Lawyers play a vital role in our daily lives. For starters, these professionals help individuals with estate planning, intellectual property protection, and personal injury recovery. A lawyer who passes the bar exam and joins his state’s bar can officially call himself an attorney. There are over 1.3 million practicing attorneys in the United States.
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we cover the steps necessary to build a fulfilling career as a lawyer.
What does a lawyer do?
Lawyers provide legal advice and representation to individuals, businesses and organizations. Their responsibilities may include:
- Provide legal advice in the best interest of the client
- Representation of clients in court
- Interpret laws and regulations
- Legal issues research and data analysis
- Filing of legal documents, such as wills and contracts
Different types of attorneys specialize in different areas of law, such as corporate law, environmental law, tax law, family law, criminal law, and intellectual property law.
Key Competencies for Lawyers
Lawyers generally need a variety of skills and knowledge, depending on the type of law they practice. For example, a tax attorney must understand accounting principles and possess top-notch analytical skills.
Certain skills are necessary for each type of lawyer, regardless of their specialization. The main skills of lawyers include:
- Research and analytical skills
- Skills for problem solving
- Communication skills including writing and speaking
- Research skills
How to become a lawyer
If you’re wondering how to become a lawyer, you need to prepare for a rigorous process that leads to a fulfilling career. In most cases, prospective lawyers must meet educational and licensing requirements. This includes passing a state bar exam, and each state has its own requirements for the bar.
Earn a bachelor’s degree
A bachelor’s degree is the first step you must take to complete the educational requirements to become a lawyer.
You do not need to take a specific pre-law specialization during your undergraduate studies to qualify for law school. When choosing a major, first think about the type of law you want to practice and take courses related to that area. For example, if you want to practice corporate law, you might want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
All aspiring lawyers should take courses that will help them develop their problem-solving, communication, and research skills.
Take the LSAT or GRE
The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is a standardized exam that assesses a student’s readiness for law school. Traditionally, passing the LSAT was required for admission to law school in the United States. However, this has changed in recent years.
In 2016, Arizona State University began accepting the standardized Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) exam as an alternative to the LSAT. Harvard Law School followed suit the following year. Graduate students usually take the GRE before pursuing graduate studies in various fields.
Currently, many law schools, including Columbia, Cornell, Yale, and others accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA), have begun to accept GRE rather than just LSAT scores.
This change means that many prospective law students who have already taken the GRE are no longer required to take additional exams for admission to law school. This broadens the pool of applicants by encouraging more students to apply.
Comprehensive law school
If you want to become a lawyer, you should plan to complete your law studies to obtain your juris doctor (JD). This degree is usually a three-year program. Completing your law degree 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 personal law school statement as part of your JD program application.
Earning a JD is the traditional and most common route to becoming a lawyer. However, some states offer other options as alternative paths to start a career in law.
In California, Virginia, Washington, and Vermont, you can become a law reader — or apprentice — instead of getting a law degree. Each of these states has different requirements, which may include several years of study under 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 don’t have to take the bar exam to become a lawyer. If you choose not to get a law degree, you’ll save money associated with law school fees, but you may be less prepared for the bar. Additionally, many law firms want the attorneys they hire to have a JD degree.
Not getting 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’s rare now.
Win a license
After completing your education, you can begin the process of obtaining a license to practice law. The steps outlined below are generally required to begin practicing law, but specific requirements may vary from state to state.
Pass the bar exam
The bar exam is used to determine if a lawyer has the knowledge and skills necessary to obtain a license and practice law. Each state has the ability to choose their bar exam, but most jurisdictions use the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), which is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
The UBE consists of several components. It is administered and scored the same in all jurisdictions, so scores are transferable to other jurisdictions that also use the EBU.
States that have adopted the UBE determine their own exam policies, including exam eligibility, character and physical fitness, educational requirements, and acceptable passing scores. The ABA provides detailed information on bar admission requirements.
Meet character and mental fitness requirements
Bar examiners ask applicants questions about their quality of character, criminal history, academic integrity, financial status, any substance abuse issues, and mental fitness. This information helps examiners determine whether each applicant can competently practice law.
take an oath
The final step to becoming a lawyer is to take your state’s attorney oath. It involves a ceremony where you will be sworn in and take an oath. In most states, this oath is a promise to uphold the US Constitution, to perform your duties as an attorney faithfully, and to be honest and civil in your conduct. States may differ on the exact elements of their oaths.
Become a lawyer
People sometimes use the terms “attorney” and “attorney” interchangeably, but there is a difference. When you pass the bar exam and become a member of your state’s bar, you will officially be a lawyer. A lawyer must be a lawyer, but a lawyer is not necessarily a lawyer.
Lawyer Salary and Job Outlook
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earned a median annual salary of $127,990 as of May 2021. Precise salaries vary by industry and geography. For example, at the high end, the average annual salary for lawyers is $198,820 in Washington, DC and $179,060 in New York, according to the BLS.
The BLS projects that job opportunities for lawyers will increase by 10% from 2021 to 2031. This rate is twice as fast as the projected average job growth for other careers nationwide.
According to the BLS, individuals and businesses will still need legal work, but as law firms try to cut expenses, paralegals and legal assistants can take on more of the work traditionally done by attorneys.
Frequently asked questions about lawyers
Is it difficult to be a lawyer?
Yes. Becoming a lawyer involves years of study and careful consideration, so it’s not easy. The exact level of difficulty depends on how well you absorb the information you learn and how much effort you put into preparing for your exam.
How do you become a lawyer?
The first step to becoming a lawyer is to complete your education requirements. As you plan and complete your undergraduate work, think about the type of law you want to practice and take courses that can help prepare you to practice that type of law.
How long does it take to become a lawyer?
In most cases, if you want to become a lawyer, you should plan to spend about seven years in school (four years to get your bachelor’s degree and three years to get your JD). You should also plan to spend more time studying for the bar exam.
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