Updated January 2022
Becoming a lawyer is not an easy task. It requires perseverance, study, and dedication to complete the tasks involved in becoming a lawyer. This article acts as a guide for anyone seeking information on how to become a lawyer. Readers will find out where to start, what requirements are needed, and what it takes to succeed in law school.
Who Is a Lawyer and What Do They Do?
A lawyer is someone who helps people solve legal problems by giving advice and representing them in court. Lawyers can also create contracts, wills, or other important documents that affect their clients’ rights. In general, they specialize in corporate law, criminal law, environmental law, etc.
Lawyers may work for a large company or law firm, such as General Electric (GE), paying them an hourly rate to do whatever needs to be done within the organization’s legal department. That may include the following:
- Developing policy documents and procedures related to compliance with both local laws and international standards around the world. In drafting these documents, lawyers may need to know how to use a tool, such as Sizle, making it possible to share documents.
- Litigating disputes between employees or customers.
- Drafting agreements related to international product sales.
- Advising management about potential litigation threats and how best to avoid those risks from a legal perspective.
Types of Lawyers
There are several different types of lawyers that could be helpful to the individual’s needs. Here are some of the most common ones.
Personal Injury Attorney
A personal injury attorney focuses on cases where someone has been injured physically and wants him/herself compensated for their injuries in court.
An accident lawyer deals with accidents caused by others or damages done accidentally, such as slip-and-falls and car crashes. Under this, we have a motorcycle accident lawyer, car accident lawyer, auto accident lawyer/ auto accident attorney, and bicycle accident lawyer, among others.
Criminal Defense Lawyer
A criminal defense attorney is an individual who offers legal assistance to those accused of crimes or charged with a crime. These lawyers can represent the client in court by getting them acquitted from charges, negotiating for lesser penalties such as house arrest, or negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution.
A family lawyer offers legal services to families, usually in cases involving divorce and child custody issues.
An immigration attorney provides help for immigrants who need assistance getting their visas approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
A corporate lawyer is someone who provides legal advice to and represents corporations. This includes helping them develop an organizational structure, drafting contracts, circulating documents for digital signature, and agreements with other businesses or individuals, defending the company in court if they are sued by another party, consulting on any government regulations for their industry, etc.
A health lawyer is a professional who specializes in areas related to healthcare law and policy.
How To Become a Lawyer
So, where do those who want to become lawyers start?
Completing College Education
The first step to becoming a lawyer is going to college. This may seem like the most obvious thing, but it needs to be mentioned. Law students need at least three years of undergraduate or four years of graduate education for their application process to a law school to go smoothly.
Going to college helps them understand the law as it stands. It will also give them a solid foundation in critical thinking and writing skills, essential for success in any profession, not just law. College education covers a wide range of topics and will help students choose a field that suits their interests. These topics may include:
- History of U.S. law.
- Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure.
- Criminal Justice System: The courts, the prosecutor’s office, probation officers, etc.
- Laws related to business transactions like property transfers and contracts between businesses.
- Ecology-related laws, such as water quality standards for the state and federal government.
College education also covers writing, analytical thinking, and personal finance, which will help you prepare for the LSAT exam. Other skills college students learn include study skills, research, and time management. These skills are especially important because law school is tough.
Taking the LSAT
LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test. It is a standardized test administered by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) for prospective law students in the United States, Canada, and worldwide.
Anyone who wants to join law school after finishing college must take the LSAT. This ensures equal access to all potential law students, regardless of their location or economic status.
The LSAT exam consists of five 35-minute sections or three 60-minute sections: one Analytical Reasoning Section; one Logical Reasoning Section; one Reading Comprehension Section; and one or two Writing Sections. The LSAT exam costs $190 for off-cycle testing, though the fee may be waived in certain countries, such as Canada and India, with a written request sent to LSAC’s Financial Aid office. As a result, it could cost more than $200 (or Indian Rupees) to test in these countries.
In the United States, students can also apply for LSAC’s Fee Waiver Program if their income falls below a certain level. The LSAT takes place in a standardized setting. Therefore, students will know their scores when they receive them on screen and by email shortly after completing the exam.
LSAT scores are valid for five years from the administration date, so one can keep their test fresh by retaking it after that period if necessary. Retaking the LSAT every five years is especially important because law school admissions boards will only look at the most recent LSAT score if an applicant took it more than once.
