How to Become a Lawyer: Law Schools & Careers

Become Team
Become Team
February 17, 2022

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Prospective lawyers must undertake a series of steps to practice law, including completion of undergraduate and graduate degrees, examinations and licensing processes. Prior to embarking in this journey, those interested should ask themselves why they want to become a lawyer and if they are willing to commit several years to studying law in order to do so. For those who answer affirmatively, the following guide outlines the various academic, skill building, and licensing steps required to begin a career practicing law. There can be an excellent payoff by the hard work it takes to become a lawyer — the median annual salary is $126,930, with salaries that exceed $200,000, according to theBureau of Labor Statistics(BLS).

How to Become a Lawyer

Step 1
Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program You Enjoy

A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for admission to law school. No singular field of study is recommended by the American Bar Association at this level. In fact, the ABA notes that students gain admission to law school from nearly every area of study, ranging from political science to mathematics. Common undergraduate majors for prelaw students include English, political science, economics, business, philosophy, and journalism. There's no correct major to pursue to get into law school. But according to legal educators, prospective J.D. students who take classes they enjoy report better GPA scores. And given the importance of your undergraduate GPA in the law school admissions process, focusing on coursework you enjoy can help you become a competitive candidate.

Step 2
Pass the Law School Admission Test

Along with an undergraduate degree, theLaw School Admission Test(LSAT) is a core component of the law school admissions process. Admissions officers use scores from the LSAT as an objective measure to assess the knowledge and quality of applicants. The examination includes five multiple-choice question sections and an unscored writing sample. The LSAT measures candidates' skills in critical areas of future legal work, including reading comprehension, information management, analysis and critical thinking, reasoning, and argumentation.

Step 3
Identify Law Schools and Complete Applications

After finishing an undergraduate degree, some students choose to forego further education, while others gain professional experience in other fields prior to enrolling in law school. Regardless of the timing, prospective students should only consider law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. In addition to overall GPA, undergraduate coursework, and LSAT scores, other admission factors may include community service, organizational affiliations, and recommendation letters from educators, alumni or legal professionals. TheLaw School Admission Councilis a great resource for students in the research phase of the law school application process.

Step 4
Earn a Juris Doctor Degree

The Juris Doctor (JD) is the nationally recognized degree for practicing law in the United States and is currently offered by 205 ABA-accredited law schools. Prospective students should have knowledge of the faculty, areas of study, tuition, and curriculum prior to applying. There are numerous specialties within legal practice and students should select a program that offers a focused curriculum in their area of interest. For example, students may choose to concentrate in areas of real estate, property, criminal, environmental, tax, or family law. Typically students can complete their Juris Doctor in three years of full-time study. Popular concentrations include:

Corporate law: Corporate or business law is a lucrative field with responsibilities such as the formation and dissolution of corporations, mergers and acquisitions, corporate disputes, and more.

Family law: Family law deals with legal relations between families such as marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, adoption, and child welfare.

Labor law: Labor attorneys deal with relations between workers and employers, often representing one side or the other on matters including discrimination, compensation, and collective bargaining.

Civil rights law: Civil rights lawyers work to protect individuals' civil rights, often representing individuals in matters against or relating to the government.

Health law: Health law is a broad field that focuses on everything related to healthcare, including healthcare policy, patents, and medical malpractice.

Intellectual property law: Attorneys in this type of law work to protect the intellectual property of clients through patents, trademarks, and copyright.

Tax law: Tax lawyers work closely with the tax code, often working on tax policy, and representing clients in tax matters.

Step 5
Pass the Bar Examination

大多数州要求律师毕业于美国律师协会认可的法学院,并通过州律师考试后才有资格在该州任职。尽管每个州都有自己的考试指南,但司法考试通常是一个为期两天的过程:第一天是完成多州司法考试,而第二天则专注于涉及各种法律事务的写作考试。除了司法考试,州司法考试委员会在提供全面的法律执照之前,还会考虑候选人的教育背景、能力、性格以及在法律事务中代表他人的能力。

Step 6
Advance Your Career

There are many opportunities for lawyers to advance their careers. Freshman lawyers generally start out as associates, working closely with seasoned lawyers to hone their craft. After several years of successful practice, attorneys may rise to become partners in a firm while others may choose to open their own law office. Some may move beyond practicing law and become a judge or shift into public positions. Lawyers may also pursue further education at both the master's and doctoral levels. The Master of Law (LLM) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are two common choices for lawyers interested in careers involving research and academic scholarship.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyer Career Basics

Lawyers are licensed by their state's bar association to represent clients on a wide range of legal matters. Law is a broad field, but professionals typically provide legal advice, perform research, gather information, draft legal documents, and more. A spectrum of options is available, allowing legal professionals to pursue opportunities in corporate, private, government, and international settings.

