The Ultimate Guide to Become a Lawyer [+ FAQs]

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When navigating legal gray areas—such as contracts, lawsuits, or settlements—in the modern world, lawyers help clients understand their options and follow judicial procedures. Although lawyers are known for fighting court battles, they also represent, advocate and provide consultation to individuals and businesses. 

Depending on experience and level of education, the job prospects of lawyers range from working behind-the-scenes in law offices to roles that involve practicing law in courtroom environments. Some examples could include legal assistants and advisors, arbitrators and mediators, and attorneys and barristers.

Legal Jobs and Careers

You may have come across the terms lawyer, attorney, solicitor, and barrister. While it is easy to use these terms interchangeably, note that lawyers define a broader category that includes the latter roles. 

To understand how to become a lawyer, solicitor, barrister, or an attorney, it is important to distinguish the differences between these roles and what each entails, which we will dive into below:

Lawyer: Has completed law school and earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Taking into account whether or not a person has passed the bar exam after law school, a lawyer can or cannot represent clients in a court of law. Lawyers who choose not to take the bar exam may work in non-attorney consulting, compliance, or writing roles. In some jurisdictions, they can represent in private courts.

Attorney: Attorneys are required to pass the bar exam and can act as representatives in a court of law to argue for their client's interests. Some responsibilities of attorneys include conducting research, preparing paperwork, advising clients, interpreting relevant laws and cases, and assisting with self-representation.

Solicitor: Advise clients on general legal issues such as family, estate, or employment matters. Their legal representation can extend to court-level or a more personal level, such as drafting contracts for individuals or assisting in negotiation.

Barrister: In some instances, solicitors may seek the assistance of a barrister to represent or advocate for clients in more specialized areas. Like a solicitor, barristers can offer advice to clients. However, since they’re experts on an issue, they can gather acute assessments on a case in which they’ve had extensive experience in.

There are many areas of specialization that a lawyer can work in. To become a lawyer in a field you’re passionate about, exploring the different options can give you an idea of what path to pursue.

Corporate law: Concerns the processes of a corporation from start to end to ensure fair market practices, such as corporate ownership, bankruptcy, and fraudulent undertakings. 

Family law: Involves legal and financial handling of family matters, such as pre-nuptial agreements, divorce settlements, custody, and status for inheritance. 

Labor law: Covers rights of unions or unionized workers and outlines collective bargaining rights, such as in wage negotiations or establishing grounds for termination.

Civil rights law: Involves rights of individuals against discrimination and protection of equality in liberties such as freedom of speech, expression, thought, etc.

Health law: Addresses areas in healthcare, such as patient treatment, confidentiality, insurance abuse, and Intellectual Property rights.

Intellectual property law: Protects the work of artists, companies, or innovators in terms of duplication, recognizability, and usage.

Tax law: Tax lawyers help individuals with tax matters, such as guiding them through tax codes, determining eligibility for credits or reductions, and handling tax disputes with government entities.

Criminal law: Covers matters relating to acts of harm to societal welfare, such as determination of punishment, crime, trial, and prosecution.

How to Become a Lawyer

There are many steps to becoming a lawyer, including numerous education, degree, and test requirements. We will discuss how to become a lawyer by detailing the qualifications needed at the pre-law, law school, and career stages. 

Complete a bachelor’s degree

Depending on your country, you may be required to complete a 3-4 year undergraduate bachelor’s degree, which begs the question of what to major in to become a lawyer. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), entry into law school does not require a particular major. Note that a high GPA is important for acceptance, however. Thus, it is advised to pick a major that drives and pushes your interest, with a focus on developing skills for the kind of lawyer you want to become in the future. 

Take the LSAT test

Completing law school is necessary in the process of becoming a lawyer. For admission into law school, some regions may or may not require passing the LSAT. The LSAT is a two-part test that consists of a multiple-choice and written portion. Both parts are cumulatively used to assess a candidate’s reading, reasoning, and writing skills. Many schools use LSAT scores as one of the ways to determine performance and scholarship eligibility in law school. 

It would be wise to complete the LSAT test in the final year of your undergraduate studies if you hope to enter law school the following year. Although you can retake the LSAT, be mindful of limits in terms of time constraints, retaking chances, and scoring methods. 

Apply for a law school

Obtaining a Juris Doctor (JD) degree is arguably the most crucial step to receiving the training and education required in becoming a lawyer. A widely-accepted path is to complete a JD degree at an ABA-accredited law school. After receiving your LSAT scores, apply to several law schools through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC). Besides submitting your transcript and LSAT scores, you may want to include a personal statement, a resume, letters of recommendation, or other pieces that will make your application more competitive.

3 Factors to consider when applying to law schools include:

1. Location: Since laws and bar exam requirements may vary across states or regions, you should apply to law schools that are located in your desired workplace. 

2. Specialization: If you want to become a specific type of lawyer, you may research law schools with an impressive curriculum or faculty in your field of interest. 

3. Cost: Estimate your tuition costs and potential average earnings for the lawyer job you desire. This will help you plan out a list of schools and degrees that best meet your budgeting needs.

Sit the state bar exam

While passing the bar exam is not necessary to become a lawyer, those who practice law or represent clients in a court of law are required to pass the bar exam. Bar exams may be state-specific and passing a bar exam in one state may not guarantee the right to practice law in another. The bar exam, which consists of three parts, tests a candidate’s application of legal knowledge to real-world scenarios. 

Like the LSAT, you can retake the bar exam. However, the number of times you can retake the bar exam, how you will be scored, and other educational requirements vary according to the jurisdiction you take the exam in.

Apply for lawyer jobs

Entry-level jobs for law school students or graduates can include working as associates or legal fellows at law firms. Those who wish to advance their career may work longer at a firm to become a partner or take additional training courses to become a solicitor. Lawyers who have completed the bar exam may either want to become an attorney at a law office or work for themselves.

Tips for Becoming a Lawyer

Earn relevant experience early

Since becoming a lawyer takes a considerable amount of time, exploring your options early on can help you save on costs and efforts. Get a head start in high school by developing core skills that would be beneficial for becoming a lawyer. For instance, taking English or math classes could further your writing or analytical skills

Explore your interests and gain a conceptual understanding of different fields (e.g. social studies, criminal justice, business) through electives in high school or college. You could also find out if becoming a lawyer is the right path for you by joining debate clubs or working entry-level jobs at law firms.

Develop communication and reasoning skills

Communication skills, written or verbal, are imperative for lawyers to represent their clients accurately in legal settings or to translate complex legal terms into plain language for clients. Reasoning skills are equally important, as lawyers need to think factually and base their findings or arguments on evidence. 

Taking English, drama, or public speaking classes can be great for exercising your communication skills. To develop reasoning skills, you could take courses in STEM or philosophy.

Prepare for MPRE (if required)

In most states, you need to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before taking the bar exam. The MPRE is a multiple-choice exam consisting of 60 questions to be completed within 2 hours. The purpose of the exam is to ensure that candidates understand the professional standards that govern legal procedures for lawyers. For those who are seeking to become attorneys and need to take the bar exam, passing the MPRE is essential. 

Reach out to professionals for reference letters

Reference letters can be valuable in strengthening your application. To get a professional to vouch for you, you could start by reaching out to professors in law school. Attend office hours or ask questions in class to further the discussion of course topics. Leaving your professors with a strong impression of who you are helps them write reference letters that positively portray your contributions and interests.

Lawyer FAQs

1. What degree do you need to become a lawyer?

To become a lawyer, degree requirements usually include an undergraduate-level bachelor’s degree and a graduate-level Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an ABA-accredited law school. Although some lawyers do not have a JD degree, it is quite rare. For those who graduated from a law school that isn’t ABA-accredited, additional experience or testing may be required.

2. How much does it cost to become a lawyer?

Law school tuition can range from just under $30,000 to over $40,000 per year. If you are an out-of-state student, tuition fees tend to be on the higher end. Additionally, undergraduate tuition costs can range from around $10,000 to $40,000 per year. 

3. What are the educational requirements for a lawyer?

Although the ABA does not specify required undergraduate majors, common skills to keep in mind to become a lawyer include critical thinking, writing, and researching. You could major in English, political science, or business, or explore studies as diverse as arts, archaeology, or film to develop these skills. To become a patent lawyer or patent attorney, however, you will need to take the patent bar examination, which requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science.

When completing law school, you can decide to pursue a JD degree, a joint degree, or a dual degree. Earning your JD through joint or dual degree programs can be helpful for becoming a lawyer in a specialized field (e.g. JD/MBA for corporate lawyers, JD/MPH for public health attorneys, JD/LLM for tax lawyers).

4. How long does it take to become a lawyer?

Starting from post-secondary education, it takes around 7 years to become a lawyer. Undergraduate degrees can take 3-4 years of full-time study and law school takes 3-5 years, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time. 

5. What skills should lawyers have?

In addition to extensive reading and writing skills, lawyers should also be trained in technology to manage their workload or save client information in secure places. Before becoming a lawyer, working as an administrative assistant or clerk in a law firm would be beneficial for acquiring technical skills in accounting, task management, drafting, or data entry.

Additional skills that lawyers may need to have include:

  • Analytical and research skills
  • Negotiation and conflict resolution skills
  • Judgment and legal interpretation skills
  • Persuasive communication and presentation skills
  • Time management and multitasking skills
  • Logical reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • Organization and ability to work under pressure
  • Discipline and initiative
  • Attention to detail and accuracy
  • Awareness of changing regulations and laws

With Cake, a resume website, we provide you with hundreds of jobs resume examples and templates (free download) that help showcase the best you. Landing your dream job will be a piece of cake!

--- Originally written by Flora Lai ---

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