What Education Do You Need to Become a Lawyer?


Becoming a lawyer requires a lot of time and dedication to the study and practice of law in our society. Students must go through at least seven years of college-level classes and several difficult examinations before they’re able to practice law – so deciding whether or not to go to law school is a big deal.

In order to get into a law school, students must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in a field that’s somewhat related to the study and implementation of law – including anything from English and history to government and sociology.

Education and Training for Lawyers

One of the primary things that law schools tend to focus on is getting students into the program that can think critically and understand a broad range of subjects.

If you plan to specialize in a particular field of law, be sure to take plenty of undergraduate courses in that area so that you’ll better understand the subject you’re planning to pursue as a lawyer. This will also give you a chance to evaluate whether the specialty you had in mind is a good fit for you or not.

For example, if you’re planning to focus on medical malpractice law but find that medical descriptions make you queasy, you may need to choose a different field! Pursuing these extra courses will also help improve your research skills, which are essential to becoming a successful lawyer.

When you first enter law school, you may be overwhelmed by the intensity of the experience. This is especially true in the first year and a half of the three year program.  It often takes awhile for students to find their foothold and understand what exactly is going on around them – learning to balance the extreme amount of bookwork and research required of law students and the interaction of a social life is an important skill that all lawyers must learn.

It can be difficult for lawyers to spend all day looking into legal briefs and past decisions for their clients, and then go home and live outside of that realm. This constant need to balance work and home life is something that the tremendous pressure of law school tries to put into perspective from the very beginning.

Another important part of your law school experience is a clerkship or internship with a firm or agency in your field of specialization. This experience will give you the chance to learn – hands-on – about what goes on every day in a functioning law firm.  In addition to gaining real-world experience, you’ll also find that many top law firms value this outside experience and consider it strongly when looking to recruit candidates right out of school.

Once you graduate, you’ll need to take the bar exam in order to become licensed to practice law in your state. If you plan to practice in more than one state, you may need to pass the bar in each state in which you’d like to be eligible to practice law.  Depending on the field you plan to specialize in, you may need to pass a separate ethics exam as well – this is something you should check into with the licensing board in your state.  Once you’ve gained your license, it’s important to work to keep it.  Almost every state will require you to take a certain number of continuing education courses each year in order to maintain your licensed status.

Tips for Getting Into Law School

Sure – we can’t all go to Harvard Law, but if you’ve decided that you want to become a lawyer, you’re probably already aware of how much hangs on your ability to get into one of the top ranked law schools. Getting into law school is a highly competitive affair, so it’s important to make sure you’ve done everything possible to get into one of the best law schools available to you. During the law school admissions process, law schools look at the applicant’s grades in their undergraduate courses, as well as their record of public service and LSAT scores.

Unlike medical students, there’s rarely an established “pre-law” major for students to take. Instead, it’s recommended that students focus their course load on classes in sociology, English, history, economics, and government to increase their chances of making it into a good law school.  It also helps to know which area of law interests you the most, as it will be to your benefit to take several classes in your potential specialty.

For example, if you want to become a tax attorney, consider taking some accounting classes to make yourself more attractive to law schools with specialized programs in your area of expertise.

When considering law school rankings, be sure to check into their American Bar Association (ABA) standing.

It’s important to attend a school that’s been approved by the ABA, since some firms will refuse to hire you if your school doesn’t meet this criteria. In addition, you can check out one of the many law school rankings online to see which schools rank where on the list.

If you aren’t sure you’ll be able to get into a top-tier institution like Harvard or Yale, you’ll be able to find plenty of good third- and fourth-tier schools that may be perfect for you.

Getting into a prestigious law school is an important part of becoming a lawyer and the competition to get into such schools is fierce. There are always more applicants than there are available spots, so it’s important to have everything in order before you apply.  Any small oversight or slip-up could take a full school year to be corrected through the Law School Admission Council, leading to a longer wait before you can reapply to the school.

Once an applicant has been accepted into law school, the hard work truly begins. The first year and a half of schooling is intense and most students drop out during this time. The core classes of legal education are taught during this time, and students must use their extra hours to begin choosing the fields in which they want to specialize.  During the last half of law school, students must study classes in their field or specialty to prepare them for life in the field.  Although the educational process can be intense, it’s worth it if you’re passionate about bringing about justice and change through the legal system.

