Last Updated: August 11, 2021
Requirements to Become a Lawyer
Studying law can often be unnerving, competitive, and time-consuming. With the right attitude, hard work, and passion, one may unravel a multitude of opportunities along with significant development of various skills, given that it is an intellectually challenging path. Law is a popular course of study that undoubtedly offers versatility, satisfaction, a stable income, respectability, and most importantly, the power to make a difference. Therefore, it will be wise to have a basic understanding of the available opportunities and stay informed about the steps one may have to follow before making any decision.
There are several steps to be taken to become a lawyer in the United States. The overall process to become one will take at least seven years after graduating from high school. Students need to receive an undergraduate degree, take the LSAT (law school admissions test), receive their Juris Doctor (J.D.) from an accredited law school in the United States, pass the bar exam in the state they wish to practice in, undergo a character evaluation, take an oath, and finally receive their law license. This article will walk readers through these steps and requirements in greater detail.
The Path to Law School
Students must receive an undergraduate degree in order to apply to a graduate law school. It is impossible to pursue a career as a lawyer without completing a graduate law program. Law school admissions are competitive and are largely based on a student's undergraduate GPA and LSAT score. The most competitive law schools admit students with GPAs over 3.75 (meaning the score they mainly received during their entire four years of college. The average accepted GPA at Yale Law School, for instance, is 3.90)
After getting excellent grades as an undergraduate, students need to register and take the law school admission tests, otherwise known as the LSAT. The LSAT consists of five 35-minute sections. Students spend weeks, if not months, preparing to take this exam as it can be the be-all or end-all of admission to law school. The test evaluates a student's logical reasoning, argumentation, critical thinking, and analytical reading skills. Test scores range from 120 to 180. Most decent law schools require students to have LSAT scores above 150. Some of the most esteemed institutions for law consider a score of 170 as a prerequisite. Training oneself in areas of reading, writing, and researching, or taking up coaching classes or online courses will be beneficial for students to be confident and well-prepared for the exams. Again, the GPA and the LSAT score are the most significant factors in a student's admission to law school.
Another very important step to be taken by students before applying to an institution of law for graduation is the procurement and submission of a personal statement and a letter of recommendation. A personal statement is to be submitted wherein a student highlights their strengths, educational achievements, acquired skills, or career aspirations. A personal statement can be formulated either as per the university guidelines (if instructed to do so) or however one might wish to describe it. A letter of recommendation from a professor, or a legal expert (in case one has trained under an expert alongside college) adds credibility and is often mandatory as a part of the admission process in most law colleges.
Earning the Juris Doctor Degree
There are different types of lawyers according to specialty:
- Criminal defense lawyer
- Family lawyer
- Corporate lawyer
- Divorce lawyer
- Intellectual property lawyer
- Immigration lawyer
- Tax lawyer
Students should explore these specialties before applying to a law college for graduation, to have a clear idea of what they should pursue thereafter.
Law school in the United States consists of a three-year course on a full-time basis. At the end of the course, the candidate will receive a Juris Doctor degree. Law school is universally known as one of the most challenging graduate programs a student in the United States can undertake. First-year students will be exposed to many new ideas and approaches to learning and will discover new ways to think like a lawyer. They will learn to scrutinize previous judicial opinions and examine case methods. They will also get a background in the basic types of law such as constitutional law, torts, property law, and criminal law.
Surprisingly enough, the second year of law school is often considered to be the busiest year of law school as professors assume students have achieved a higher level of knowledge coming into their classes. A more detailed, complicated legal theory will be introduced. Many second-year law students try to join various clubs, organizations, and journals to make themselves more competitive as applicants in the job markets. Securing internships and clerkship are very important during the second year.
The third and final year of law school can be stressful because many students do not know the path that looms ahead and are worried about passing the bar exam. However, bar exam pass rates are generally high at the best institutions. Students should definitely start studying for the bar exam while they are in their third year. They should also start thinking about various employment opportunities.
It is important to note that a dual degree is generally instrumental for candidates to stand out from the crowd and enhance job prospects. Dual degrees like a Juris Doctor degree along with a master's degree in business administration or a medical degree will be advantageous to easily secure jobs as a corporate lawyer or a health lawyer.
The Bar Exam and Final Steps
The path to becoming a lawyer does not end when one graduates from law school and earns a Juris Doctor. On the contrary, law school graduates must register and pass the bar exam in the state they intend to practice in.
Bar exams vary state by state. The bar exam is overseen by the American Bar Association. The exam takes two to three days to complete, has 200 questions, and covers six different areas of law. In addition to passing the bar, students must also pass the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination. It is a test to examine a new lawyer's understanding of professional codes and standards. MPRE is a test conducted for future lawyers prior to the Bar exams. It was initiated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) and is generally held thrice annually. Every state has its own score criteria for passing the exam, the standard score range being 75 to 85. This examination is applicable for all states except Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico.
If an individual passes the bar and the standards examination then they can take their oath to protect the U.S. Constitution and start practicing law. Finding a job should undoubtedly be the priority initially. Even though studying law promises a lucrative career the job market for lawyers is moderately saturated. Attending a reputable law school and standing out with a busy extracurricular life and a high GPA will help new lawyers find a job in the market.
Other Advanced Educational Options
Candidates who wish to strengthen theoretical knowledge based on a law specialty, or have an enhanced job profile, or broaden their career opportunities, may choose to pursue the Master of Laws (LLM). A doctorate in law can be completed if one chooses to follow the path of advanced research in legal students or enter the field of academia. Popular fields within a doctorate include Doctor of Philosophy in Law (Ph.D.), Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) or Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD), Doctor of Jurisprudence (JSD), and Doctor of Comparative Law (DCL).
Top 10 Law Schools in U.S.
Being well informed about the prerequisites of getting enrolled in a law school, or the various career choices and specialties is undeniably imperative. Alongside these requirements, every student who desires to become a great future lawyer must have an idea of the best law schools that will help to have a bright future. There are several distinguished institutions for law in America that boast of the best scholars and experts as faculty, as well as excellent rankings nationwide and worldwide. The top 10 best law schools are as follows (according to U.S. News statistics of 2021):
- Yale University
- Stanford University
- Harvard University
- Columbia University
- University of Chicago
- New York University
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Virginia
- University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
- Duke University