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The Expert’s Guide to Getting a Law Degree in the U.S.

by Laura Pennington 1st March 2019

Are you thinking about going to law school?You’re not alone. In 2018, more than 38,000 students enrolledin their first year of law school in the U.S.

Many people are drawn to the law for a variety of different reasons, but they all need to finish law school and pass the bar exam before beginning to practice on their own or with a firm in a fullcapacity.

To work as an attorney, there are many steps to the process, and you should be prepared for each one of them. First, you’ll need an undergraduate degree. Once you obtain your college degree, then you’ll need to prepare for the graduate application process to obtain a J.D.Some law school applicants even have other professional degrees before applying to get a J.D. Prospective attorneys also have to go through comprehensive examinations and licensing processes required. Anyone who intends to pursuethis kind of education should know what to expect at each level.

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

A law student in front of a building

In order to apply for law school, an applicant must have received a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Preferably, the applicant will have a strong grade point averageand community activities completed while in college to help bolster theirprofile as a strong candidate. Law-related extracurriculars or strong leadershippositions are helpful in presenting a full package.

One common misconception is that you must study pre-law. This is not true- research from the American Bar Association supports that many different fields of study at the undergraduate level have been accepted into law school.

Take the LSAT

Taking the Law School Admissions Test should occur during the undergraduate experience if the applicant intends to start law school at the completion of college. The LSAT must be taken in order for a person to begin their law school application. Allow for plenty of preparation time in order to succeed. This test includes five multiple-choice question sections and a writing sample. The testis designed to evaluate the taker’s abilities with regard toreasoning, critical thinking, and comprehensive.

Determine Law Schools of Choice to Submit Applications

Following the graduation from your bachelor’s program, you will either gain professional experience or choose to attend law school immediately. No matter what route you choose, you’ll need to be prepared to narrow down a list of law schools you’d like to apply to. Serious students should only consider law schools fully accredited by the ABA.

Programs each have their own criteria for evaluating applicants, with some factors weighted more heavily than others. However, they tend to look at recommendation letters, community service, internships, and organizational connections and service.

Obtain a Juris Doctorate

The J.D. is the degree that anyone wanting to practice law in the U.S. must obtain. Over 200 law schools currently have accreditation to offer this degree. Before submitting an application and accepting an offer, be familiar with the faculty, tuition, curriculum, and areas of study. Some law schools have specialized programs available if you want to focus on a particular area of the law, such as bankruptcy or family law.

Visiting the website of the program you’d like to attend will reveal more information about what you can expect and this can also help you compare law schools to one another when making your decision.

Students in any J.D. program in the U.S. get a broad education with plenty of learning inside the 80-90 credit hours. Core coursework is often completed in the critical first year, at which point the students move on to elective courses. The primary focus of most curriculum is on legal analysis, policies, procedure, and writing.

Get Involved in Law School

You might have thought the application process was over now that you’re in law school, but don’t make that mistake- you’ll still need a job after you’re done. For that reason, being involved with legal journals, moot court, and volunteer clinics can help to set you apart for being selected for internships and even positions after you graduate from law school. These are considered optional within the school, but remain a great way to build a solid profile as a valuable addition to a team post-graduation.

Complete Internships

Between your first and second and second and third year of law school, many students choose to obtain internships or clerkships so they can gain further experience. Networking through your school and other professional communities can help you identify programs to achieve these goals. While most schools do not require that you complete a certain number of hours of training, many students use these as opportunities to get additional experience and recommendations.

If the firm you work with is one that you form a good relationship with, this could also open the door for future work opportunities after you do graduate from law school.

Pass the Bar Exam

You can choose to complete law school and pursue an alternative career that does not require that you pass the bar exam. Plenty of successful people choose not to practice with their degree and instead go into public service, nonprofit work, or entrepreneurship. They still use parts of their legal training to advance their career, but might have decided at some point during the law school process that they don’t want to be a practicing lawyer.

For most law school students and graduates, however, working as a practicing attorney is the career move of choice. In the U.S., states generally require that a law graduate from an ABA-accredited law school and pass the state bar test in order to qualify in their state. Every state has the discretion to set their own testing guidelines, but the most common approach is to carry out the bar exam over the course of two days.

That first day of the test is known as the “Multistate Bar Examination” and the second day presents legal matters and cases to test takers in the form of a writing exam. It’s essential for anyone who wants to practice law to pass all aspects of this test.

To prepare for the bar exam, many students begin their study near the end of their final year of law school. They dedicate the entirety of that summer to preparing for the test in order to take it in the late summer. Some graduates will also have job offers contingent on their passing the bar and they must balance their workload with bar preparation.

It’s a lot of work to become a lawyer, but all of these stages in the process can help to confirm your passion for and awareness of the law, helping to put you in an informed position to help your future clients.

Laura Pennington - author at Eduvenio

By Laura Pennington

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