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How Long Does it Take to Become a Lawyer in California?


Interested in becoming a lawyer in California? Not only does the legal field offer outstanding earning potential, but it also enables you to make a meaningful difference in the world.

To become a lawyer, you must first get your education from a law program and pass the infamous Bar exam, both of which require a great deal of time, hard work, and dedication. 

So how long does it take to become a lawyer in California? Keep reading to find out. 

What is a Lawyer?

A lawyer, also known as an attorney, is a licensed professional who advises and represents their clients on matters of the law. According to the American Bar Association, the two main duties of a lawyer are to:

  1. Uphold the law
  2. Protect their client’s rights

In turn, lawyers play an essential role in our society. They ensure that their clients get treated fairly in legal matters and that justice is upheld. 

What Do Lawyers Do?

When people think of lawyers, many envision someone arguing their client’s case in court, addressing the judge and jury. This is known as litigation. While litigation is one important duty of being a lawyer, it’s not the only one. 

Most lawyers spend the majority of their time in the office, drafting contracts, researching case law, and preparing legal documents. 

Lawyers also hold meetings with clients, where they advise them on legal matters and help them navigate complex situations. 

How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?

So how long does it take to become a lawyer officially? 

The short answer is around 5 to 7 years. 

During this time, aspiring lawyers must fulfill specific educational and licensure requirements. Requirements for becoming a lawyer include: 

  • Earning a bachelor’s degree
  • Taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
  • Attending law school
  • Studying for and passing the Bar exam
  • Applying for acceptance from the Bar Association

Find out everything you need to know about the California Law programs at Alliant University here!

Law programs

Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree

Earning an undergraduate degree usually takes around 4 years. 

During their time at university, a student can study whatever subject they want. There’s not one specific bachelor’s degree that all aspiring lawyers must pursue. 

However, the following areas of study will provide the best foundation of knowledge for law school:  

  • Political science
  • History
  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • English
  • Math
  • Public speaking

Taking the LSAT

Once you earn your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to study for the LSAT. This test is like the SAT for law school admission. Your LSAT score will play a large role in which law schools you get accepted into. 

The LSAT is a notoriously challenging exam. To earn a decent score, most students have to study for at least 150 to 300 hours. Depending on your weekly study habits, this process could take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. 

In turn, some students choose to take a gap year between college and law school to allow for adequate study time. 

Attending Law School

It takes roughly 3 years to complete law school and earn your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. During your legal education, you’ll learn about constitutional law, property law, contract law, civil procedure, and legal writing. You’ll also have the option to pursue advanced courses in tax law, labor law, and corporate law. 

Ideally, you should attend an ABA-accredited law school if you plan to practice as a lawyer in California. These law schools are approved by the Cal Bar Association. In turn, they offer a curriculum that meets the Bar Association's standards, enabling you to sit for a Bar exam in any state of your choosing. 

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Taking the State Bar Exam

To become a licensed lawyer, you must pass your state’s Bar exam. This can take anywhere from a few months to multiple years. It all depends on:

  • How long it takes you to study 
  • Whether or not you pass the exam the first time around

Studying for the Bar examination is no small undertaking. Ideally, you should study for at least 400 hours. This can take up to 9 weeks if you study full-time, or much longer if you study at a slower pace. 

Even if you study hard, there’s a chance you won’t pass the Bar examination your first time around. In this case, becoming a lawyer might take a few months longer than expected. 

Gaining Admission to the Bar Association

Once you pass the bar exam, the next step is applying for admission into the Bar Association. You must complete this process within 5 years of passing the Bar exam. 

The Bar Association evaluates each applicant using specific “character-and-fitness” standards.  These standards exist to ensure that practicing lawyers possess sound character and integrity. Since lawyers are expected to uphold the law, their personal ethics are essential. 

To determine if you are up to snuff, the Bar Association will review your personal history. You could be disqualified from entry for any of the following reasons:

  • Having a history of academic or employment misconduct
  • Having a felony conviction
  • Violating a court order
  • Showing signs of emotional or mental instability
  • Having a history of substance dependency
  • Neglecting financial responsibilities
  • Providing false statements to the Bar Association

Finding Your First Job

Once you pass the character-and-fitness screening, you’ll finally be a fully-licensed lawyer! At this point, you can apply to jobs and start your career. 

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Good Lawyer?

In addition to getting your education and licensure, you also need to possess certain skills to be a successful lawyer. 

Here are some skills you should develop during your education:

  • Writing skills – Lawyers spend a considerable amount of time preparing legal documents. Thus, you must be able to write clearly and professionally.
  • Research skills – Laws are always evolving. Lawyers must be on top of the latest legal regulations to properly advise, support, and represent their clients. 
  • Speaking skills – Lawyers speak on behalf of their clients in a variety of settings. In turn, they must be able to speak effectively, often in front of many people, including judges, mediators, juries, and opposing parties.
  • Problem-solving skills – To do their job well, lawyers must be able to look at a problem objectively and find the best solution expediently. 
  • Interpersonal skills – To be a successful lawyer, you need to earn your clients’ trust. By possessing exceptional interpersonal skills, you’ll be able to relate to clients in a professional, personable way.
  • Analytical skills – Lawyers spend a lot of time analyzing cases, examining the facts, and developing strategies to represent their clients effectively, all of which require analytical skills.

Why Become a Lawyer?

Becoming a lawyer takes time, dedication, and a significant financial investment. To make sure it’s worth the time and effort, you should clarify your motivation before entering the field. 

Here are some reasons that attract many people to the legal profession:

  • A passion for helping people – Lawyers serve as advocates for their clients. They protect them against unfair sentences, problematic labor practices, corrupt companies, and much more. By offering pro bono representation to underserved communities, you can make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Furthermore, you can bring justice to your clients when they’ve been wronged, either by a fellow citizen or a negligent company. 
  • The professional status – When people think of top-tier professions, lawyers, doctors, and engineers often come to mind. These professions are held in high regard, due to their societal value. Thus, lawyers are generally well-respected and enjoy professional status. 
  • The salary potential – Last but not least, many people pursue law for the earning potential. So what is the average salary of a lawyer? Even entry-level lawyers earn a very comfortable living. While it takes an educational investment to become a lawyer, the money on the other side makes it well worth it, especially if you specialize in a lucrative area of law. 

How Much Money Do Lawyers Earn?

Speaking of salary, the annual average salary for a lawyer in 2019 was $122,960, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10% of lawyers can earn up to $208,000! 

Your personal earning potential depends on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Where you practice
  • What type of law you practice
  • Your degree of specialization
  • Your experience level

What Are The Different Types of Law Specializations?

Another appealing aspect of the legal field is that it’s incredibly diverse. Whether you’re drawn to criminal law or estate law, there’s something in the legal field for everyone. 

Here are some legal sub-specialties to consider:

  • Administrative law
  • Admiralty law 
  • Corporate law
  • Commercial Law
  • Constitutional law
  • Criminal law
  • Environmental law
  • Estate and trust law
  • First Amendment law
  • Health care law
  • Intellectual property law
  • International law
  • Small business law
  • Tax law

Specialize in Criminal Law at Alliant International University

So are you willing to put in the time to become a lawyer? Even though it takes a lot of studying and dedication, it enables you to enjoy a fulfilling, lucrative career path. 

If criminal law piques your interest, Alliant International University has a world-class legal program based in San Francisco and San Diego. Alliant’s San Francisco Law School program is accredited by the state bar of California, offers challenging coursework, and provides valuable hands-on experience in the criminal law field.  

If you’re an aspiring lawyer and you’re ready to start your legal education, visit Alliant International University today!



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