What Does it Take to Become a Lawyer?

So, you want to be a lawyer? Lawyers help settle disputes and other legal issues, representing individuals and businesses, as well as organizations and government agencies.

In order to join the ranks of lawyers in the United States, you will need to:

  • Finish high school
  • Complete an undergraduate course (a bachelor’s degree)
  • Take the LSATs
  • Get admitted into an ABA-accredited law school
  • Complete a J.D. degree
  • Take the bar exam in the state (or states) you will be practicing in
  • Take regular continuing education

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of lawyers will grow 6% from 2018 to 2028– slow and steady growth, and average projections as far as occupations grow.

They are also anticipating a bit more competition for lawyer jobs over the next 10 years, however, as more students graduate from law school each year than there are jobs available.

How Many Years of School Do I Need to Be a Lawyer?

For starters, you will be needing seven years of full-time school after high school.

That means four years of undergraduate study (after which you would have completed a bachelor’s degree), followed by three years of law school, ideally from an academic institution properly accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Most law schools aren’t strict about what sort of bachelor’s degree you have, but courses in English, public speaking, government, history, economics, business, and politics will certainly come in handy.

Before entering law school, you will be required to the Law School Aptitude Test (the LSATs), and different schools may have a certain prerequisite score for you to enroll.

In law school, you will be covering a variety of courses, which will include constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, labor laws, ethics, taxation, and legal writing, among others.

At the end of three years of study, you should have completed a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

What Do I Need to Do After Law School?

Next, you will need to get your own certifications, licenses, and accreditations. This means you’ll need to pass the bar exams.

To practice law in any state, you must be admitted to that state’s bar. Requirements will vary by state and jurisdiction, but essentially your J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school, the bar exams of the state, and a panel review from the admitting board that shows you are of good moral character usually cover these.

(You can have a look at the requirements for your state via the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.)

If you want to practice law in more than one state, you will have to take that state’s bar exam, as well as meet all the necessary prerequisites.

In addition, after graduation, all lawyers must be up to date about current legal developments, particularly those that affect their practices. Most states require lawyers to participate in continuing legal education on a regular basis— which could be every year or every three years (depending on the state requirements).

Employment as a Lawyer

To properly manage your expectations, very few in-house attorneys are hired straight out of law school.

Experience via part-time jobs, summer internships, associate programs are certainly valuable, but you’re most likely starting out under a team, working with more experienced attorneys.

Lawyers by this time may decide to specialize in a particular law practice and work further to gain more experience and clock in more time helping out in various cases.

After a few years of work experience, some may decide to go into private practice, others may be offered to be partners at their law firm (which makes them part owners of that firm), while others may decide to work for the government, or be hired as an in-house attorney for a large corporation.

The median pay for lawyers in 2018 is reported to be at $120,910 per year or $58.13 per hour.


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