Working as an attorney is a noble profession that typically pays well. Lawyers work in various law fields, including entertainment, tax, corporate, criminal, and civil law handling their clients’ private legal matters.
Graduated law students have acquired extensive education in numerous fields of law, including negotiating skills, preparing legal documents, and reviewing legal proceedings.
Some students learn specific aspects of the law by participating in moot courts, mock trials, and externships in law firms based in different states and countries.
Law School Costs
The financial impact of attending law college or school can be overwhelming. Many students must pay for a wide array of costs and fees that involve housing, books, food, personal expenses, and transportation. Planning for attending college and looking at available monetary assistance could reduce debt and the stress of attending classes without pressure from a financial strain.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average student loan debt to become a lawyer is approximately $145,000 (2016 stats) to take courses at a public education institution to earn a degree.
The cost of attending a private law college or school is substantially higher, averaging nearly $50,000 per academic year, where some community colleges offer courses at approximately $21,300 yearly.
Many graduated students carry significant debt through financial aid, student loans, Pell grants, and partial scholarships. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported lawyer salaries in 2018, where the median compensation of a first-year attorney working in law firms was approximately $75,000.
By 2019, the median compensation average for all attorneys reached $122,960 annually. The BLS estimates that attorney employment will likely grow at approximately 6% in the decade ahead.
Average Law School Timeline
Typically, law colleges and schools offer three-year law degrees when attending full-time. However, potential law student candidates must have already obtained an undergraduate degree in nearly any field that usually requires four years of full-time study.
Accelerated law school programs are available at numerous private and public colleges and universities for students wanting to obtain their degrees in 24 months. Working professionals can extend the length of time to get their degree up to 84 months through part-time programs where classes are presented on weekends and evenings.
Completing a Bachelor’s Degree Program
Becoming a lawyer often requires extensive commitment and specific planning. Any potential candidate for a law school degree must first hold an undergraduate degree obtained through an accredited four-year college or university.
While a potential law student candidate needs to earn a bachelor’s degree in any subject, studying criminal justice, political science, history, sociology, and English will help maximize their learning experience.
While some schools offer law degrees to students that do not hold an undergraduate degree in any subject, most State Bar Associations do not provide licensing to those law school graduates. Check with your state Bar Association before applying to any law college or school that does not require a four-year degree to enter.
The Law School Admission Test
Before you can apply to any law college or school, you’ll need to pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is administered numerous times every year in the United States. Law colleges and schools use the standardized test to identify successful applicants with the preparation and studying capacities to do well in first-year law.
The complex test has a written portion and a multiple-choice portion that usually requires a half-day to complete.
Prospective lawyers interested in taking the LSAT often apply to take the test during the summer or fall before their college senior year. Others choose to take the Law School Admissions Test after earning an undergraduate degree.
Finding the Best Law Schools
Many American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in the United States provide the highest level of legal education. However, before applying, consider choosing the schools with the best reputation and faculty in the location that best suits your needs and the ideal student-to-faculty ratio.
Evaluating most law schools can be challenging when looking for public or private education at a small or large institution that either stands alone or is affiliated with a university.
Many law schools offer similar curriculums with course studies based on criminal law, civil procedure, legal research, contracts, legal methods, legal writing and speaking skills, intellectual property law, constitutional law, and torts.
In addition to evaluating the curriculum and available course study, consider the school’s student body composition, size, and background. Appraise the surrounding community and the environment they provide their students.
Learn what you can about faculty members, administration, and professors through the school’s website to understand their expertise and backgrounds.
Significant factors to consider include:
- Academic support opportunities
- Access to physical facilities, including the library
- Availability of accelerated programs and part-time programs
- Career employment and services
- Classroom size
- Clinical programs
- Joint degree program availability
- Mock trial availability
- Moot court competitions at the state and national levels
- Student body demographics
- Student organizations
- The school’s overall size
The law school application process can be daunting for aspiring legal professionals hoping to work in the legal field.
Typically, the Law School Admission Council provides valuable resources for potential student candidates to fairly compete with all other aspiring lawyers hoping to break into their desirable legal field.
Enrolling in Law Schools
With an LSAT score, a potential law student can submit their applications to many universities and colleges to ensure they have multiple offers to attend to choose the school that best suits them.
Before applying, it’s crucial to research colleges and universities you are interested in to ensure they have the coursework required for your particular area of law specializations.
Additionally, you will need to ensure that you have a grade point average of at least 3.0. Even with a 3.0 or slightly higher GPA, an applicant will likely not be excepted in the top 50 law schools in the United States unless the applicant has significant LSAT test results.
US news revealed the acceptance rates for the top-ranking law schools in 2021 that include:
- Yale University (8.2%)
- Stanford University (9.7%)
- Harvard University (12.5%)
- University of Virginia (14.7%)
- University of Pennsylvania (14.3%)
- Columbia University (16.7%)
- University of Chicago (17.9%)
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (16.4%)
- University of Southern California (17.2%)
- Northwestern University (19.2%)
- Cornell University (19.0%)
- Washington University in St. Louis (20.3%)
Earning a Juris Doctor Degree
Over 200 ABA-approved law schools offer a Juris Doctor (JD) degree in the United States to practice law as a licensed attorney. The JD is the most common degree, typically earned through 3 years of full-time study. In some cases, part-time programs can allow students to earn their degree in 4 or 5 years.
