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Step-by-step guide to becoming a lawyer

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Although there are several paths to becoming a lawyer, there are 5 general steps that must be completed to become a lawyer.

American comedian Will Rogers once said that “the moment you read something you can’t understand, you can be sure it was written by a lawyer.” Will Rogers might be surprised how long it takes to develop the skills necessary to write in a way that only confuses people.

There are many different paths to becoming a lawyer, but they all tend to be long and uphill. Let’s explore some of these paths by looking at the top 5 steps to becoming a lawyer.

Step 1: Get a college degree

Law schools want whole students. Therefore, most law schools do not require you to study a particular subject (such as pre-law) as a student. In fact, there is some evidence that law schools prefer students who specialize in areas other than pre-law.

That said, attorneys interested in becoming intellectual property attorneys should seriously consider developing technical training (for example, specializing in engineering, chemistry, biology, physics, or computer science).

While law schools do not require you to study a particular subject, the vast majority of law schools require you to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

There is at least 1 ABA-approved law school (Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley School of Law) that will admit “exceptional students” who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. However, the school cautions that many state bar associations will not allow a student without a bachelor’s degree to take the bar exam.

Step 2: Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

The LSAT is a standardized test administered several times a year by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) at testing centers across the country.

All law schools require you to take the LSAT for admission. Law schools generally put a lot of emphasis on your LSAT score. For that reason, it is imperative that you take the LSAT seriously. Most admissions counselors recommend studying for at least 3 months.

You can enter your GPA and LSAT score into the LSAC Calculator to predict your probability of admission to each ABA-approved law school.

Step 3: Apply to law schools

Based in part on your LSAT score and GPA, you will need to decide and apply to law school.

There are a number of considerations that go into choosing which law schools to apply to, including:

  • Your GPA and LSAT score
  • Cost of attendance
  • School location
  • Bar passage rates
  • Employment rates
  • School specializations (including clinics offered by the school)
  • Faculty
  • Accreditation

When applying to law school, most law schools will require the following information: 

  • Application form.
  • Application fee
  • Personal statement
  • 1 to 3 letters of recommendation
  • Undergraduate transcript
  • LSAT score

Tip: Most states require a degree from an ABA-accredited law school to take the bar and practice law (only taking the bar exam in Virginia, California and Vermont do not have this requirement). What’s more, graduates of unaccredited law schools have lower bar pass rates, lower starting salaries, and lower employment on average.

Step 4: Graduate from law school

Under the ABA Rules , a law student must complete no less than 83 credit hours to graduate from an ABA-approved law school. At least 64 of these credit hours must be in courses that require attendance at regularly scheduled class sessions or direct instruction from faculty.

Additionally, these 83 credit hours must be completed no earlier than 24 months and, except in extraordinary circumstances, no later than 84 months after the student has started law school. Consequently, it will take law students between 2-7 years to earn their JD (with most students completing law school in 3 years).

Step 5: Pass the bar exam

Before you can practice law, you must pass the bar exam for the state in which you want to practice.

So what is the bar exam?

The bar exam is administered through the Bar Examiners Board of the state in which you are applying.

Although the test may vary from state to state, the most common test setup consists of a 2-day bar exam that involves the following components:

  • Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE). A 6-hour, 200-question, multiple-choice exam covering civil proceedings, contracts, lawsuits, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, evidence, and real estate.
  • Multi-State Essay Exam (MEE). It consists of 6 essay questions covering business associations, civil proceedings, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, family law, real estate, secured transactions, lawsuits and estates and trusts.
  • State specific tests. Some states include additional state-specific essays or multiple-choice questions.
  • Multi-State Performance Test (MPT). It consists of two 90 minute skills questions that require: fact analysis, legal analysis and reasoning, problem solving, identification and resolution of ethical dilemmas, written communication, and organization and management of a legal task.
  • Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). A multiple-choice test on ethics. 

In addition, you must complete an extensive application and investigation of character and physical condition.

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