How to Become a Lawyer. If you are wondering how to become a lawyer, you should prepare for a rigorous process that leads to a fulfilling career. Becoming a lawyer generally requires years of strenuous effort and often involves completing undergraduate and graduate degrees, examinations, and licensing processes. But a legal career often leads to a six-figure salary.
How to Become a Lawyer
Before embarking on this journey, those interested should ask themselves why they want to become lawyers and if they are willing to commit several years to studying law to do so. For those who answer affirmatively, the following guide outlines the various academic and skill-building requirements required to become a lawyer.
The path to becoming a lawyer can be challenging. It is important to start on your path at an early age and learn great study habits while still in high school.
Steps on How to Become a Lawyer
Lawyers need to complete extensive testing and educational requirements to practice law. Here are the basic steps to becoming a lawyer.
- Acquire an Undergraduate Degree
Every law school requires an individual to obtain an undergraduate degree. Most people who choose a career in the legal field will need to keep their GPA above 3.0. Most schools will not worry about the particular subject area that a person majors in, and choosing a subject that is particularly difficult can be a disadvantage as your GPA could suffer as a result.
One exception is for someone interested in property law. A person who wishes to practice property law will need to have a degree in math or a technical science such as computer science, electrical engineering, chemistry, or biology. The reason for this is that a property lawyer has to sit for the patent bar as well as the bar, which requires a math or technical science degree.
- Learn About Legal Jobs and Careers
Someone considering a career as a lawyer should first research the legal profession. The Law School Admission Council’s Discover Law Portal, for instance, includes information about what it’s like to be a lawyer and how to prepare for law school. It is also advised to talk with lawyers in your community to get a sense of the variety of job options in the field.
There are many specializations to choose from, such as aviation law, sports and entertainment law, corporate law, real estate law, immigration law, and criminal law.
- Develop Communication and Reasoning Skills and a Strong Work ethic.
After determining that the legal profession is a good fit, students should look for academic and extracurricular experiences that will help them develop the skills necessary to be great lawyers. Law schools do not require specific undergraduate coursework. Applicants hail from all academic backgrounds.
Aspiring lawyers should take at least several upper-level humanities classes since the reading, writing, and research skills developed in those courses are critical to most legal jobs. One great way to prepare for a career as a lawyer is to get involved with a speech and debate team or a mock trial team. Those extracurricular activities can help students learn to argue persuasively.
Lawyers explain, adding that drama also provides solid preparation for a legal career since the performing arts emphasize public speaking skills. Even an activity that doesn’t initially appear to be related to the practice of law, such as playing a sport, writing for a school newspaper, or doing volunteer work, could prove useful to aspiring attorneys if it helps them develop personal discipline and collaboration skills.
- Pass the Law School Admission Test.
Along with an undergraduate degree, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a core component of the law school admissions process. Admissions officers use scores from the LSAT as an objective measure to assess the knowledge and quality of applicants. The examination includes five multiple-choice question sections and an unscored writing sample.
The LSAT measures candidates’ skills in critical areas of future legal work, including reading comprehension, information management, analysis, critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation.
- Identify Law Schools and Complete Applications
After finishing an undergraduate degree, some students choose to forego further education, while others gain professional experience in other fields before enrolling in law school. Regardless of the timing, prospective students should only consider law schools accredited by the American Bar Association.
In addition to the overall GPA, undergraduate coursework, and LSAT score, other admission factors may include community service, organization affiliations, and recommendation letters from educators, alumni, or legal professionals. The Law School Admission Council is a great resource for students in the research phase of the Law school application process.
- Earn a Juris Doctor Degree
If you want to become a lawyer, you should plan on completing law school to earn your juris doctor (JD). This degree is typically a three-year program. Completing law school gives you the knowledge and skills you need to pass the bar exam. In addition to passing the LSAT or GRE, expect to write a law school personal statement as part of your JD program application.
Earning a JD is the traditional and most common path to becoming an attorney. However, some states offer other options as alternate routes to starting a law career.
- Pass the Bar Examination
Most states require lawyers to graduate from an ABA-approved law school and pass the state bar examination before qualifying in that state. Although each state sets its testing guidelines, the bar exam is commonly a two-day process: day one is spent completing the Multistate Bar Examination, while day two focuses on writing examinations covering various legal matters.
In addition to the bar examination, the state board of bar examiners also considers the candidate’s educational background, competence, character, and ability to represent others in legal matters before offering full legal licensure.
- Meet the Character and Mental Fitness Requirements
The bar examiners ask candidates questions about the quality of their character, criminal history, academic integrity, financial situations, substance abuse issues, and mental fitness. This information helps examiners determine whether each candidate can practice law competently.
- Become an Attorney-at-Law
People sometimes use the terms lawyer and advocate interchangeably, but there is a difference. When you have passed the bar exam and become a member of the bar association in your state, you will officially be an attorney at law. An attorney has to be a lawyer, but a lawyer is not necessarily an attorney.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?
It takes about seven years of full-time study to become a lawyer once you’ve graduated from high school. This includes four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years at a law school.
What’s the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?
Lawyers have graduated from law school but haven’t passed the bar exam. Attorneys are legal professionals who have passed the bar exam and can act as legal representatives. All attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys, though many use the terms interchangeably.
Lawyers play essential roles in our everyday lives. To start, these professionals help individuals plan their estates, protect their intellectual property, and recover personal injury losses. A lawyer who passes the bar exam and joins their state’s bar association can officially call themselves an attorney. There are more than 1.3 million practicing attorneys in the United States.