So, where does one take the LSAT from? LSAT is offered on the LSAC website, but students can also apply for off-cycle testing. In addition, there are more than 160 testing centers in over 100 countries, so it’s never hard to find a location nearby.
What If a Student Fails the LSAT?
If a student fails the LSAT test, they have the option of taking it again. Students who decide to take the LSAT a second time should talk with their college or university’s law school admissions office before registering for another test date.
However, the student will only be able to take the LSAT up three times a testing year, which runs June to May. It is also vital to note you can only take the test five times every five years and only seven times total in your lifetime.
Tips for Passing the LSAT
Passing the LSAT is relatively easy if students study and prepare wisely. Here are some tips to help them get a good score:
- Taking a practice test and reviewing it to see where the weak spots are.
- Studying with other people who are taking the LSAT for moral support.
- Take the LSAT when one is rested and sober.
- Trying not to eat anything heavy before taking the LSAT can lead to indigestion or food poisoning.
- The LSAT is a timed test, so one should budget time for it and do not take other work or school projects during the month before their testing day.
- Students should ensure they get the right answer for every question during the study by circling it in their book or having someone check off each correct answer online.
- Learning how to use time wisely so that there isn’t any pressure when taking the actual LSAT.
- Using logic to answer questions and avoid the temptation to guess when unsure of an answer. A good rule is to leave everything that cannot be answered blank.
- If there are only a few minutes left in the test, the student should reread all their answers if they missed something.
Obtaining a Degree in Law School
Once the LSAT results are out, and the student has passed, it’s time to apply to a law school. The LSAT score and GPA are the two most important factors in law school applications. GPA refers to a grade point average. That is a numerical representation of the student’s grades from the previous academic periods. It’s important to have an overall good GPA and LSAT score because law school admissions officers will compare the applicant with other applicants based on these numbers.
There are many different ways of calculating these numbers, but when applying to U.S. schools, one will need at least a 155 on the LSAT exam (or above) or an undergraduate GPA of around B+. Again, this is because there are so many applicants for each spot that admissions boards take this into account heavily.
But what exactly do they look for? They want strong analytical skills, good writing ability, a solid work ethic, and the desire to serve their community. Often, it boils down to which law school an applicant would prefer attending over others- not just where they are accepted first.
Larger law schools, such as Harvard, may offer more opportunities for research and internships. Smaller schools may offer more personal attention.
Tips for Finding the Right Law School
It’s very important to research before applying to a law school. Students want to find a school that’s right for them. To find the right law school, students should:
- Take into account how much school fees they can afford. Considering tuition fees at different schools helps a great deal.
- Consider the cost of living in each city where the school is located.
- Think about what kind of environment suits them best: small, large, urban, or rural?
- Consider whether students share dorms.
- Are there firm opportunities available through connections with alumni?
- Would the applicant prefer attending law school near friends/family who live nearby?
How to Apply to a Law School
The process of applying to a law school is very straightforward. First, the applicant needs to fill a law school application form. For instance, in the USA, they can download this form from the internet or pick it up in person at the admissions office of any U.S. law school.
The first thing the students will have to do is fill out their personal information on the form. This section must be accurate and detailed, so it won’t delay the processing time for acceptance decisions if there are errors with the application.
The next sections ask why one wants to go into the legal field (specifically) and what career interests them most; family services, criminal defense, etc. Some schools may require letters of recommendation before continuing with a formal application. However, others don’t require them until after they’ve reviewed all applicants’ credentials. Once the applicant has filled the form, they will need to submit it with the appropriate fee.
Next, they will get a notification via email or mail if their application is successful or not.
If accepted, congrats! They may now begin taking classes at the school and start building a network of connections in the legal field.
They don’t have to worry too much if they are denied, as there are many other ways to become a lawyer. For instance, one could enroll in a law school, study abroad for a while, or pursue the path of an advocate.
The Best Law Schools in the USA
The best law schools in the US will be different for what kind of person one is. There are various kinds of people who wish to pursue legal careers so that the best law schools will cater to those specific interests.
For example, Cornell Law School in New York is a perfect choice for those who want a very rigorous environment. On the other hand, for those interested in one that focuses on a particular area of law, such as family law or criminal defense, any school specializing in that area would suit them well. For instance, NYU offers programs for those two areas mentioned above and international law and health care law.
Anyone who is happy with any living situation but just wants to get their degree in an easy-going environment could pick one of these schools. For instance, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, tuition is about $50k (as of 2021) for out-of-state students (including room and board), making it a very affordable option.|
What Happens in Law School?
