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What Do You Have to Do to Become a Lawyer?

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Published 08/05/2020
9 minutes read
The content of this page is only for informational purposes and is not intended, expressly or by implication, as a guarantee of employment or salary, which vary based on many factors including but not limited to education, credentials, and experience. Alliant International University explicitly makes no representations or guarantees about the accuracy of the information provided by any prospective employer or any other website. Salary information available on the internet may not reflect the typical experience of Alliant graduates. Alliant does not guarantee that any graduate will be placed with a particular employer or in any specific employment position.

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 may 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. The studies on how to become a lawyer 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

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—a law career is not only viable, it’s encouraged. 

Core Skills Needed in Law Career

  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Research
  • Project Management
  • Listening comprehension
  • Problem-solving 
  • Critical reading 
  • Time management
  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Strong command of the English language

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.2

So, how long does it take to become a lawyer? Do you need a degree to be 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.

Undergraduate Requirements

Most law schools require a bachelor’s degree for entry. 

So what degree do you need to be a lawyer? If you see yourself as an aspiring lawyer and haven’t started your undergraduate schooling, one great option is to obtain a relevant pre-law degree.

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.3 Here are some other majors that law admissions officers tend to favor:

  • History
  • Business or Economics
  • Political Science
  • English
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy

Prospective lawyers should focus on doing well academically as an undergraduate, and only start focusing on your graduate degree and 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!

LSAT Process

Identifying when you’re going to take your LSAT is important because the test is only offered four times a year:

  • February
  • June
  • September or October
  • December

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.4

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 in a legal issue.
  • 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, retaliation, 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, to practice law, finding the JD program that's right for you as a prospective lawyer 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. Before you can practice law, all aspiring lawyers who are successful bar examiners 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 giving legal advice to 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 and into the legal profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.5

The education needed to be a lawyer and the path of becoming one are rigorous processes that aren’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 related to your legal career, anywhere from one to three years.

Key Components of an Effective Lawyer

  • Negotiating
  • Counseling
  • Communication and sound judgement
  • Advocating
  • Synthesizing and a healthy skepticism
  • Extensive knowledge of the law

Become a Lawyer with Alliant

The question, “What do you have to do to become a lawyer?” can be answered in four easy steps:

  1. Get an undergraduate degree
  2. Take the LSAT
  3. Go to graduate school for your JD degree
  4. 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.

Alliant is an accredited law school where you have the ability to get 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.


Sources

  1.  “Lawyers : Occupational Outlook Handbook,” U.S. Bureau  of Labor Statistics (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8AD), https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#:~:text=5%25-,Employment%20of….
  2. “Law Schools & Careers: How to Become a Lawyer,” LearnHowToBecome.org, accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.learnhowtobecome.org/lawyer/.
  3. “7 Steps to Law School: Pre-Law Requirements,” Indeed Career Guide, accessed November 23, 2021, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/law-school-requ….
  4. Mehran Ebadolahi, “When to Take the Lsats - Your Full Guide,” LSATMax LSAT Prep (TestMax), accessed November 23, 2021, https://testmaxprep.com/blog/lsat/when-to-take-the-lsats.
  5. “Lawyers : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm. 

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