What Degree Do You Need to Be a Lawyer? If you’re setting out on the path to be a lawyer, What degree do you need to be a lawyer? Determining the education required to be a lawyer can be confusing, especially considering variations among different states.
It is important to note that requirements vary widely between states. Accordingly, the best way to ensure you are meeting your legal education requirements is to consult with your state’s Bar association. Nonetheless, this overview can give you a sense of what your legal journey will look like.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Lawyer?
The post-high school education required to be a lawyer generally takes seven years. This includes four years of undergraduate study and three years of law school. However, you also need to pass the bar exam, and this could add extra time, especially if you do not pass on the first attempt. In addition, some may wish to take the LSAT more than once to improve their score and increase their chances of law school admission, and this could also add time.
How Much Education Do You Need to Become a Lawyer?
Potential lawyers need Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees to practice law. The educational path typically takes a total of seven years to complete. It includes four years of undergraduate coursework and three years of law school.
A bachelor’s degree is required for admission into law school. Although the American Bar Association notes that there are no specific undergraduate majors that best prepare 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.
One important exception here is for patent attorneys, who must be admitted to practice before the United States Practice and Trademark Office (USPTO). To take the USPTO’s registration exam, known as the Patent Bar exam, you will generally need at least a bachelor’s degree in a specified field of engineering or science. You may qualify without such a degree based on the completion of engineering or science-related coursework.
Regardless of your exact path, the keys to undergraduate success are to earn a high GPA, consider extracurricular activities and volunteer work, broaden your horizons, and develop a strong law school application.
Take the LSAT
Another essential element of legal education is taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The purpose of the LSAT is to test the skills necessary for law school success, including reading comprehension, reasoning ability, and writing skills. The primary part of the LSAT is a four-section multiple-choice test with questions intended to measure reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.
Each section takes 35 minutes, with all four sections taking three hours to complete for the standard test-taker. The second part of the LSAT is a written essay, known as LSAT writing, which is administered online using the test taker’s computer. One can complete LSAT writing up to eight days before the multiple-choice test. The essay, which is not scored, measures your ability to make a written argument.
For law schools considering applicants, undergraduate grades and the LSAT score are the primary factors. Accordingly, the higher your LSAT score, the better your chances of acceptance into a prestigious law school. Writing the LSAT multiple times is possible if you aren’t happy with your score. The LSAT is administered monthly at different locations throughout the world. Registration is required to take the test, and it is advisable to register as early as possible once you know you will be sitting for the exam.
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. In California, Virginia, Washington, and Vermont, you can become a law reader—or an apprentice—instead of earning a law degree. Each of these states has different requirements, which may include several years of study under the guidance of an experienced judge or attorney, studying for a set number of hours, or passing a baby bar exam.
Wyoming, New York, and Maine do not require lawyers to hold a JD degree, but they do require a certain number of hours in law school. In Wisconsin, as long as you have a JD, you do not have to pass the bar exam to become an attorney. If you choose not to earn a law degree, you’ll save money associated with law school costs, but you may be less prepared for the bar. In addition, many law firms want the lawyers they hire to have JD degrees.
Not earning a law degree may have been common in the days of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who became lawyers without a law degree, but it is uncommon now.
After you have completed your education, you can begin the process of earning a license to practice law. The steps outlined below are typically required to begin practicing law, but specific requirements may vary among states.
Pass The Bar Exam
You must take and pass the bar examination before you’re licensed to practice law in a state. Bar exams tend to be comprehensive, difficult, and a test of endurance. Depending on the state, the exam will take two or three days. Moreover, bar exams are generally only available twice a year. This raises the stakes for each exam. Accordingly, you will need to study hard and should take a bar preparation course.
Meet The Character and Mental Fitness Requirements
Even after passing the bar exam, there will likely be other requirements that vary from state to state. For example, you may need to pass a professional responsibility exam. Many states also have character and fitness requirements. For example, they might require prospective attorneys to allow background checks or explain any criminal histories.
The bar examiner may ask candidates questions about the quality of their character, their criminal history, academic integrity, financial situations, any substance abuse issues, and mental fitness. This information helps examiners determine whether each candidate can practice law competently.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Become a Lawyer Without Law School?
No, to practice law, a person must have a law degree from an accredited law school and pass the bar exam in the state or province in which they wish to practice. Without a law degree, a person cannot become a lawyer.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?
The length of time it takes to become a lawyer varies depending on the country and type of law. Generally speaking, it takes around seven years of education and training to become a lawyer. This includes a bachelor’s degree, law school, and passing the bar exam.
What Advanced Degrees Can Lawyers Earn?
Although not required for practice, lawyers can pursue advanced degree programs in legal studies. The Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree can provide additional courses in a specific field, such as immigration or international law. These programs may be completed in as little as one year after completing your J.D. Those wishing to earn the highest degree program in the legal disciplines can pursue a Doctor of Laws (J.S.D.) degree.
This program focuses on academic studies in law and prepares graduates to work as educators in the legal field.