Becoming a lawyer is a process which requires hard work, planning, research, and perseverance. There are several standard steps which must be followed and many factors which must be taken into consideration. A person who is not prepared to invest the time, money, and effort into the process may want to reconsider beginning the process and follow a different career path. Those who are dedicated to the idea of becoming a lawyer and are ready to take on all that the process entails need to familiarize themselves with the necessary steps and develop a scheduled plan.
The process of becoming a lawyer doesn’t begin in high school, but preparation for the long arduous road ahead does begin here. A challenging college prep curriculum should be followed. The classes will begin to prepare students for the challenges that lie ahead in the more difficult collegiate courses which will need to be taken. An ambitious student may have the opportunity to begin college courses in the senior year of high school; allowing the student to satisfy a couple of the basic core curriculum classes which will be required of all undergraduate students regardless of the chosen major early.
Though high school isn’t really considered as one of the basic steps in becoming a lawyer, it is part of the whole process. Academic performance in high school will generally determine how well a student will perform in college classes. Though high school grades are a determining factor in which colleges a student will have the opportunity to attend, the college a student attends to obtain an undergraduate degree will not have a significant impact on law school opportunities. It is the student’s accomplishments at the college which will afford the opportunities.
It is after high school graduation that the road to becoming a lawyer begins. There are several fundamental steps which must be completed. In order to be prepared for each step, aspiring lawyers should know each subsequent step and research what that step will entail. The demands do become increasingly more difficult as a person advances from one step to another.
1. Obtain a bachelor degree. Though many may advise that the course of study in which the degree is earned is of no consequence; that is not exactly accurate. Choose a major which will hone the skills you will require in the legal profession. As a lawyer, critical thinking and analytical skills, research skills, and professional writing skills are essential for success. The program of study you pursue should be one which will develop and strengthen these skills. Some law schools may consider the course of study in determining acceptance.
Grades are one of the factors law schools use to decide who will be invited to attend. A person who cannot excel in undergraduate courses would not be expected to do so in the vigorous law school curriculum. Though the law schools will look at other factors in conjunction with grades and the overall GPA, grades are indicative of how much importance and priority a person places on studies over other aspects of life and how well the person balances priorities.
2. Research Law Schools. This can be done well in advance of your final years of undergraduate school. Take the time to review the qualifications the law schools require for entrance. The curriculum of each law school should be examined to determine if the structure and courses meet the needs and goals of the student. The schools teaching and training methods will vary. The opportunities for involvement in various projects and programs can also differ. Taking the time to review what each school offers and requires to and of the students will ensure a better fit for the student.
3. Take the LSAT. The LSAT is a standardized test which is scheduled for a half day. The test is comprised of five 35 minute segments. Most of the questions are multiple choice and are based on the analysis of one or two readings presented in the section. The test is used to measure the analytical and logical reasoning of the individual as well as the person’s reading comprehension skills. A new section on the test requires a written essay law schools can use to evaluate the writing skills of the test taker but which aren’t used to calculate the score of the test. The test score ranges from 120 to 180.
The test is challenging and as such will require preparation. Classes are offered to help with the LSAT preparation process. Though the classes can be costly for some, they are effective. If classes are not a viable or favorable option, books are available to help prepare. The books have sample or previous LSAT tests from which to study. These tests can also be found on the internet, but usually for a fee. The sample tests generally include the answer key with which to compare. Considering the importance of the LSAT test score in gaining entrance to a law school, preparation is vital.
Preregistration to the LSAT test is required. The test is offered four times throughout the year; February, June, October, and December. Law schools require that the test be taken by December of the year preceding the fall in which the student would be attending the law school. It is recommended though that the test be taken in June or October to allow time to retake the test if necessary. Registration can be done online or through the mail. The fee for taking the LSAT is around $127 and can also be taken care of online. Neither can be taken care of at the door; advanced registration and payment is required. In limited cases where financial hardship is an issue, a fee waiver form can be completed.
The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The LSAC organization is a nonprofit corporation. The members of the organization include all of the law schools which have the American Bar Association approval. The organization has evolved over the years and now provides additional helpful services for law school applicants. The organization provides a free referral service which compiles the information needed to apply to law school; LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, biographical information, and letters of recommendation. Law schools can review the information and contact candidates in which they are interested; schools to which the candidate may not even have applied.
