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What Schooling Do You Need to Be a Lawyer?

Leroy OxleyAugust 26, 2022

In order to practice law, potential lawyers must hold a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. A total of seven years are required to complete the education path, including four years of undergraduate studies and three years of law school. A lawyer can begin practicing law only after passing the bar exam required by their state and meeting any other requirements to become licensed. In some cases, lawyers earn further degrees in order to specialize in a particular area of law.

Undergraduate Degree

To be admitted to law school, you must have a bachelor's degree. While the American Bar Association does not point to any specific undergraduate major for best preparing students for law school, it does recommend that students be exposed to coursework that emphasizes reading, critical analysis, writing, oral communication, and problem-solving. For this reason, students should consider taking courses in political science, English, economics, business, or mathematics.

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Degree

It is generally competitive to gain admission to Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required by all law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Law school admissions are based on the LSAT. Reading comprehension, writing, and reasoning are some of the essential skills tested on the LSAT for first-year law students. LSAT consists of two parts: multiple choice questions and essays.

Education, work experience, propensity for law, and general character all play a role in determining whether an applicant is admitted, along with LSAT scores. A certified transcript and an interview may be required of some applicants.

J.D. degree programs usually take three years to complete full-time. Students usually study contract law, criminal law, and legal writing during the first year of law school. A student usually develops a specialty in the final years of law school, such as corporate or labor law.

During the course of the program, students will participate in mock trials as well as contribute to law journals and participate in supervised training in legal clinics for a deeper understanding of the law and legal process. Students may also have the chance to work with attorneys in law firms and legal departments as part of a clerkship program. Among their duties, clerks should be able to draft legal documents, work with judges, and conduct legal research.

Lawyers who have obtained a law degree must take the bar exam after obtaining their degree and choose the state where they will take it. Bar exams are offered in most jurisdictions, once in February and once in July. 

The bar exam requires each applicant to demonstrate that they are of good moral character, honest, and capable of performing the obligations and responsibilities of practicing law. The application process in many states may also require fingerprints and a list of their current and previous addresses, job titles, speeding tickets, arrests, and criminal charges since age 18. Depending on the state, these requirements may differ.

Advanced Law Degrees

Law students interested in specializing in a particular area of law can enroll in Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs. They are usually one-year programs that have a specialized focus, such as international law or business. The number of credits required varies from law school to law school but generally ranges from 21 to 26.

It is possible to pursue joint J.D./LL.M. programs, which will take an additional 1 - 1.5 years on top of J.D. degree programs. Aside from J.D. degree programs, the ABA does not accredit any other legal education programs.

Getting a J.D. degree and passing the state bar exam are two of the essential steps to becoming a lawyer. Before working towards your goal, it is important to understand and educate yourself on all the requirements, tests, and education to become a lawyer.

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