Lawyer Salaries

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for lawyers was about $126,930 in 2020, with the top 10 percent of earners taking home more than $208,000 per year. Those working in state and local government tend to earn less while lawyers specializing in financial and insurance law are in the top bracket.

Prospective lawyers considering where to practice law should also be aware that in25 states, the annual salaries surpassed the national average. The District of Columbia topped this list in 2020, with lawyers taking home $197,100. Below is a list of the top ten paying states for lawyers in 2020, according to the BLS.

States 2020 Average Salary
California $179,470
New York $174,060
Massachusetts $169,120
Connecticut $158,190
Illinois $153,720
Virginia $151,970
New Jersey $151,550
Colorado $148,330
Texas $142,730
Utah $141,460

Use the map below to compare salary estimates for lawyers by state:

State

Did You Know?

According to the 2020 Robert Half International Salary Guide for the Legal Field, 87% of lawyers said it's challenging for their firm or company to find skilled legal professionals today.

Exploring Law Degrees

Undergraduate Degree Options

The educational road to becoming a lawyer begins well before law school. The path is varied, allowing students to customize their approach. For any undergraduate, choosing a major and starting down a career path can be challenging. For the student looking to select a prelaw program, it can be even more difficult given there is no singular path at the undergraduate level.

美国律师协会(ABA)目前不推荐任何特定的学科来帮助学生为高等法律教育做准备。根据美国律师协会的数据,从英语到历史,从政治学到商科,几乎每一个教育学科的学生都被法学院录取。受欢迎的本科学位包括哲学、经济学、政治学、新闻学和数学。

Law schools examine the student's background, grades, overall GPA, and scores from the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The ABA recommends students pursue an undergraduate program that is broad in nature and affords the opportunity to develop core skills in the following areas:

  • Critical analysis
  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Critical reading
  • Project management
  • Time management
  • Listening comprehension
  • Speaking
  • Writing

These skills share a common trait--they are relied upon by lawyers in all legal fields. Law school teaches future lawyers how to think like a lawyer, and critical thinking and reading are the basis for judgment and evaluation. Students learn how to critically analyze their own thinking process. Lawyers must also be expert communicators who can prepare, understand, explain, and defend complex legal documents such as contracts or court opinions. Because the ultimate goal of legal practice is to win cases, the above skills are crucial for developing and presenting persuasive arguments.

Prospective students should be aware that some universities and colleges have prelaw advisors to assist them in selecting a major, preparing for the LSAT, gathering letters of recommendation, and applying to law school.

Advanced Degrees in Law

为了从事法律工作,学生通常必须完成本科学位,获得法学博士学位,并通过他们所在州的律师考试。了解现有的法律学位类型将使学生在决定是否从事法律服务和法律方面的职业时做出实际的、知情的决定。有六个先进的项目,导致不同的职业领域。These include:

  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Law (PhD)
  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (JSD)
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) or Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD)
  • Doctor of Comparative Law (DCL)

The following sections will discuss the most common advanced degrees in law.

The Juris Doctor

The minimum educational requirement to sit for a state bar examination is a Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-approved institution. The degree typically takes about three years of full-time study to complete. According to the ABA, there are currently 205 approved higher education providers. Not to be confused with other degrees such as the Doctor of Science of Law, the JD is a professional degree specifically designed to train future lawyers and prepare them for the bar examination.

The Juris Doctor curriculum provides students with a broad education, covering modern issues in the legal system within the ABA-mandated 84-90 post- baccalaureate credit hours. The first year of the program is generally reserved for core coursework and an introduction to elective classes to provide students with a foundational understanding of legal procedure, policies, legal analysis, and writing.

