FAQ: How Do I Know If I Want to Be a Lawyer?
If you've ever thought to yourself, "I want to be a lawyer," there are a lot of factors to consider as you determine whether law is the right career for you. Lawyers work in a fast-paced and challenging environment but ultimately have the ability to change the lives of individuals who pursue legal assistance. If you want to help people through various situations involving their legal rights, a career as a lawyer may be a good choice for you. In this article, we explore frequently asked questions about working as a lawyer, including the abilities you need to perform well in the profession, steps you can take to become a lawyer and salary expectations for lawyers.
How do I know if I want to be a lawyer?
You may realize you want to be a lawyer if you are interested in upholding laws and defending an individual's rights. If you have a desire to help others, becoming a lawyer is a way to do this through a variety of career paths.
Lawyers also use strong persuasive skills to argue for a position. If you feel a sense of justice and are interested in following and enforcing domestic and foreign laws, you may be a good candidate for a legal career.
You also need to be willing to work hard. The path to becoming a lawyer requires extensive education, training and commitment to working more hours and making more sacrifices than peers in other professions.
Why should I become a lawyer?
Lawyers are highly regarded professionals who help shape public policy. Their actions can impact the circumstances of individuals. When you train as a lawyer, you undergo an extensive education that prepares you for a demanding but rewarding career.
Practicing law gives you the potential to earn a high wage and work in many different areas of legal expertise. Defense attorneys help clients who are prosecuted and may be sent to prison. Lawyers involved in civil litigation or trial lawyers may handle intellectual property or anti-trust lawsuits and many other types of disputes. There are a wide variety of legal specializations to choose from based on your interests and skills.
What should I consider before becoming a lawyer?
Here are the factors to think about before you decide to become a lawyer:
A law degree requires two to three years of school for full-time students. Coursework for lawyers is rigorous with practicums and clinics in the last years of the program that could require extensive hours outside of school.
Cost of law school
Law programs vary in cost depending on whether you attend a private or public institution. However, the cost of earning your education to practice law may add up to over $60,000 on top of your bachelor's degree.
Competitive entrance requirements
Law schools often admit students with a strong academic record in both high school and undergraduate studies. If your academic history is not above average, you can still apply, however. You may want to show your potential through a compelling entrance essay, engaging resume and positive personal references.
To even be considered for most law schools, you'll need to pass the law school admission test (LSAT), an assessment that is used to determine if you have the skills needed to succeed in law school. Once you complete your studies, you'll also need to pass the bar exam in the state or states where you plan to work to practice law.
Speaking and writing
Public speaking is a big part of a lawyer's job, so anyone thinking about getting into law should feel confident in their skills as an orator. Lawyers also spend a lot of time writing based on a complex analysis of laws and case studies. If you plan to enter law school, be sure you feel confident in both abilities.
Formal work environment
Unlike some jobs with a more casual atmosphere, most lawyers work in courthouses, meet with judges and represent their law firms during client meetings. Formal business attire is required during most work hours including full suits for both men and women.
Lawyers work for billable hours and may need to perform duties throughout the day and into the evening or even during weekends, which is well past normal work hours for many other jobs.
What qualities and skills do I need to become a lawyer?
Here are some of the key abilities you should cultivate if you plan to become a lawyer:
To defend and argue court cases, a lawyer must be able to consider reasonable solutions to a client's legal argument.
Lawyers must accurately analyze theoretical and actual legal situations to prepare to represent clients in court.
Persuasive speaking techniques
A lawyer must be able to defend and argue on a client's behalf. They need to convince both a judge and jury that their client's claims are right.
Since lawyers calculate their fees based on billable hours, they need to carefully track the time spent on each part of the legal process as they work for a client.
Lawyers are often involved in multiple cases at once. They must be able to organize information from each client to use for legal proceedings.
A lawyer often acts as an advisor, giving legal counsel to clients and listening to their concerns. They need to show empathy and communicate complicated legal policies and procedures, making them easy for a client to understand.
Attention to detail
Finding small details through analysis and reasoning might change the outcome of a legal proceeding for a client. Lawyers need to pay attention to the most minute details as they prepare a case.