Nearly every ABA-accredited law school offers other degrees outside of the JD degree that furthers the attorney’s credentials. These degrees include:
- Master of Legal Studies – A graduate MLS degree provides advanced knowledge in state, federal, and constitutional law
- Master of Dispute Resolution – An MBR degree might not allow the graduate to work as an attorney but as a mediator, arbitrator, public-policy facilitator, labor relations specialist, financial services conciliator, or ombudsman.
- Master of Laws – This advanced post-graduate degree focuses on legal theory and specialized fields, including administrative law, intellectual property, family law, immigration, and environmental law.
- Doctor of Juridical Science – The SJA degree is considered an intellectually challenging opportunity to focus on training scholars and legal academics to write or teach.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Law – This Ph.D. degree allows the attorney to prepare dissertations and review jurisprudence in varying occupations, including as a consultant, researcher, professor, or patent lawyer.
Passing the Bar Exam
The American Bar Association states that nearly all law student graduates in the US must apply for admission to the bar to practice law in every state where they intend to work as a licensed attorney. Typically, the State Board of Bar examiners creates the state bar exam using the state’s unique requirements.
Every applicant should expect to undergo a background check and provide references while verifying their educational credits and degree. Usually, the State Bar exam will be divided into numerous sections, including the MBE (multistate bar examination), the local state law portion, and the MPT (multistate performance test).
The bar examination will likely be held over two or three days and could involve additional tests, including the MEE (multistate essay examination) or the MPRE (multistate professional responsibility examination). These tests include:
- MBE – Typically, the examiners allow six hours to complete the MBE tests, usually divided into two three-hour sections (100 questions per section), involving constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, real estate, contracts, torts, and evidence.
- State Portion – This test includes questions on specific local laws usually completed with a short answer or essay.
- MPT – Typically, the examiners allow two 90-minute sessions to complete this portion where the test takers must sort relevant facts and details, analyze statutes and explain relevant legal principles. The test helps demonstrate the lawyer’s fundamental skills.
- MPRE – The test-takers are presented with 60 multiple choice questions in tests during the state bar exam to be completed over 2 hours about professional conduct and responsibilities.
- MEE – The test-takers will complete essay questions over six 30-minute sessions during the bar exam, considering hypothetical situations and relevant legal principles. Typically, the topics provided vary between tests.
Passing the bar typically requires getting a good night’s sleep and figuring out the logistics of where to go to take the exam without running late. During the test, remember to take your time, watch the clock, and remember that passing the exam does not mean your answers must be perfect. If stressed or tired, take a short break when necessary.
Passing the state’s bar exam takes due diligence and hard work. Some people fail because they spent too much time passively studying and not using the practice questions. Others attempt to outsmart the examiners or develop self-doubt that they are not ready to take the test.
How to Become a Lawyer FAQs
Is it hard to become a lawyer?
The years spent in an American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school after obtaining an undergraduate degree can be challenging. Potential students wanting a Juris Doctor degree must have at least a 3.0 GPA to consider further education required for legal careers.
Enrolling in a law college or school is highly competitive, and usually, only those with high LSAT scores will be considered. The cost to obtain a law degree could be $150,000 or higher, based on whether the student attends a private or public school, college, or university.
How many years does it take to become a lawyer?
A student can earn a law degree in as little as two years at law colleges and schools that offer accelerated programs.
However, these programs tend to have limited internship and externship opportunities, which are often crucial to gain the experience needed to be a successful attorney.
Most law colleges and schools offer Juris Doctor degrees requiring 120 credits that take three years to complete. Additionally, part-time programs for working professionals allow them up to 84 months to earn their degree.
Can I become a lawyer at 30?
Becoming a lawyer at 30 is often a wise career path. Some aspiring lawyers complete law school many years after earning a four-year college or university degree, providing legal counsel in private practice and state and federal government organizations.
Nearly every candidate hoping to enroll in a law college or school at any age must first pass the LSAT (Law School Admittance Test) and submit the score results with their application. After earning a Juris Doctor degree, you’ll need to pass the Bar Exam before applying for a license to work as an attorney.
What should I major in if I want to be a lawyer?
While you can earn a bachelor’s degree in any major, choosing specific undergraduate majors are better for pre-law students to get an early start when earning credits at law college or school.
The ABA recommends a wide array of studies to help pre-law students intending to work in the legal profession, recommending they major in political science, business, economics, journalism, philosophy, and English.
Time to Practice Law
Now that you have earned a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, and passed the bar exam, it’s time to become a licensed attorney, advising clients and representing their legal rights in civil and criminal cases.
Practicing law typically requires providing legal services to clients that involve in-house counsel, legal analysis, interpersonal skills, and supervising legal assistants handling legal matters.
Most lawyers practice law by imparting advice, preparing pleadings, filing legal documents, and serving as advocates when providing legal defense in court. Lawyers also negotiate settlements, prepare for trial, take depositions, issue interrogatories, and craft persuasive arguments.
Many practice areas are available to attorneys, including those wishing to work in business law, corporate law, tax law, criminal law, personal injury, environmental law, intellectual property law, family law, and many more.
Becoming a lawyer can provide decades of financial reward, with the median annual wage of $150,000 annually, while helping others deal with their legal matters. Statistically, most practicing lawyers typically work in a law firm providing legal advice to their clients who need representation from legal professionals who truly understand the law.