How To Become A Lawyer in California
Becoming a lawyer takes more than attending and graduating from law school. Though a key component of the process, law school really is the preparatory stop on the way to several different exams and real-world experiences that will determine whether or not you will become a lawyer—regardless of your grades and performance in law school.
The biggest and most obvious thing standing between you and the legal profession is the California Bar exam. After completion of law school, you must take and pass the Bar exam, which is one of the, if not the most, difficult Bar exams in the country. With only 27% of law students passing the California Bar exam in February 2018—against a national average of 59%, mind you—what was already viewed as a difficult test and large hurdle to clear on the path of practicing law has reached a difficulty that has not been seen in any state since 1951 (a year in which there were still only 48 states). So, it has become more imperative than ever for prospective lawyers in California to enter a law degree program that tirelessly prepares them to pass this test that claims for a victim nearly 3 out of every 4 people that take it. The San Francisco Law School (SFLS) has noticed this trend with the state Bar exam, and with that in mind, has worked to focus its curriculum on training each of its students to be more than prepared for the exam, and give them the best chance they have of passing it when the time comes.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Lawyer?
Before you can take the California Bar exam, you first must get into and graduate from law school with a Juris Doctorate (JD) degree. Law schools are typically 3-4-year programs that will instill in its students the foundational aspects of the American legal system and the routine work behaviors a lawyer could expect to do every day. Accredited law school programs also delve into more esoteric, but necessary, topics such as how to write legal briefs, how to argue cases, and how to interpret laws that are already on the books. This is a rigorously intense period, as most post-graduate degree programs are, but one that comes with a nearly unpresented 20-40% drop out rate for first year students, with another similarly sized chunk taking out second-year students as well—leaving the law school graduation rate at 33.4% in 2016, the most recent year such is data is available (based on reports from the ABA 1, 2).
So, we’re talking about rigorous, long-term study that only 1-in-3 people make it through. And this is all before you take the Bar exam. At SFLS, we understand how important this period is as a preparatory period. As a result, we have tailored the law office study program to—in addition to teaching you about the law specialization you are interested in, such as Elder Law, Entertainment Law, Financial Law, Criminal Law and others—to prepare all of our students to such a degree that they often do not even have to take the preliminary California Bar examination, colloquially known as the “Baby Bar”.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To even be allowed attend law school, you must first take and pass the Law School Admission Test, better known as the LSAT. Like its professional-practice cousin, the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), law is a field that requires such a deep knowledge pool that your dedication to it must be proved before you begin to study it in school. There are ways to mitigate this, however, as many large universities offer pre-law tracks for their undergraduate students. While such an undergraduate track is not necessary for one to pass the LSAT and to succeed in law school or as a lawyer after graduation, it is always helpful to be aware of the existence of such options at American universities.
Suffice to say, becoming a lawyer is a lot of work, but it is one that rewards those who make it through this particular educational gauntlet. Lawyers make, on average, $120,000 a year, and with an expected 65,000 new law jobs between now and 2026, it’s as good a time as ever to choose it as a profession, as there will be available positions and law firms well into the future. It is a difficult job and a difficult path to get there, but there is clearly a draw, because those 65,000 new positions are adding to a pool of 800,000, just in America, that already exist.
So, if you know that law is the career for you, now you have a better understanding of how to make it the career for you and how we at SLFS can help you walk that difficult road, and how we can help make that dream job, your job.