How to Become a Lawyer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a lawyer. Learn about job duties, education, job growth and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyers are also known as attorneys. They often specialize in a specific area of law, such as criminal law, real estate law, divorce law or immigration law. Lawyers will consult with clients and provide legal advice on how to address their issues. They may prepare filings for court, represent their client in a mediation or court proceeding, or other negotiations. Lawyers may also need to prepare for a trial and present evidence to support their client's position in order to achieve the most positive outcome for their client that's possible.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Key Responsibilities Provide legal advice to clients; draw up legal documents; represent clients in civil or criminal trials or prosecute cases on behalf of states
Licensure or Certification All states require licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Lawyer?

As a lawyer, you may represent clients in court, or you may offer legal advice regarding personal and business affairs. Either way, your job involves researching laws and judicial decisions that you can apply to a client's particular situation. You may choose to specialize in a particular type of law, such as environmental, intellectual property, international, criminal or civil law.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

You need to earn a bachelor's degree in order to get into law school. There are no required courses or recommended majors for law school admission. However, courses that develop skills in writing, reading, public speaking, logic and research can be helpful. Some law schools may prefer applicants who have taken intellectually challenging courses.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

LSAT scores are required to be submitted along with your law school application. This test is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) and is used to assess your reading, comprehension, reasoning and critical thinking skills. The LSAC test is administered in a multiple-choice format and is given in five sections (www.lsac.org). If you take the LSAT and feel that your scores do not reflect your ability, you may choose to retake the test.

Step 3: Earn Your Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree

Law school typically lasts for three years and results in a J.D. degree. You begin law school by taking courses in constitutional law, property law, legal writing, contracts and torts. You then take elective courses based on your interests, such as corporate law, tax law or labor law. During your time in law school, you may participate in mock trials, attend legal clinics and write for a law journal.

Step 4: Consider Participating in a Clerkship

As a law student, you may be given the opportunity to complete a part-time or summer clerkship. Clerkships allow you to gain experience by working in a law firm, corporate office or government agency. For some, a clerkship can lead to an employment offer following graduation from law school.

Step 5: Pass Your State Bar Examination

Before you may practice law in the United States, you are required to pass your state bar examination and earn a license. Depending on your state, you likely need to pass a written bar exam, as well as a separate written ethics exam. If you would like to practice law in multiple states, you generally need to pass a bar exam in each state.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Paralegals and legal assistants need an associate's degree, and typically work in law offices. They assist lawyers by preparing documents and information related to the cases they're working on. Judges and hearing officers are responsible or hearing the arguments of both sides in a case or dispute. They may oversee the proceedings and instruct the jury, or they may be responsible for issuing a ruling after hearing the evidence. Judges and hearing officers need a Juris Doctor degree. Arbitrators, mediators and conciliators are only required to have a bachelor's degree and they do not take sides, but attempt to work with opposing sides in a dispute to reach an agreement about how to resolve the dispute. All of these professions require legal knowledge and an understanding of how to prepare legal documents, and awareness of court procedure.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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