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How Do I Become a Lawyer?

Lawyers require significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Lawyers draw upon their knowledge and experience to advise clients on various legal issues. Also called attorneys, lawyers may represent clients in court, study relevant case law on their behalf and guide clients through personal and business matters. Formal requirements to become a lawyer vary by state but typically include completing a 4-year bachelor's degree program, graduating from law school, which usually requires three years of study, and passing a state bar exam in order to obtain a license to practice law. Most states require that lawyers keep up with changes in their field through continuing education courses, some of which are offered online.

Required Education Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree
Licensing Must earn license by passing state bar exam
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*10%
Median Salary (2013)* $114,300

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Aspiring lawyers can begin their career by completing a bachelor's degree program. Although there are no recommended pre-law undergraduate majors, prospective candidates may consider majoring in English, history or economics. These programs often provide students with the analytical, communication and research skills that they need for success in law school.

Step 2: Apply to Law School

Due to the number of applicants, admissions to law school can be a fiercely competitive process. The American Bar Association, the only recognized accreditation organization for law schools, requires applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in order to apply for entrance. Prospective candidates must also submit college transcripts, work experience and personal background in their application.

Step 3: Complete Law School

Law schools generally last three years and cover topics ranging from constitutional law to property rights. Students begin their law school careers by enrolling in fundamental courses like civil procedures and legal writing. Most programs include participation in moot court, which involves conducting appellate arguments and researching legal issues pertaining to the case.

Some programs may also incorporate other practice trials and fieldwork duties, which are overseen by practicing lawyers. These opportunities allow students to gain additional experience in preparing cases. Upon completing their respective programs, students graduate with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

Step 4: Pass the Bar Examination

To become licensed lawyers, students must be admitted to the bar, a form of licensing. Because each state has its own laws, admission to the bar requires completing the respective state bar exam. Some states also require completion of a written ethics exam and the Multistate Performance Test.

Lawyers can expect the number of jobs in their field to increase by 10% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, the BLS reported that lawyers made a median annual salary of $114,300 as of May 2013.

Step 5: Continue Education

Because of the complexity of the legal system and changing developments, most states require licensed lawyers to complete some form of continuing education. This many include taking courses offered by law schools and state bar associations. Internet courses may also fulfill continuing education requirements.

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