How to become an attorney in the U.S.

by Camilla Barker 13th February 2019

The law remains one of the mostlucrative and prestigious career paths in the United States, despiterecent years’ increase in high-incomefast-growing industries like real estate brokering and civilengineering. If you are interested in landing a job in the ultra-competitivebut highly-rewarding legal industry, read ahead to find out how to become anattorney in the US.

For the most part, becoming an attorney in the U.S. requires that you successfully complete a gruelling four-part qualification process:

  • First, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree
  • Second, you must score well on the LSAT
  • Third, you must obtain a juris doctor degree
  • Fourth, you must pass the relevant bare xamination

Here, we guide you through the whole process.

STEP ONE: Obtaining your bachelor’s degree

In the United States, law school is a graduate endeavour. In other words, you can’t go to law school unless you have already successfullyundertaken a bachelor’s level program, also known as an undergraduate degree.

While some schools will say that it does not matter what your bachelor’s degree is in, others tend to think more pragmatically and takeon students that have already succeeded in studying a similar field withsimilar required skill sets.

Time and again, law students at the top schools tend to have their bachelor’s degree in common. History, political science, English, philosophy, economics, psychology. These are all common undergraduate qualifications among law school students. Why? Because all are based heavily on reading and writing.

Few subjects have a reading requirement as heavy as law school (I still have not-so-fond memories of receiving over 500 pages of reading for one especially gruelling assignment…) and so it’s important to law school admissions teams that you have proved yourself in a similar field.

STEP TWO: Pass the LSAT (and pass it well)

Before you get to law school, you are likely to have to take the Law School Admissions Test, or the LSAT for short. Administered by the Law School Admissions Council, the LSAT is a standardized test that assesses your aptitude in areas that are critical for the successful completion of any law program: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.

For many students, the thought of doing more tests when they have just got out of a challenging bachelor’s program is enough to put them off. But if you aren’t one of those students, there are three things you can do to give yourself the best chance of passing the LSAT with a great score:

  1. Start preparations early. All too often, wannabe law students leave the preparation for the LSAT to the last minute and rarely does it work out well for them. The LSAT is an important test and it’s crucial that you give it the attention it deserves. If you’re still in college, see if your careers department has any training materials that you can use to get you started. If not, you might want to consider the free training offered by theKhan Academy or, if you can stomach the expensive, find a private tutor.

  2. Practice practice practice. Reading about the LSAT is one thing, but actually sitting down and practicing the questions is another thing entirely. You know what they say: practice makes perfect. Make the time to do timed practice papers and get your friends to grade them. The closer you can make your practice environment to the real thing, the better.

  3. Don’t panic. You’ve probably had this said to you before every exam you’ve evertaken, but it’s an incredibly important message. You only really get one shotat tests like the LSAT, so make sure that you do everything possible to calmthe nerves beforehand.

Bear in mind that while some schools will advertise the exact LSAT score you need to achieve to get in, others are not so transparent.

The raw scores (i.e. the number of questions answered correctly) are converted into a range of between 120 and 180, with 120 being the worst or lowest score and 180 being the best or highest. Word on the streetis that the average score is around 150 and that to get into an elite school(think Harvard, Yale, Stanford) you need to be scoring at least 165. Admissionsstatistics confirm that: in 2017, thelowest LSAT score for the incoming Yale class was 171, with the lowest forHarvard being 170 and for Stanford, 169.

STEP THREE: Acquire a Juris Doctor (JD) degree

The esteemed end-result of law school is a juris doctor degree, more commonly known as the “JD”. The JD is considered a professional degree rather than a strictly academic degree, although that should in no way hint that the law is not a decidedly academic subject.

The goal of the JD is to prepare students to take the barexamination in the state or states of their choice (more on that in Step Four).The exact amount of time taken to complete the JD can vary, and therequirements and structure of the course is set by the law schools themselves,but in general a JD takes three years to complete. To view a typical programfor the JD degree, check out Harvard Law School’s requirements page.

Course availability again varies by school, with some courses being required and others being electives. Typically, you can expect to be required to study the following subjects in your JD program:

  • Constitutional Law
  • Contract Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Tort Law
  • Property Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Legal Ethics
  • Legal Research, Writing, and Advocacy

As for elective courses, most law schools offer a wide variety of courses to suit most practice interests. Everything from aviation and capital punishment to international business and food law is offered at law schools across the country.

STEP FOUR: Pass the bar examination

The last stage of qualification to become an attorney is the US is passing the bar examination in the state or states in which you wish to practice. The exception to this is Wisconsin, where graduates of the two law schools in that state are able to practice law without passing the bar (assuming they have completed successfully their law school studies).

Each state sets its own requirements and test procedures, so a good place to start in figuring out what is required in your state is the state bar’s website. Most states have as their most basic requirement a JD from an AmericanBar Association (ABA) approved law school. Most states also require that students sit a two-day examination, with the first day concentrating on the Multistate Bar Examination (consisting of 200 multiple choice questions)and the second concentrating on written answers to a series of challenging legal problems. Finally, most states will also look into the candidate’s background to see if they are fit to represent people legally before issuing the license to practice law.

Completed every requirement? Congratulations, counsellor!

The process for becoming an attorney in the US may seem longand complicated at first, but the richness and potential of a strong legaleducation will set you up for life. If you’re concerned about the cost of law school, take a look at our article on how to go to law school for free

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Camilla Barker - author at Eduvenio

By Camilla Barker

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