4. Apply to Law School. Each school may have different deadlines for applications and submission of certain information. Submitting applications to at least three law schools will increase the probability of a student’s acceptance to law school. Once you choose the law schools to which you want to apply, you will need to keep track of the deadlines. Write down important deadlines in a pocket and/or desk calendar. Make sure the information is in a place where it is prominently displayed to prevent the chance of missing a deadline. It may even be wise to pencil in reminders two weeks ahead of a deadline on the calendar to allow time to complete and/or compile what is needed for submission. Sending the information early will help eliminate the chance of missing a deadline also.
Though there is a standard deadline for application submission, many schools extend the option for early applications. An earlier application deadline date is provided allowing student’s the opportunity to gain early acceptance into the law school of their choice. Besides the obvious advantage of alleviating the stress of waiting for acceptance earlier, there are other reasons to opt for early submission. Applying early will shorten the list of applicants against whom each candidate is compared. Even if it is only a fraction less, the smaller pool of applicants will decrease the number of people from whom the student will need to stand out. And if an acceptance invitation is not extended from the early applications, the candidate can submit additional applications by the standard deadline for a second chance.
5. Successfully graduate from law school. Law school will take three years to complete if the student attends full time. A part time program will take four years to complete. First year law school students should be prepared to eat, sleep, and breathe the law school curriculum. The first year at any law school delivers a rigorous program which will require almost every waking hour to be spent researching or reading about the law. The idea behind this intense induction into the study of law is to force law students to become accustomed to constantly thinking in terms of law. This process is considered so important to the success of law students in the legal profession that the American Bar Association restricts the number of hours a full time law student can work to 20 hours a week.
Law school courses are generally standard across all law schools for first year students. Law students will study Legal methods and writing to familiarize students with the legal system and the terminology. Contracts and Torts are covered; familiarizing each law student with the character of enforceable promises and the culpability of individuals and entities in private acts of wrongdoing and negligence. Property law, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law and civil procedure are also covered extensively.
Second and third year students are given more autonomy in selecting courses of study based on the student’s legal interests. Courses are offered in the numerous other aspects of law including environmental, corporate, commercial and administrative law. Most students will select a specialty of law in which they intend to work. Law schools require students to participate in practical applications of what is being studied. Law students will counsel on law, participate in legislative and court activities. Research and legal writing opportunities are offered and often required. Students may even be required to argue a case in a mock trial. Law school is a combination of practical and theoretical application.
6. Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). The exam covers the rules of professional responsibility to which all lawyers must abide when practicing law. In many jurisdictions, the test is generally required prior to sitting for the Bar exam. Most states require that all law students/bar candidates take this exam prior to being allowed to practice law. Only four states do not require this exam and two allow students who obtain a C or better in a professional ethics course in law school to be exempt from the requirement.
7. Take the Bar Exam. The Bar exam is used to determine if the law school graduate is qualified to practice law in a specific jurisdiction. The test is administered by an agency in the particular state and jurisdiction where the candidate intends to practice law. The Bar exam is administered twice a year in most states. The exam must occur on the same day across the country. The Bar exam usually lasts two days but is three in some states and is comprised of essay questions, multiple choice, and sometimes a performance test. The performance portion of a bar exam requires a candidate to demonstrate their ability to resolve or handle a fictional law case/situation.
Law school does not provide Bar exam preparation. Law school graduates must prepare for the test on their own. Most law schools teach students how to be a lawyer; techniques, applications, practice. But law schools do not teach the particular laws of each jurisdiction as every jurisdiction has their own set of laws. In order to successfully pass the Bar exam, candidates must learn the laws of the jurisdiction in which they intend to practice. Many call this process the “Bar review”. Courses are offered to help the candidates to prepare for the Bar exam.
8. Gain acceptance into the Bar of the jurisdiction in which the law graduate wants to practice. After the candidate successfully passes the bar exam, a character and fitness evaluation is generally required. The candidate must submit to this review in the jurisdictions where it is required for entrance into the bar. These evaluations are very intrusive and delve deeply into the person’s background. Only persons considered of acceptable moral character and fitness will be admitted into the Bar.
9. Apply to the responsible authority for the state in which the person intends to practice for a license. Once the approval is granted, the applicant takes an oath promising to comply with the rules of practicing law.
10. Some states and jurisdictions have a continuing education requirement for license renewal. The continuing education courses keep the practicing lawyer up to date with new changes in practice, technique, standards, or application of certain laws.