Good question. Most people want to know what law school is like before they decide which one to attend. A typical day of a student in the US starts with around 12 hours of class, and then there’s usually time for studying or working on an assignment outside of that.
There are several tests throughout the first year- typically midterms every few weeks and a final exam in November. After that, there are still around 12 hours of class time in the second year, but fewer exams and more group projects are often done on weekends or evenings.
As for law school, life outside of classes and studying depends on a person’s interests: do they like to go out with friends? Do they enjoy playing sports? Of course, there are plenty of other opportunities for these activities, so one is bound to find one that suits their preferences.
What About Online Law Schools?
Online degrees can be helpful for students who want to stay close to home or who are working full-time, but there’s not much chance for practical experience. There is a lot of theory and reading in online courses that may not be replicated on the job because lawyers need to have direct contact with clients.
Topics Covered in Law School
There are a wide variety of courses that students in law schools cover. Some examples include legal research and writing, ethics, torts law, constitutional law- just to name a few.
Other course areas include:
- Civil procedure
- International law
- Criminal justice
- Health care law
How Long Should You Expect to Be in Law School?
A typical law school is three years, although some are four years. For instance, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor offers a three-year degree program. However, they have an accelerated program that takes two and a half years.
Getting Accepted into the Bar
After completing law school and obtaining a law degree, the student will need to take the bar exam (also called a “bar”). This is typically administered in each state.
The process usually includes two parts: The MPRE, which stands for Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, and the bar examination itself, which can either be written or oral depending. This depends on what state one is taking the exam from.
For example, California has a three-day-long Bar Exam that consists of both an essay and multiple-choice questions. It can be very daunting, but with enough preparation and confidence, the test should not prove as difficult due to its time constraints and simplicity compared to law school exams.
Other states such as New York and Connecticut require a more extensive bar exam that includes one essay question, six short answer questions, and 24 multiple-choice questions.
After passing the bar exam, the student will then be known as a “lawyer.”
Importance of Joining the Bar
One of the most important aspects of the legal profession and learning how to become a lawyer is understanding the governing bodies. The reasons why lawyers have to join the bar vary. The American Bar Association (ABA) is the largest organization of lawyers. And it requires that all attorneys who have passed their state’s bar exam be a member to practice law.
Although the ABA can sometimes make exceptions for those with special circumstances or religious objections, they are not required by any other association to do so.
What If a Lawyer Fails the Bar Exam?
If a lawyer fails the bar exam, they can re-take it after six months. However, the attorney must show that the failure was unavoidable circumstances such as mental or physical illness. The lawyer will then only have one more chance to take the exam with no additional waiting period.
If a lawyer does not pass the bar after taking it for the third time, they are no longer eligible to take it again in any state. However, if desired and qualified, the attorney can choose an alternate career path such as teaching law or practicing public service law.
They may also consider enrolling in graduate school strictly to obtain their Juris Doctor (JD) degree so that they can teach law while being exempt from having to sit for the actual bar exam.
Tips for Passing the Bar Exam
Studies have found that the following tips are most helpful for passing the bar exam:
- Preparing well in advance of the exam by taking practice exams to help familiarize yourself with the format and topics.
- Establishing a quiet, comfortable space to study with good lighting
- Using a timer so that the lawyer does not over-stress or feel too pressured
- Revising for the exam
Completing Other Professional Exams
Besides the bar exam, attorneys may be required to take other professional exams to practice law. For example, attorneys in California must also pass a one-day ethics exam and an oral fitness exam before they can start to practice law.
Finding Work as a Lawyer
Acquiring a license to practice law is not the end of the road. Law firms know the value of recruitments and often require an initial period of recruitment. During the recruitment, candidates should prove their commitment, dedication, and worth to become permanent members. Here is a quick guide on how one can get the upper hand in looking for legal employment:
Networking is a very useful way to find a job as a lawyer. Law firms are always on the lookout for new members, and frequently, recruitments require active participation in networking events to get the desired result.
Working as an Intern
This is another way to jump-start a career. Many law firms are happy to hire interns who are willing to work for free or at very small pay with a view of making them permanent members as soon as they finish their training period.
Starting a Law Firm
If networking is not working, one can consider starting a law firm and recruiting new partners to expand the business. Of course, this takes time. But it also makes it easier to find work as a lawyer for oneself.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?
