How To Become a Lawyer (With FAQs)

Updated March 10, 2023

If you’re considering a career as a lawyer, you probably enjoy negotiating and are an expert communicator. Lawyers can work in a variety of fields and typically enjoy continuous career growth and high earnings, making it a popular occupation.

Learning about the duties of a lawyer and how to become one can help you determine if it's a good career path for you. In this article, we explain what a lawyer does and provide you with some steps to become one.

What does a lawyer do?

Lawyers help individuals or businesses throughout legal processes. They prepare legal documents, build cases, attend hearings and try cases. Additional duties include working with legal and criminal justice professionals, taking depositions, settling cases and sending legal correspondence.

Lawyers work in a wide range of fields, such as real estate, business, criminal justice, healthcare and politics. They also often specialize in different types of law, including:

  • Bankruptcy law

  • Employment law

  • Corporate law

  • Probate law

  • Immigration law

  • Family law

  • Animal rights law

  • Intellectual property/trademark law

  • Personal injury law

Read more: Learn About Being a Lawyer

How to become a lawyer

Lawyers need to complete extensive testing and education requirements to practice law. Here are the basic steps to become a lawyer:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

You'll need to have a bachelor's degree to apply for law school. Law schools accept students with a wide range of degrees. However, some of the most common undergraduate majors include criminal justice, English, economics, philosophy and political science.

Spend your undergraduate time taking classes related to the area of law you think you would like to practice. For example, if you want to practice corporate law, you should take more business courses. The purpose of your undergraduate degree is to give yourself a strong, wide base of knowledge and to explore your interests.

2. Take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

After earning your bachelor's degree, your next step is to take the LSAT. It consists of five multiple-choice sections that cover topics such as reading comprehension, critical thinking and argumentation, and each section needs to be completed in 35 minutes.

It’s administered at a testing location on a specific date through electronic tablets. After the in-person exam, you’ll also need to complete a written portion that you can submit online from home.

Law school admissions officers will review your LSAT scores and undergraduate history to determine if you’d be a good fit for the program. Many undergraduate students take the LSAT at the end of their junior year so they have enough time to submit law school applications.

It’s beneficial to prepare for the LSAT before taking it. The LSAT tests your skills first and foremost, and it’s a good idea to take practice exams so you can understand the types of questions and how to answer them.

You should spend several months reviewing materials and conducting practice tests before you take the LSAT. The better you perform, the higher chance you have of getting into a top-tier law school.

Related: 7 Steps to Law School: Pre-Law Requirements

3. Apply to law school

Once you've received your LSAT scores, you can begin applying to law schools. Most students apply to several law schools so they have a few options to choose from. For each application you send, you'll need to submit official transcripts, LSAT scores, letters of recommendation and additional information.

Many schools seek candidates with high LSAT scores, excellent letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities. Completing an internship at your local courthouse or law firm can further show your dedication to the field. Volunteering with a group in your community can demonstrate your eagerness to learn.

Read more: Law School FAQ: Everything You Need To Know

4. Earn a Juris Doctor degree

Once you graduate from law school, you’ll earn a J.D. It takes an average of three years to complete a doctorate in law. Each school has its own curriculum and guidelines for graduation.

In the first two years of law school, you'll typically complete coursework in general studies. During your final year, you can usually take elective courses to start focusing on a specific area of law. Some courses you can expect to take while earning your J.D. are:

  • Constitutional law

  • Courtroom procedures

  • Criminal law

  • Civil law

  • International law

  • Torts

  • Property and real estate law

5. Pass the bar examination

The last step in becoming a lawyer is passing the bar examination for whichever state you’d like to practice law in. For example, if you want to become a lawyer in New York, you’ll need to pass the New York State Bar Exam.

While there are some variations from state to state, the bar exam is usually a two-day test. On the first day, you’ll complete the Multistate Bar Examination, and the second day consists of a written exam portion.

Preparing for the bar exam requires a lot of studying. You should create a study schedule that takes place over several months. You’ll also want to find a quality bar exam test preparation course and materials to help, and focus your attention on topics that appear frequently.

After completing the test, the state's bar examiners will consider your test scores along with your educational background, character and ability to represent others in legal matters. Should they find you acceptable in all these categories, you will then receive your law license.

Related: How To Become a Lawyer on Your Timeline

Frequently asked questions

How much money do lawyers make?

The median pay for lawyers in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $127,990 per year. Salaries may depend on experience level, the field of legal practice and a lawyer's location.

How long does it take to become a lawyer?

It takes about seven years of full-time study to become a lawyer once you’ve graduated from high school. This includes four years of undergraduate study followed by three years at a law school.

What's the difference between a lawyer and an attorney?

Lawyers graduated from law school but haven't passed the bar exam. Attorneys are legal professionals who have passed the bar exam and can act as legal representatives. All attorneys are lawyers, but not all lawyers are attorneys, though many use the terms interchangeably.

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