How to Become a Lawyer

Despite its earning potential and prestige, pursuing a career in law is a huge undertaking, requiring time, commitment and financial resources. Lawyers are after all the public image of any functioning society along with doctors, bankers, police officers, accountants, etc.

While becoming a lawyer is a time-consuming process, requiring unwavering commitment, it is also financially satisfying and socially fulfilling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2012, lawyers earned a median annual income of $113,530. However, this figure may vary depending upon the nature of their employment. For example, lawyers employed in the finance and insurance sector earned a median annual income of $134,940 in 2012, while those who were working with the state government, earned $79,220. Job openings for lawyers are expected to take place at the rate of 10% faster than the average job growth for all other professions from 2012-2022.

How to become a Lawyer?

All lawyers must be academically qualified and licensed to perform their professional role. Academic qualifications are a pre-requisite to taking a state’s bar examination.

The most typical route to becoming a lawyer entails completing an undergraduate degree in any major (those interested in intellectual property law should have a strong background in sciences), taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and completing the juris doctor (J.D.) degree, before sitting for the state’s bar examination.

Before selecting a law school, applicants must make sure of the accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA). There are non-accredited law schools as well, which may be imparting quality education, however, their graduates may not be able to sit for the state’s bar examination.

Steps to become a Lawyer

Students interested in becoming a lawyer must check all the boxes below:

  • Completing high school studies
  • Completing an undergraduate degree
  • Taking the LSAT
  • Completing the J.D. degree
  • Taking a state’s bar examination

How long does it take to become a Lawyer?

Typically, it will take a prospective lawyer 7 years of post-high school education to sit for a bar examination. This includes 4-years of undergraduate studies and 3 years of law studies. A J.D. is a post-graduate degree and therefore requires an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite to admission.

Law Degrees

While the J.D. degree remains the primary law degree, it is not the only academic option for prospective lawyers. Prospective lawyers may be able to take a state’s bar examination after completing one of the following degrees:

  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.)

However, the J.D. degree remains the most popular degree amongst prospective lawyers. The degree consists of core as well as elective courses. While the title of these courses is likely to differ from school to school, core courses focus on the following areas:

  • Corporate law
  • Commercial law
  • Administrative law
  • Estates
  • Trusts
  • Taxation
  • Comparative law
  • International law

The elective courses are typically taken during the second and the 3rd year of studies and are selected based on students’ area of interest. Students may focus on:

  • Taxation Law
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Commercial, Business & Labor Law
  • Advanced Torts

Who makes a good Lawyer?

The following personality traits and qualities have been found in successful lawyers:

  • Writing skills
  • Speaking skills
  • Research skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Analytical skills

Career Advancement

Fresh graduates are hired as associates and must work with more experienced lawyers. Over a period of time, some associates are promoted as partners, meaning that they partially own the firm they work for. Lawyers can be self-employed as well.

Other career options for law graduates are law teachers or working in a law school’s administration. Some lawyers are also nominated or elected to judgeships. These are seasoned lawyers with years of legal experience.

Work Environment

A majority of lawyers work in offices of corporate or private law firms. They work full-time and are often required to put in long hours. According to BLS, 49% of lawyers in 2012 were employed in legal services, while only 3% worked in the finance and insurance sector. This is interesting since lawyers in this sector also earned the most in 2012.

Why become a Lawyer?

Lawyer jokes aside, it is pertinent to ask whether it is worth becoming a lawyer. While there is no right or wrong answer here, the fact of the matter remains that a law career remains “first among equals” among many prestigious professions. The prestige and money is there but so is the opportunity to genuinely help others. The profession is intellectually challenging, as each client and case is different from the last.  Some lawyers after specializing in environmental law have made a lifelong mission of protecting the environment. Others conduct pro bono work on behalf of marginalized segments of society such as women, children, immigrants, etc. Therefore for many, if not all, pursuing a career in law still matters.


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