Can I Earn My Law Degree Going to Law School Part Time?

If you are dreaming of becoming a lawyer, but you are already committed to a full-time job or have family obligations, attending law school may seem out of reach. Attending law school full time is an enormous time commitment, and you may feel that you cannot afford to put your other obligations on hold in order to pursue a law degree.  The good news is that there are a number of accredited law schools that offer part-time programs, spreading the traditional three-year course over four years or more.

Is part time law school right for me?

If you have the time and the resources to attend law school full time, then this is the recommended course to pursue. However, if you already have a career and a family, part time law schools are an excellent choice for achieving your goal of becoming a lawyer.  Although they are not held in such high regard as some of the most prestigious law schools, you can still get a quality education that will put you on the right path to a successful career as an attorney.

Will law school evening night classes provide me with the same quality education as full time law school?

While fewer than one half of the law schools accredited by the American Bar Association offer part-time Juris Doctor programs, you will be taught the same course curriculum as the full-time students attending your institution. The difference is that you will be able to spread your coursework out over four years, rather than the usual three, in order to complete your legal degree.  Part-time law school programs enable many individuals with full-time jobs and families to complete a law degree and pursue their dreams of becoming an attorney.

How are part time law school rankings determined?

Part-time law schools are ranked based on the weighted averages of four different quality measures. These include quality assessment, which is determined by a panel of faculty members; selectivity, based on LSAT scores and GPAs of students attending the school; part-time focus, which takes into account the percentage of students enrolled on a part-time basis; and an overall ranking.

What are the drawbacks of attending an evening law school program?

While evening or weekend law school works best for many law students, there are a couple of disadvantages you may face. First, studying law, even on a part time basis, requires a huge time commitment; if you are also working full time, you will find that you have little time left over for yourself.  Second, while full-time law students may have the opportunity to attend clinics, participate in internships, or take advantage of other educational opportunities, you may not have the chance to do the same.

With that said, if part-time law school is the best option for you, earning your legal degree can lead to a rewarding and challenging career.

How Long Will I Spend in Law School?

A law degree can lead you down a variety of stimulating career paths. Obviously, you could use it to practice law in a law firm, as in-house council for a corporation, or for a nonprofit organization. However, a law degree could also enable you to work for a publisher of legal works, as a researcher or writer within the court system, as a policy planner or even as a lobbyist. From start (beginning undergraduate studies) to finish (graduation from law school), most students can expect to spend seven years pursuing their law degree.

A bachelor’s degree is essential before you can enter law school. Most students spend four years of full time study obtaining their bachelor’s degree, though some finish in as few as three and others take longer. While your undergraduate degree may be in any field of interest to you, many law schools like to see evidence of a broad college education. For example, at Harvard Law, the admissions committee advises that programs approaching subjects on a theoretical level (philosophy, for example) tend to serve future law students better than those that emphasize only the practical (biology, for example).

Your undergraduate GPA will be a factor in your success at gaining entry into law school. In general, a GPA of 3.5 or above will be viewed favorably. Your LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores are also important. As with GPA, higher scores generally equate to better law school options.

While earning your undergraduate degree, it is important to cultivate relationships with your professors. You will need to submit letters of recommendation along with your law school applications. At least one academic recommendation is preferred, though letters from employers will also be accepted. The writers of your letters of recommendation should be professionals who can candidly evaluate your motivation and potential success as a law student.

You will also need to submit a personal statement (two pages or less, single spaced, is often requested) with your law school application. The personal statement is your opportunity to present your background, ideas and accomplishments. Use it to give the admissions committee a sense of your personality, values, and why you are interested in the law. Your statement should be unique, creative and eloquent.

Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree and have been accepted into law school, you can expect to spend three years completing law coursework full time. Some schools offer spring, summer and fall semesters, enabling students to complete their law degree in two and a half years. Others will allow students to attend part time and take up to four years to earn their degree. Upon graduation, students who wish to practice law will need to pass the bar examination. Some students find a bar review course helpful, while others devote themselves to full time study before the examination.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of lawyers is forecast to increase 13 percent by 2018, though job competition could be intense due to the large number of new law school graduates expected each year. Set yourself up for success by doing well in your undergraduate courses, your law school courses and on the bar examination.