What should I do if I want to be a lawyer?
If you want to be a lawyer, concentrate on working hard to maintain an excellent academic record while in college for your undergraduate degree. Next, focus on getting a legal education and preparing to take the bar exam. Study hard while in law school and participate in opportunities to grow your legal skills through events like mock trials, moot courts and clinics.
How can I become a lawyer?
To become a lawyer and begin your legal career, you'll need to pursue the following steps:
1. Earn a bachelor's degree
If you enter college knowing you want to start a career as a lawyer, you may choose a degree program like criminal justice or pre-law. However, you can still get accepted to law school if you've studied another field. You'll just need to maintain a strong GPA by doing well in all your courses.
2. Pass the LSAT
Before you enter law school, you'll need to pass the law school admission test. This multiple-choice exam tests the reading comprehension and reasoning abilities of prospective law students. The test helps assess if students have the skills they'll need to succeed in the first year of law school, which is heavy in theory and academic studies. The exam also includes an un-scored writing portion.
3. Go to law school
Earning your law degree means a commitment to at least two and often three more years of school. During your first year in law school, you'll take courses on legal methods, laws and civil procedures. You'll also learn about torts, which are the acts that constitute a crime. Law students spend time studying constitutional law and the rights of individuals.
The final years of law school involve preparing for the bar exam. Students can also take courses about topics where they wish to specialize after graduation.
4. Pass the multistate professional responsibility exam (MPRE) and the bar exam
To begin practicing as a lawyer, you'll first need to pass the MPRE, a 60-question test that lasts two hours, to take a state bar examination. The bar exam is a rigorous assessment that tests a law school graduate's legal knowledge and competency.
Preparing for the bar exam is a large part of a legal student's education. Even so, many intelligent law school graduates still do not pass the bar on their first attempt. All states offer prospective lawyers multiple chances to take and pass the exam — some even allow unlimited tries.
5. Work for a firm to gain experience
Most firms offer guidance and mentoring to new lawyers as they begin their careers. Working in a law firm allows lawyers beginning their practice to train with experienced legal professionals. Firms may also provide the training mandated by some states.
6. Pursue private practice
If you desire more control over your clients and the type of law you practice, consider going into private practice once you've gained enough legal experience. The flexibility and financial rewards of working for yourself as head of your own legal practice are a goal many lawyers work toward.
What types of law can I pursue?
Here are a variety of law fields you can pursue as a lawyer:
Family law: Lawyers who practice family law are involved in the legal proceedings of child custody, adoption and family relationship issues such as divorce.
Constitutional law: This type of law is about interpreting both state constitutions and the federal constitution as it is applied to the legal rights of individuals and groups.
Business law: A lawyer specializing in business law (also known as commercial and corporate law) is concerned with the rights and regulations of trade and commerce.
Criminal law: Criminal lawyers determine the consequences for individuals who commit crimes.
Health law: Those involved in health care law work with regulatory laws for health care providers. They ensure patient rights and protection for medical issues.
Environmental law: An environmental lawyer helps provide protection and upholds laws regarding how people and businesses interact with the environment.
Intellectual property law: This type of law protects the work of artists and creators of various mediums. Intellectual property lawyers are concerned with trademarks, patents and copyrights.
Employment law: Also called labor law, lawyers working in this specialization are involved in legal issues related to the relations between employers and their employees.
Admiralty law: Otherwise known as maritime law, lawyers working in this jurisdiction study and defend the rights of ocean vessels and their trade routes.
Related: Pros and Cons of Being a Lawyer
What salary will I make as a lawyer?
The national average salary for a lawyer is $53,969 per year. This base salary figure depends on experience and location as well as the type of law practiced. New York, Texas and California are states with some of the highest reported salaries for lawyers with figures over $100,000 per year. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
Once you gain experience as a lawyer, your earning potential increases with an income almost double the median wage of many professions. After you pay off any law school debt, your wages can continue to increase as you add expertise and pursue specific areas of law or if you enter into private practice.
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