Coursework during the second and third years consists almost entirely of electives, allowing students to fashion a specialized program of study. In addition, many law schools also offer students the opportunity to pursue a concentration in areas such as public law, advocacy, business law, appellate law, or international law. Some of the electives available may include:

下面是JD项目中经常提供的课程列表,以及学生应该从课堂中获得的技能和知识列表。

Legal Skills

Introduces students to the elements of practicing law, including legal analysis, policy, and writing.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

  • Conduct effective legal research
  • Cite case law properly
  • Draft litigation documents, correspondence, and motions

Contracts

向学生介绍合同的基本原则,包括订立、终止和变更。

Skills & Knowledge Gained

  • Ability to draft professional documents
  • Keen understanding of contracts, trusts, wills, and employment agreements

Civil Procedure

Students gain an understanding of court procedures that do not involve criminal matters; includes the study of trial litigation, discovery process, and jurisdictional rules.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

  • Understanding of civil case law
  • Knowledge of rules of discovery in civil proceedings
  • Understanding of objectives and processes in civil transactions

Constitutional Law

Teaches students about the U.S. Constitution and how it structures the legal system.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

  • Ability to interpret the Constitution and apply it to modern day law
  • Understanding of the three branches of government and the role of a lawyer within the legal system

Torts

This course examines civil liabilities of conduct and topics such as medical malpractice and tort reform.

Skills & Knowledge Gained

  • Ability to articulate legal rules in tort area of practice
  • Knowledge of civil liability
  • Understanding of negligence, strict liability, and intentional wrongdoing

The Master of Laws

The Master of Laws (LLM) is a specialized degree designed for practicing lawyers or professionals who have already graduated from a JD program. Traditionally completed in one year, the LLM provides a broad course of study that enhances a student's knowledge of both law and legal theory. Examples of ideal candidates for LLM programs include judges, lawyers, law professors, and government officials. This degree usually requires students to complete 20 to 26 academic credit hours to qualify for graduation. The LLM curriculum structure is built on flexibility and diversity, allowing students to focus their studies in a particular section of law. Areas of specialization include international business, property, entertainment and media, civil litigation, and taxation, to name a few.

Concurrent Degrees

现代法律的实践不是发生在真空中,而是在多个学科的交叉。大学和法学院认识到这一领域涉及不同的领域。因此,许多学校提供双学位或联合学位课程,允许学生获得额外的专业学位,以补充他们的法律教育。通过这些并行学位项目,学生获得专门的专业知识,为他们提供一系列的职业机会。Some of the most common dual and joint degree programs include the following:

JD/MBA

In these programs, students earn a Master of Business Administration to complement their Juris Doctor degree. Typically requiring approximately 124 credit hours of study, students can complete a JD/MBA in four years of full-time study distributed between the curricula of each area.

JD/MA or JD/MS

This option allows students to earn a JD and Master of Arts or Sciences degree in a range of disciplines, such as international affairs, political science, philosophy, engineering, or environmental science. Generally offered as a dual degree, these programs are designed for students who want to augment their legal expertise by developing specialized knowledge in another discipline.

JD/MPH

The goal of JD/MPH program is to prepare students for a career in public health policy, health law, or a related industry. These programs are typically completed in 3-4 years of full-time study and combine two degree programs—the Juris Doctor and the Master of Public Health.

JD/MPP & JD/MPA

考虑从事公共政策、行政管理或政府工作的学生可以获得公共政策法学博士/硕士学位或公共管理法学博士/硕士学位,使他们在该领域脱颖而出。传统上,这些联合项目需要四年的全日制学习,为公共事务、国内和国际政策方面的领导职位做好准备。

JD/PHD

The Juris Doctor/Doctor of Philosophy option is intended for students pursuing research or academic-based roles. Generally speaking, JD/PHD programs can be completed in six years and allow students to combine doctoral studies in any discipline with a Juris Doctor. Example fields include anthropology, history, political science, African-American studies, or psychology.

JD/LLM in Taxation

税收法学博士/硕士通常可以在3-4年的全日制学习中完成。税收法学硕士是对学生法律培训的补充,为他们在税法内外寻求一系列与税收相关的职业机会做好准备。

Law Concentrations

现代法律实践延伸到许多不同的领域,新兴和快速增长的行业给法律实践带来了新的复杂性。通过选修和集中,学生可以集中他们的教育,发展先进的知识,以解决行业特定的法律问题,问题和关注。以下是法学院学生可获得的五种常见法律重点的简短概述。

Business Law

This expansive area examines multiple facets of today's modern economy. Students in business law concentrations explore the varied and sophisticated transactions and components of business, such as federal income taxation, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, financial accounting, capital markets, and corporate finance.

Intellectual Property Law

One of the most rapidly growing specialties in law, intellectual property is concerned with trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Curriculum may include the study of cyberlaw, intellectual asset management, antitrust, Internet law, and patent strategies.

Criminal Law

In the courtroom, criminal defense lawyers are tasked with representing clients accused of committing crimes. In addition to studying the theory of criminal law, the curriculum also introduces students to criminal procedures, evidence, national security law, white-collar crime, and trial practice.

