Choosing a career as a lawyer can be a noble pursuit. Many lawyers spend their career fighting injustices and protecting people’s basic human rights. Although the world of movies and television has glorified courtroom drama, they fail to show the years of education and extensive testing that go into becoming a lawyer.
If you’re interested in a law career, this article walks you through how to become a lawyer, including the years of education needed, how much it costs and skills you’ll need to be successful.
Steps to become a lawyer
Becoming a lawyer requires a serious commitment because of the amount of schooling required. Each state has its own requirements to become a licensed lawyer. The following steps walk you through how to become an attorney.
1. Get your undergrad degree
When it comes to what degree you need to be a lawyer, it starts with earning an undergraduate degree from a college or university. A pre-law degree isn’t required to become a lawyer, although many schools offer pre-law bachelor degrees. There isn’t one set path to law school.
Many undergraduate degrees prepare you by developing the skills you’ll need in your career, like research and writing techniques. The American Bar Association (ABA) doesn’t recommend a specific undergraduate major to prepare for a legal education. Possible degree programs that could lead to a legal career include:
- Political Science
- Computer Science
People from all different types of educational backgrounds end up pursuing a career in law. If you aren’t positive you want to become a lawyer, it might be best to choose a major that offers other career options as well.
2. Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
Most law schools require students to take the LSAT as a condition of admission. The test is designed to gauge your aptitude in areas important to success in law school, such as reasoning and persuasive writing. The exam is broken into two main sections: multiple choice and written essay.
The LSAT is not the only test that individuals can take to get into law school, but it is recognized and accepted by all ABA-accredited law schools. Some schools also accept the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).
3. Attend law school
The next step in the process is to attend law school, which typically takes three years to complete. Upon graduation, you’ll leave law school with your Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Many states require a degree from an ABA-approved law school to be eligible to take the bar exam.
The cost of law school depends on the school you attend. Here’s a look at the average annual tuition and fees at law schools during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to a U.S. News survey:
Type of School
Keep in mind these are just average costs for law school. Cheap law schools do exist and provide a quality education at a discounted rate. There are also much more expensive colleges. Recently, three colleges passed the $100,000 mark for annual tuition: Columbia University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago.
You could graduate with more than $100,000 in law school loan debt, not including debt incurred from your undergraduate degree. Factor in tuition and other costs when making a school decision and deciding how to pay for law school.
Law school is full of extensive reading and writing and can be intensely competitive. Most law schools have the same curriculum for the first year, while years two and three consist of coursework based on your chosen career path in the law profession. Exams carry a ton of weight, with one course exam often making up the bulk of the entire class grade.
After the first year, students may have the chance at a summer position as a law clerk, depending on their grades. A summer clerkship could lead to future summer jobs and a position as an attorney upon graduation.
4. Take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
The MPRE is one of the tests required to be admitted to most state bar associations, although it’s separate from the bar exam itself. The two-hour test is not judging an individual’s ethical standards. Instead, the MPRE tests one’s understanding of standards related to the professional conduct of lawyers.
Each jurisdiction sets its own MPRE requirements and grading scale. Check the requirements with the bar association where you plan to practice law. There is a $135 fee to take the MPRE.
5. Pass your bar exam
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the bar exam before. To practice law, you’ll need to pass the bar exam in the jurisdiction where you plan to practice. When you pass the bar exam, you get your license to practice law under that state’s bar association.
State bar exams are offered twice a year and could include multiple extensive exams over several days. At least 36 states have adopted the Universal Bar Exam. Check your state’s requirements to ensure you’re on the right track.
There are currently only four states that allow you to take the state bar exam without completing law school:
Costs for taking the bar exam vary from state to state. The price can depend based on whether it’s your first time taking the exam or you’re retaking it. Bar exam fees for first-time takers range from $150 to $1,500.
After you pass the bar exam, you are officially licensed to practice law and ready to start your new career. Use your previous work as a law clerk and the contacts you’ve already made along the way to look for job prospects. Your school’s career placement office is an excellent resource for job opportunities and tips for finding a job.
Skills you need to be a good lawyer
Not everyone is cut out to be an attorney. To be a good lawyer, you need to either possess or develop certain traits to excel in the field of law.
Here are some of the skills and characteristics you should have if you plan to pursue a career as a lawyer:
- Public speaking
- Research and writing
- Analytical and critical thinking
- Relationship building
- Critical reading
You don’t have to be a finished product after deciding to pursue a career as a lawyer. You can develop many of these skills during your time in school and as you gain work and life experience.
Have a plan to pay for law school
If you haven’t started your law school education yet, you’ll need to ask yourself whether you’re prepared for the cost of law school. Our student loan consultants can help create a plan for paying for law school that you’re comfortable with before you even start school.
We can also help if you already have law school debt and aren’t sure of the best way to pay it off. Student Loan Planner has advised people on over $1 billion worth of student loans, and we have the expertise to help you design a clear plan that will save you a lot of headaches and heartache.