In the United States, how long it takes to become a lawyer varies by state. In New York, for instance, it can take between 3-6 years of law school to get a JD degree. Here are some factors that determine the number of years it takes to become a lawyer:
Years of Law School
The first factor of how many years it takes to become a lawyer will depend on how many years of law school a person decides to attend. The more years of law school a person attends, the longer it will take to become a lawyer.
The Number of Credit Hours
Most law schools require a minimum number of credit hours that the student must earn. Therefore, law students who want to graduate with their JD degree usually must earn between 80-120 credit hours (roughly 3-4 years) to become eligible for graduation.
How Quickly One Passes the Bar Exam
Suppose a law student receives their JD degree and enters into the bar exam process immediately after graduation. In that case, it will take them about 1-2 years to pass the bar to become a lawyer. However, if someone can pass the bar exam on their first try, it will only take one year.
Similarly, if someone goes through the bar exam process in a state with only one bar exam, it will take them only six months to become a lawyer. On the other hand, suppose someone goes through the bar exam process in a state like California or New York, where there are two separate bar exams (one for general law practice and another for specialized areas of law practice). In that case, it could easily take them 2-3 years to become a lawyer.
If someone does not pass the bar exam on their first try, it can take them 2-3 months to prepare themselves for a retake of the exam. If they still do not pass after taking a second or third bar exam, then they may have to go back and retake certain classes to become more capable of passing the exam.
On average, all that said and done, becoming a lawyer takes between 3-5 years spent in law school and 2-3 months spent passing the bar exam.
One’s area of specialty will also affect the amount of time it takes to become a lawyer. For example, if someone wants to become an entertainment attorney, they may not have to spend as much time becoming a lawyer as someone who wants to practice family and real estate law. Suppose one decides to enroll in a joint degree program with another study area, such as business administration or public policy. In that case, it can take them more than five years to earn their JD degree, depending on how long the other area of study requires (usually 3-4 semesters worth).
How Much Do Lawyers Earn?
Lawyers are among the most highly paid professionals in the United States, with an average salary of over $100,000. However, several factors affect income levels for lawyers, including geography and experience level.
The income of a lawyer will vary depending on what part of the country he or she works in. For example, lawyers who work in New York City will earn higher salaries than lawyers working in Nebraska.
The same goes for other parts of the country – income varies widely based on geographical location. However, special circumstances apply to lawyers practicing in big cities versus those outside large metropolitan areas (as you’ll see below).
Another factor affecting income is experience level. Like any profession, more experienced attorneys generally make more money than junior associates and lawyers just starting. The income of a lawyer also increases as he or she accumulates experience over the years (or decades).
Lawyers can specialize in several different areas, many of which carry their income levels and earning potentials. For example, corporate law is generally more profitable than bankruptcy work.
On the other hand, a tax attorney will make less money than someone practicing securities law. However, there are exceptions to this rule – some attorneys have earned millions of dollars per year because they were willing to take on “risky” cases that other lawyers wouldn’t touch for fear of being sanctioned by the court… and losing income!
Any discussion about income levels for lawyers would be incomplete without mentioning contingency fees earned by lawyers for cases in which they are paid based on the outcome of a case.
Contingency fee arrangements are generally used in class action lawsuits, personal injury work, and other types of litigation that require a large amount of time and effort from a law firm. How much contingency income an attorney gets depends on how experienced he is and what kind of contract was written with hired counsel (some firms will take 40% to 50% of the contingency income while others will only take 25%, etc.)
Some people say that attorneys can make between $100,000 and $150,000 per year; however, the average amount is just over $92,000. While this income level is possible for a junior associate or recently-graduated lawyer who works at a big law firm, it isn’t common.
Most associates will be lucky to make more than $79,000 per year until they reach partner status, which usually requires at least 10 years of work experience. This can take longer.
It’s fairly unusual for annual salaries to exceed the six-figure threshold during the first five years of practice. However, income figures like $125K, $160K, and $180K are common when discussing partner-level lawyers. These income figures often represent:
- Income from bonuses, hourly rates charged for work done by junior associates and non-lawyer staff members (such as paralegals or secretaries)
- Income from work performed on a contingency fee basis
- Income from the equity in the firm (which can be substantial if working at certain firms)
Becoming a lawyer, especially in the United States, is one of the most challenging careers. It requires years of schooling and passing stringent state-level bar examinations, but it can be done with hard work and perseverance.
Law school admissions committees want to see people’s strong analytical skills and excellent writing abilities before admitting them into their program. The good news? The returns of legal practice make the career worth it.