Environmental Law

与其他法律实践领域相比,环境法可以被认为是一个相对较新的专业领域。它涉及众多法律,从《清洁水法》到《综合环境应对补偿和责任法》。课程可能包括土地使用控制、农业法、国际环境法、调解和水权法等主题。

Entertainment and Media Law

In this specialization, students prepare to practice law in music, television, film, and other creative industries. The curriculum intersects with intellectual property law, exploring topics such as copyright law, motion picture distribution, digital media, television law, and trademark law.

Doctorate Degrees

Doctorate degrees are designed for legal professionals seeking career opportunities in scholarly research. At this level, admission is extremely competitive. It is not unusual for a law school to only accept one or two doctoral students each year and to only consider students that graduated from the same institution. Although these degrees are the highest academic programs available in law, each has its own structure and purpose. The four options include:

Doctor of Philosophy in Law

The PhD in Law is ideal for JD graduates who wish to pursue academic research, scholarship, and teaching at the postsecondary level.

Doctor of Jurisprudence

The DSJ degree is designed for law graduates who hold an LLM and desire to pursue individual legal research and writing. The program culminates in a dissertation that should advance and make a significant contribution to legal scholarship.

Doctor of Juridical Science

The SJD degree is a research-focused program designed for students interested in performing legal research and writing in preparation for leadership roles in public positions or legal scholarship. Students must hold both a JD and an LLM from ABA-accredited institutions.

Doctor of Comparative Law

The D.Comp.L program is closely aligned to the DSJ degree, but concentrates on the comparative aspects of law, particularly international law, highlighting the differences among legal systems throughout the world.

PhD Skills Toolbox

Doctoral students build progressive, elevated skills in a range of areas. Some of these include:

Research Methodology

Students are able to analyze issues, develop informed plans of inquiry, conduct research, and make data-driven recommendations.

Legal Expertise

Students develop an advanced understanding of legal issues, theory, and the legal system alongside critical reasoning skills.

Policy Expertise

Students gain advanced understanding in specialized policy areas or domains and are able to make expert recommendations in each area.

Communication

Students are able to communicate effectively, writing and speaking clearly for varied audiences and purposes.

Online Law Schools

Currently, no law school offers a fully online Juris Doctor degree approved by the American Bar Association. In order to sit for state bar examinations, students must earn a degree from an ABA-accredited institution. While fully online programs do not exist, some universities and law schools may allow students to complete some coursework via online learning formats. This includes students in dual, concurrent, or joint degree programs. For example, some dual programs--such as the JD/MPH program at the University of Minnesota--allow for a majority of non-law coursework to be completed via online learning.

Although online learning is somewhat limited in law school settings, pre-law students pursuing undergraduate degrees may pursue nearly every recommended bachelor's degree entirely via online learning or through blended learning formats.

What to Consider When Selecting a Law School

There are numerous considerations when deciding to pursue a law degree. Prospective students need to ensure they are getting the right return on their investment by finding a law school that matches both their educational needs and career goals. Below is a list of factors students should review before deciding to apply to law school.

ABA Accreditation

In nearly every state, law graduates are ineligible to sit for the bar examination if they haven't earned a JD from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association. Passing the bar examination is the basic requirement to practice law.

Bar Exam Preparation

传统上,法学院为学生准备参加所在州的律师资格考试。未来的学生应该考虑他们想在哪里从事法律工作,因为这将影响他们在哪里上学。然而,一些州有互惠协议,允许一个州的毕业生通过律师考试后在另一个州执业。

Libraries and Research Resources

Attending law school means reading, and lots of it. Law students should consider the research facilities and libraries at their school of choice, examining the quality of the library collection, staff, research materials, and even hours of operation.

Faculty

The success of any student hinges on faculty members. Prospective students should get an understanding of faculty member's backgrounds, educational and professional experience, and areas of research. Faculty-student ratio is also important, as it is an indicator of how personalized the learning experience will be at each school.

Curriculum

Generally speaking, law students are not required to specialize when they graduate. However, students should review the institution's curriculum prior to applying. Not all law schools have programs that suit the student's individual's interests and goals. Secondly, students seeking a well-rounded education should ensure the school offers a rich and diverse list of classes that complement coursework in general law.

Components of a Successful Career as a Lawyer

Lawyer Skills

Through educational training, lawyers develop a range of professional skills, most of which revolve around information. Lawyers must be able to consume, digest, analyze, and process vast amounts of data.

