How to Become a Lawyer in the US

How to Become a Lawyer in the US

22-01-2020

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How to Become a Lawyer in the US

Aspiring lawyers enter the legal profession with different motivations. If you enjoy the pride and challenge of climbing the corporate ladder or winning a court case, this profession that requires a lot of ambition may be a perfect choice.

Many lawyers consider helping others as their main motivation in entering the legal profession. Whether they can help others on a small or large scale way, they often find satisfaction and gratification in being able to help. The court actions they file can significantly impact society.

It can take up to seven years of studying and satisfying examination and licensing requirements. It is therefore important that a prospective lawyer is deadest on becoming one and has the commitment to go through several years of studying.

The body of law is broad and complicated. Practicing lawyers have to keep up with legal developments to ensure they provide their clients with the best and updated legal advice. Today, more than ever there is a high demand for lawyers in various specialties because of the recent changes in domestic, policy, technology, and health care. Intellectual property lawyers, immigration lawyers, labor and employment lawyers, and health care lawyers are in demand.

The Bureau of Statistics of the U.S Department of Labor project that the demand for lawyers in the United States will significantly increase this year. Lawyers in the US receive comfortable salaries. It is not easy though to become a lawyer in the US.

1.   Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program

Before entering Law School, you will need to be a graduate of a Bachelor’s Degree Program. The American Bar Association does not recommend a specific field of study to guarantee your admission to law school.

Many prelaw students have majors in Political Science, Business, Philosophy, English, and Journalism. If you however plan to specialize in property Law, you will need to have a degree in Technical Science or Math because sitting for the Bar and Patent Bar requires that you have such an undergraduate degree.

Most Law Schools have no preference on any undergraduate school. Pursuing your law studies though require that your GPA should be above. 3.0. It can be difficult to achieve that GPA thus choosing a difficult undergraduate course can be a disadvantage.

2.   Pass a Law School Admission Test

To be admitted to Law School, you will need to have an undergraduate degree and pass the ABA-approved Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Your scores from the LSAT provide Admission Officers with a basis to measure your qualifications and knowledge.

You can take the LSAT at any of the different locations in the world. It is administered four times a year. It is however best that you take the one scheduled in December so you can start Law School by the next fall semester. You can also choose to take the test in June or October.

You can complete a standard LSAT in half a day. This test assesses your reading and verbal reasoning skills. It consists of five sections of multiple-choice questions. You will also need tto write an un-scored sample.

The LSAT will measure your skills in areas critical to a future career in Law such as:

  • Reading comprehension

  • Analysis and critical thinking

  • Information management

  • Argumentation

Most Law schools place equal weights on your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores. If your college GPA is not that high, a high LSAT score can increase your chances of being admitted to Law school. Financial aids extended by many Law schools are also based on LSAT scores.

3. Choose a Law School and Complete your Application

Some aspiring lawyers immediately work on their Law school admission after graduating from college. Some opt to pursue a professional career in other fields before enrolling in Law school. The right timing depends on your preference.

In choosing a Law school, your short list should only include schools with an American Bar Association accreditation. To ensure your admission to your Law school of choice, do some research on the application process of the Law School Admission Council.

Some admission factors may include:

  • Overall College GPA

  • LSAT score

  • Undergraduate coursework

  • Organizational affiliations

  • Community service

  • Letters of Recommendation from the faculty of your College/University, alumni, or legal professionals.

These factors may vary between Law Schools. Before applying in a Law school, you need to gather some information on the faculty, areas of study offered, curriculum, and tuition of the school.

4.   Earn your Juris Doctor’s Degree

To be able to practice law in the US, you will need to be a graduate of the nationally recognized Juris Doctor (JD) degree. This degree is offered by 205 ABA-accredited law schools across the US.

Your law studies will cover such topics as

  • Legal Theories

  • Administrative Law

  • Analytical Legal Methods

  • Business Law

  • Bankruptcy

  • Constitutional Law

  • Civil Rights

  • Other legal topics

You could typically be able to complete your Juris Doctor degree in three years if you are a full-time student and four years if you are a part-time student.

On your second and third years in Law school, you will be required to engage in an internship program. This will allow you to have some practical experience. After graduation, many law interns are offered jobs in the law firm they had their internship with.

On your third year in Law school, you can choose elective courses that are in line with the law specialization you intend to pursue once you become a full-fledge lawyer.

While it takes four years to finish a full law degree (4 years undergraduate course and 3 years Juris Doctor’s Degree), there are certain things you can do to shorten the number of years required yet meet the educational requirement required by your State law.

  • Earn college credits by taking standardized exams such as the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams and advanced placement exams). Every credit you earn through these exams means credits you do not have to earn as part of your college degree. This will allow you savings in time and money.

  • Some universities offer accelerated programs so you can finish your degree faster than normal. Some programs will allow you to finish your Bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four. There are also Juris Doctor Programs that can be completed in two years.

You can also take advantage of the option offered by the B.A.-to-J.D. program also known as the 3+3 J.D. program. This program allows you to earn your Bachelor’s degree and J.D. degree in only six years.

5.   Pass the Bar Exam

After completing your Juris Doctor degree, you need to pass the State Bar Exam before you can be a practicing lawyer. States in the US have different sets of Bar Exam guidelines but the Bar Exam commonly takes two days to complete. You will need to complete the Multistate Bar Examination on the first day. Writing exams concerning varied legal matters take place on the second day.

Your State Board of Bar Examiners will give you a full legal license to practice law in your state after passing the Bar Exams and consider your educational background, character, competence, and ability to represent/defend others in legal matters. Some states, specifically Arizona, allow you to take the Bar Exams even if you are yet to earn your Juris Doctor degree.

Advancing your Career

Lawyers in the US have various opportunities to advance their career. A seriously practicing lawyer can expect this career path.

  1. Become a law firm Associate
  2. Become a law firm Partner or establish own law firm

Some lawyers opt to aspire for a public position, become a Judge, or pursue further studies such as:

Master of Laws (L.L.M.)

This is a one-year full time study program which can be taken after graduating from a Juris Doctor course. This course is designed for students who want to specialize in a particular field of law. It is also for foreign students who want to practice law in the US and therefore needs to adjust to the legal system of the country.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A Masters in Law (LLM) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree are common for lawyers who want to venture into academic scholarship and research.

Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)

This degree is just like a usual PhD program of other fields. It is the legal profession’s highest academic degree. It takes three years to complete an S.J.D. Most lawyers take this course because they want to teach Law. There are limited schools though in the US that offers S.J.D. programs.

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