to take some courses that are related to the area of law you want to practice.
For example, if you’re planning to go into corporate law, some business or management classes might benefit you. Your undergraduate education can help you gain a wide knowledge base about a variety of topics.
This education also allows you to explore your interests and improve your reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing skills before starting law school. Many people get an additional diploma to make their applications to law schools more competitive.
Take The Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
To enroll in a law school, you must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This test can be taken throughout the year and covers reading comprehension, logical thinking, and verbal reasoning proficiency.
To attend a good law school, your scores on this test must be high. The test is considered quite challenging, and you must prepare before taking it. Either by studying by yourself or getting a tutor.
You can find a tutor at your college or an online organization, and make sure to use official LSAT prep resources on the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website.
Review Your Options and Complete Law School Applications
After obtaining their Bachelor’s degree, some students choose to continue with their education right away, while others prioritize gaining professional experience in other fields before starting law school. No matter which path you choose for a lawyer’s education and training, only consider applying for programs at recognized law schools.
You can’t become a lawyer unless you pursue a graduate degree at a school accredited by the ABA. The good news is that there are more than 200 ABA-approved law schools in the US, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.
In addition to your undergraduate GPA, LSAT scores, and the coursework you’ve done at the undergraduate level, other accomplishments may help you impress admission officers: organizational affiliation, community service, and recommendation letters from legal professionals, educators, or alumni. While in the research phase of lawyer training, remember that you can turn to the Law School Admission Council for resources and advice on the law school application process.
Earning Your Juris Doctor Degree at Law School
Once you are in law school, you can expect to spend another three years earning your Juris Doctor degree. Rather than being considered a postgraduate degree, the Juris Doctor is just another undergraduate degree. In the first year of law school, you’ll build up a foundational knowledge of the different types of law: contract, employment, property, constitution, criminal, civil, and more. Through electives, students can begin to dabble in and get a feel for different specialties within the law.
In the second and third years of law school, more complex legal subjects are studied. Topics like human rights and family law require far more nuance and are left for the final years of law school after students have built up their foundational knowledge.
Over the course of law school, students will also take classes on the skills needed to become successful lawyers. Subjects like legal writing, research, and critical analysis will also be covered. For practical experience, there are also opportunities for internships, as well as moot courts.
Certification As a Lawyer
After graduating from law school, students will need to pass the bar exam. Usually, you’ll want to spend another 8–10 weeks studying for the exam, as it’s notoriously difficult. Many students also decide to enroll in extra classes after graduating from law school to help them prepare for the bar exam. The bar exam is a 2-day affair, and the content differs from state to state in the US. The test has 200 questions that revolve around the foundations of the law.
There’s also an essay portion of the exam, and students might also need to pass a character assessment to prove they are fit to practice law.
Advance Your Career
There are many opportunities for lawyers to advance their careers. Freshman lawyers generally start as associates, working closely with seasoned lawyers to hone their craft. After several years of successful practice, attorneys may rise to become partners in a firm, while others may choose to open their own law office.
Some may move beyond practicing law and become judges or shift into public positions. Lawyers may also pursue further education at both the master’s and doctoral levels. The Master of Laws (LLM) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) are two common choices for lawyers interested in careers involving research and academic scholarship.
Consider the type of law you would like to practice and the environment you would like to work in. You might apply to a wide variety of positions after graduating to decide what parts of being a lawyer you enjoy the most.
Here are some frequently asked questions about law school:
Can I Retake The LSAT?
You can take the LSAT up to three times over the course of two years, and your scores are valid for five years. Be aware that some law schools will accept your highest score, while others may use the average of all of your scores.
How Should I Choose Which Law School to Attend?
Selecting a law school should be a personal decision based on your goals and ideal lifestyle. If possible, ask current law students and alumni at each school about their experiences. Consider the law school’s reputation as well as the types of courses they offer.
Can I Have a Job While Attending Law School?
Most law programs suggest not having a job during law school because the coursework is very demanding. To get the most out of your law education, you should devote as much time as possible to your studies. However, many law students pursue legal work over the summer to build their resume. Students who attend law school part-time will also have more flexibility to work while in school.