The Law School Admission Council has distilled important legal skills into six areas:

  • Negotiating
  • Counseling
  • Communicating
  • Advocating
  • Synthesizing
  • Analyzing

Lawyers should be keen researchers, able to decipher complex legal documents and case studies. Another major skill is communication, both verbally and in written form, which enables proper conveyance of ideas to clients, arbitrators, legal counsel, juries, and the general public.

Lawyer Credentials &Certifications

Although certification has become an important part of the legal profession, formal board certification of lawyers is a fairly recent industry shift. Certification programs are entirely voluntary and lawyers not certified in a specialization (e.g. real estate law, environmental law) are not barred from practicing in that field. Lawyers may pursue certification from private ABA-accredited programs, state sponsored plans, and state-accredited private certifiers. For example, lawyers may gain board certification in multiple areas from the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification, including the following:

Tools and Technology for Lawyers

Like other fields, the legal industry is experiencing a growing integration of technology into everyday work. In addition to standard office tools and technology (e.g. computers, Microsoft Office, etc.), lawyers may use a variety of other specialized software to manage their work effectively. Some of these include:

Lawyer Job Growth, Prospects and Outlook

Nationally, the BLS projects a 4 percent growth of employment for lawyers between 2019 and 2029, translating to an additional 32,300 positions created during this time. Five of the most in-demand practice areas are detailed below.

Litigation

Driven by an increase in proceedings, there is a growing need for skilled legal specialists in areas of commercial litigation and medical malpractice. Litigation is becoming an increasingly important practice area in the wake of the pandemic.

Healthcare

Insurance companies, hospitals, drug manufacturers, and other medical providers are increasingly hiring attorneys to handle litigation, insurance defense, payment disputes, compliance, and patient privacy.

Bankruptcy, Restructuring, and Insolvency

在大流行之后,许多个人和公司发现自己陷入财务困境,正在聘请律师帮助他们度过破产和重组过程。

Contracts

Businesses need attorneys to help them review business agreements, renegotiate contracts, and reduce corporate risk. Part of this increase is driven by the pandemic, while part is due to financial institutions transitioning from the London Interbank Offered Rate, meaning contracts must be revised.

Labor and Employment

Businesses are hiring labor and employment attorneys for issues related to office reentry after the pandemic, employee health, safety and privacy, wrongful terminations, and more.

States with the best employment outlooks include Colorado, Texas, and Utah. Below is a list of the ten states expected to see the largest percentage of employment opportunities for lawyers between 2018 and 2018.

Colorado
20%
Texas
18%
Utah
17%
Nevada
14%
South Carolina
11%
South Dakota
11%
Wyoming
11%
Arkansas
10%
Montana
10%
New York
10%

Curious about lawyer job growth in your state? Select a state below for more information about employment and job growth for this career.

Related Legal Careers

Becoming a lawyer is not the only career path available to those interested in this area of work. A diverse, wide-ranging industry, legal services offers prospective students a wealth of career opportunities that diverge from the actual practice of law.

MEDIATORS
10.4%
Salary

$57,180

Education and Training:

Bachelor's degree

Paralegals and
Legal Assistants
16.7%
Salary

$48,350

Education and Training:

Associate degree

Court Reporters
9.6%
Salary

$49,860

Education and Training:

Postsecondary non-degree award

Court, Municipal, and License Clerks
10.6%
Salary

$35,460

Education and Training:

High school diploma or equivalent

Legal Secretaries
-3.1%
Salary

$42,770

Education and Training:

High school diploma or equivalent

Judicial Law Clerks
9.8%
Salary

$48,640

Education and Training:

Doctoral or professional degree

Personal
Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers
9.2%
$55,944

$43,080

Education and Training:

High school diploma or equivalent

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook

What do related careers pay?

In addition to the practice of law, there are numerous related career paths. Some are naturally progressive, such as becoming a judge or legal professor at a university while others are ideal for those interested in legal services that don't want to go to law school. Below is a table of salary data for related careers in the legal field.

Lawyer and Related Job Salaries

FAQ

How many years does it take to become a lawyer?

Becoming an attorney typically requires four years of undergraduate school and three years of law school for a total of seven years.

What should I major in if I want to become a lawyer?

有很多专业可以帮助你成为一名律师,包括刑事司法、哲学、政治学、心理学等。法律教育者认为,学生学习自己喜欢的科目时最成功。

Is it hard to become a lawyer?

Although the career comes with a lucrative salary, becoming a lawyer can be a strenuous process. You must make it through three rigorous years of school, as well as two exams: the LSAT, to be accepted in law school, and the bar exam — an examination you must pass to become a licensed attorney.

Related Careers at a Glance

Become Team
Become Team
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