What Are the Requirements for Becoming a Lawyer?
If you’re a creative problem-solver with persuasive communication skills, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to work well under pressure, chances are, you’ve considered becoming a lawyer. At the very least, other people have suggested it to you.
But even if you have all the qualities of a successful lawyer, you need to know what the path towards a career in law looks like so you can determine if it’s right for you, and if it is, what you’ll need to do to get there. While the average lawyer salary is quite attractive, the studies to get there can be rigorous. If you’ve ever asked or wondered “What do you have to do to become a lawyer?,” we’ll answer that below.
The Demand for Lawyers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028. However, due to the recent pandemic and civil rights movement, this projection might very well be on the lower end. Employment lawyers, contract lawyers, and many other niches could likely skyrocket due to consumer demand.
In reality, the rapid growth of the profession has stayed the course for the last century. Given the turmoil and lack of diversification within the legal industry—and accounting for the year over year growth—this career choice is not only viable, it’s encouraged.
How to Become a Lawyer
Licenses, certifications, and registrations vary from state to state, but the overall path is the same for all prospective lawyers in the United States.
So, how long does it take to become a lawyer? Typically, becoming a lawyer will take seven years of full-time study after high school graduation—four years of schooling to get your undergraduate degree, followed by three years of law school. Continue reading to learn about the details of schooling, exams, and other useful experiences and options along the way.
Most law schools require a bachelor’s degree for entry.
If you end up deciding you want to go into law and haven’t started your undergraduate schooling, your best option is to obtain a relevant pre-law degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Systems.
However, don’t be discouraged if you’ve already completed your bachelor’s degree in a different field—you don’t have to obtain a pre-law degree to go to law school. Here are some other majors that law admissions officers tend to favor:
- Business or Economics
- Political Science
Prospective lawyers should focus on doing well academically as an undergraduate, and only start focusing on your law school goals towards the end of your junior year in college. Then, you can start thinking about when you’d like to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
Learn about our Law programs at Alliant today!
Identifying when you’re going to take your LSAT is important because the test is only offered four times a year:
- September or October
You can retake the LSAT, but you need to account for several factors first in order to set up a timeline that’s ideal for you. Whether you’re looking to go to law school directly out of college, want to take some time in between, or have been out of school for a while, use the following information to identify the best time to take the exam:
- Preparation time – People typically take two or three months to prepare for the LSAT, studying anywhere from 150 to 300 hours in total.
- Score release dates – You can expect to get your score back just shy of one month from when you sat for the exam.
- Application deadlines – Most schools accept applications from September through January, while others accept applications as late as mid-March. Some programs offer enrollment more than just once a year, with spring, summer, and fall deadlines.
Creating a Timeline
Since most schools accept applications until January, here’s an ideal timeline that will give you plenty of time to prepare, but not enough time that you forget what you’ve learned:
- Start studying around March of the year before, roughly 20 hours per week
- Register and take the LSAT in June
- Receive your scores in July and decide if you want to retake the exam
- If you’re retaking the exam, register for the September or October date
- Use the remaining months to finish your applications
If your deadlines are less typical, here’s how you can create your own LSAT timeline:
- Identify application deadlines for the programs you’re going to apply to
- Pick two testing dates, taking the application deadlines, and the one-month score waiting period into account
- Count back three months from your first testing date. That’s when you should start studying
Choosing a JD Program
Creating your LSAT timeline relies heavily on the application deadlines for the law schools you want to apply to.
The Juris Doctor degree (JD), also known as the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, is the graduate-level degree you’ll be pursuing in law school. JD courses cover constitutional law, property law, civil procedures, and legal writing—but more specialized courses are available too, including the following:
- Criminal law – This is the most well-known area of law. It focuses on the punishment of people who commit crimes. District attorneys and prosecutors represent the state in prosecuting those accused, while criminal defense attorneys represent the person who’s been accused.
- Elder law – Despite its name, Elder Law focuses on more than just the elderly—it also pertains to older people’s families, people who are disabled, issues like financial and physical abuse, neglect, and end-of-life decision-making.
- Employment law – Focusing on both employers and employees, this branch of law exists to ensure the safety and fairness of a work environment. This includes discrimination, harassment, retailiation, differential treatment, labor laws, wrongful discharge, and other disputes.
- Entertainment law – Lawyers in this field deal with issues such as intellectual property, business relations, contracts, taxation, and litigation. As a more recent field, it can be less clear cut than others, often with the expectation of related knowledge outside of the legal realm.
- Family and juvenile law – Covering all topics related to marriages and domestic unions, as well as issues specifically related to children, both biological and adopted, family lawyers often further specialize in certain areas within their field.
- International law – This field handles private and public cross-country relationships in areas of business and trade, criminal disputes, immigration and refugee issues, and human rights issues.
- Real estate law – Buying, selling, and leasing property, as well as developing on land can result in interpersonal disputes, conflict due to natural resources or state laws, as well as residential and commercial land issues. Typically, real estate lawyers are tasked with creating, negotiating, and closing agreements between parties.
With so many interesting fields to study, schools to choose from, and possible career options, finding the JD program that’s right for you can feel like an overwhelming task. To make things easier, here’s what you should look for in a JD program:
- Varied coursework – If there are some specialties in particular that interest you, check to see if that field is covered in any coursework.
- Scheduling – Some programs are full-time, and others offer part-time study, depending on your needs.
- Reputation – It’s important to choose a school with a good reputation and accomplished faculty members.
- “Baby bar” requirements – Lawyers have to take licensing exams called “Bar exams,” which vary by state and jurisdiction. Some schools also require students to sit for and pass a “baby bar” exam in their first year of law school, which can be extremely difficult depending on your familiarity with the field. This test is meant to prepare every law student for the real bar exam that they will have to take and pass upon graduation.
The Bar Exam and Beyond
Once you’ve attended and graduated from an accredited law school, you’ll have to pass one or more written Bar exams, depending on your individual state and jurisdiction requirements. However, there’s still one final step after completing the bar examination. All aspiring lawyers will have to be approved by an admitting board before they can start working at a law firm.
After all of your accomplishments, you will need to be found by an admitting board to have good character—the type that’s capable of successfully representing and advising others. Some factors, including prior felony convictions, claims of academic misconduct, or a history of substance abuse can disqualify you from being admitted to the Bar, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Becoming a lawyer is a rigorous process that isn’t meant to be taken lightly. Even once you are admitted to the Bar, you must stay informed and regularly participate in continuing education courses, anywhere from one to three years.
Become a Lawyer with Alliant
The question, “What do you have to do to become a lawyer?” can be answered in four easy steps:
- Get an undergraduate degree
- Take the LSAT
- Go to graduate school for your JD degree
- Take the necessary Bar exams
Above all else, you’ll need an education—and no matter what step you’re currently on, Alliant International University is here to help.
At Alliant, you have the ability to get an undergraduate pre-law degree and a JD degree. With Alliant’s great reputation, flexible scheduling, and varied course offerings, you’ll stay on track towards your individual goals without the stress of a once-yearly application deadline or a “baby bar” exam. Contact Alliant today to learn more about embarking on your new career path.
- American Bar Association. ABA Profile of the Legal Profession. https://www.americanbar.org/news/reporter_resources/profile-of-professi…
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lawyers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm