Becoming an Attorney
Becoming an attorney is a multi-step process that requires a commitment of both time and money. Whether you decide to pursue a career as an attorney immediately after graduating from college or later in life, you will need to complete certain academic and professional milestones before officially becoming an attorney.
A bachelor’s degree from a four-year undergraduate collegiate institution is required to become a lawyer. While pre-law majors are offered at some institutions, this is not a prerequisite. Many prospective attorneys major in English, political science, psychology or philosophy. A math or science major may also be useful, especially if you wish to pursue a career in patent law or technology law.
Your undergraduate grade point average (GPA) is one determinative factor in the law school admissions process, so ensure that you study and do well in college. While law schools will occasionally overlook a low GPA, especially if you are a non-traditional or returning student with experience in the workforce, a high college GPA is often a strong indicator of your potential success in law school.
In order to take the bar exam, a test that is a prerequisite for becoming an attorney in the United States, you must graduate from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (the ABA). As of 2008, there were 200 hundred ABA approved law schools within the United States. These schools are ranked by prestige in a number of online and print publications, but graduation from any ABA approved law school is sufficient to become a lawyer, regardless of the schools rank.
Admissions requirements to ABA approved law schools are stringent. Prospective students must submit test scores from the Law School Admissions Test (the LSAT). The LSAT is a standardized exam designed to test reasoning ability and logic skills. In addition to LSAT test scores, candidates must submit letters of recommendation, academic transcripts and a personal statement describing themselves. Admissions committees evaluate this information and extend offers only to candidates they believe will be qualified to become successful attorneys in the future.
Law school itself is a three-year program. Most law schools have a series of standard courses that all first year law students take. These prerequisites include courses in civil procedure, criminal law, contract law and property law. Law students are also generally required to take a course that focuses on legal writing and/or a “moot court” course in which they hone their skills at writing legal briefs and documents. Students can begin to take electives or specialize in a particular area of law in their second and third years of law school.
Law schools have stringent grading standards. If students do not meet minimum GPA levels, they may be asked not to return to law school. The ABA also forbids full time law students from working over twenty hours per week during their first year of law school.
The Bar Exam
Upon graduating from law school, prospective attorneys have not yet completed the steps required in becoming an attorney. Before a law school graduate is allowed to practice law, he or she must take the bar exam in the state in which he wishes to practice. Each state has an individual bar exam, designed to test students on the particular laws within the state.
Most bar exams consist of a multiple-choice section and an essay section. The exam spans at least two days, and is a closed book examination. Many students will take a bar review course designed to prepare them to pass the bar exam. Passing the bar is a prerequisite to receiving a license to practice law from the state court system.