If you’re well-read and enjoy being in charge and wearing business suits, a career as a lawyer could be the thing for you. You should be prepared for a lot of reading, writing and generally taking in information, whether it’s from dense legal texts or through listening carefully to your clients. You’ll need to have strong interpersonal skills, as you’ll spend a lot of time negotiating deals, working with clients and standing up for their points of view. But, it’s not all witty banter and costly business meals like you see on T.V. -- there are specific educational requirements that you’ll need to check off your list before you can call yourself a practicing lawyer.
Before you can jump into law school, you’ll need to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. Though some schools may offer a pre-law track, there is no specific undergraduate degree required in order to be accepted by a law school. You should try to take a well-rounded balance of classes, including math and science courses. However, some of the most common undergraduate majors to prepare for law school include English, criminal justice studies, history and philosophy.
In order to get into law school, you’ll need to take the LSAT -- the standardized law school admission test -- and fulfill other requirements, possibly including a personal interview. Though getting accepted to law school is a daunting task, the work doesn’t stop once you’re in. Most programs are three years long, starting off with a core first year curriculum that all students take before pursuing specialties. This doesn’t mean that all law schools are the same -- in addition to the prestige that certain university names might have, you’re going to find different extracurricular activities, networking opportunities and internship offerings at different schools. At the end of your studies, you’ll earn a J.D., which is generally considered to be the first law degree.
Taking the Bar Exam
So you’ve survived the rigors of law school -- now what? Until you’ve passed the bar exam, you’re not quite yet ready to call yourself a lawyer. The requirements will vary depending on the state in which you live, but you’ll most likely need to pass a lengthy written exam and possibly a personal character examination. If you want to practice law in two states, get ready to take the exam twice. Though it doesn’t guarantee you a job, passing “the bar” is often seen as the final hurdle to a professional career as a lawyer.
Just because you’re done with formal schooling doesn’t mean that you’re done with your legal education. Many states require their lawyers to complete some kind of continuing education every few years to make sure that they’re aware of changes in their field and are on top of their game in the courtroom. You also have the option of going back to school to earn your LLM, or Master of Laws, which is a year-long certification program designed for experienced lawyers who wish to gain even more education. Membership in professional legal societies can also give you an added credential. It alwo gives you additional networking and growth opportunities.
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.