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How to Become a Lawyer in the United States

Do you want to become a lawyer? This is often one of the most difficult professions to enter due to the high competition and time required obtaining degrees, but it can be one of the most rewarding (and high-paying!) jobs out there. Here are the steps you need to take in order to become a lawyer in the United States.

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What To Do In High School And College

  1. Study hard. Develop and practice very good study habits, communication and reading comprehension skills.
  2. Participate in your high-school debate or mock trial team. This will help you develop skills that are essential to a career as a lawyer.
  3. Go to (and graduate from) a 4-year undergraduate college. Every law school will require you to have an undergraduate degree.
    • Maintain a high GPA. A minimum 3.0 GPA will be required for almost every law school in the country. Most colleges don’t factor your particular major into the application, so choosing a very difficult subject may be but a disadvantage since your GPA might suffer.
    • The exception is for those interested in Intellectually Property law. To sit for the Patent Bar (which is required in addition to the Bar) you will need a degree in a technical science or math. (Biology, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, etc.)
    • Become familiar and cordial with a professor or two since you will need their letter of recommendation for law school. Do well in their classes and be an engaging student.

Applying for Graduate School

  1. Register and study for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

    • The LSAT is a half-day standardized test required for admission to all ABA-approved law schools, most Canadian law schools, and many non-ABA-approved law schools. It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants. The test is administered four times a year at hundreds of locations around the world.
    • Many students take a preparatory course to prepare them for the LSAT.
    • Although the LSAT is not often the best measure of a prospective law student’s performance in law school, many law schools place substantial weight on scores on the LSAT, often approaching the weight given to college GPA. Take the LSAT very seriously. Some schools give more attention to the LSAT than GPA.
    • If your GPA isn’t the best, you can score well on the LSAT and it will be heavily taken into account. Scoring higher is also a factor for financial aid with most schools.
    • A 180 is a perfect score on the LSAT.
    • Many law schools require the LSAT be taken by December for admission the following fall. However, taking the test earlier (June or October) is often advised.
  2. Apply to several ABA (American Bar Association)-accredited law schools. Many candidates apply to three categories of schools:
    • Wish schools (wish I could get in but probably too competitive for my credentials)
    • Middle of the road (my credentials are the same as the average student these schools admit)
    • Safety (lower tier than I would like, but a safe bet I will get in if other schools don’t come through).
  3. Choose wisely. Application fees are high. U.S. News and World Report publishes a widely followed ranking of law schools that may be worth consulting before sending applications.
  4. Resist the urge to apply to every school sending application fee waivers. These do not guarantee admission.
    • Unfortunately, some schools are trying to generate a large base of rejected applicants by waiving application fees. Doing so makes their applied vs. accepted number seem higher and their school more selective. Although some schools may actively recruit you, you should apply with common sense.

Law School

  1. Save money and form a plan for survival. Many respected full time law programs will not permit you to work your first year. Even if they allow you to, they will strongly advise against it since your program will essentially be a full-time job.

    • If you must work, you should consider a part time program.
  2. Devote yourself to the program. Expect to spend very large amounts of time reading cases, researching case law, writing detailed briefs, and preparing to answer questions in class. Join a study group with people in your program early on.
  3. Professional experience. If you have time, get a position at a law firm while you are a student that involves serving as an assistant, messenger or file clerk. At the very least, do a summer internship program. This is a great way to gain experience and build contacts for when you do graduates.
  4. Research the jurisdiction where you hope to practice. While in law school, research the requirements for bar admittance in the jurisdiction where you want to practice and fulfill those requirements. Most jurisdictions also require the Professional Responsibility Exam.

Finding Work As A Lawyer

  1. Pass a state bar exam. Typically, you take and pass the bar exam the summer after you graduate from law school. Once you pass the exam, you become a certified lawyer!
  2. Get a job. Finding a position is the most difficult part of the process since the nation is flooded with attorneys. You will find this step much easier if you have made yourself known at a law firm by having worked or interned there, as mentioned above, and graduate with excellent grades.
  3. Decide what position you want. Be aware that those who do well in law school and attend better law schools have more opportunities. Competition is intense for the best grades and best jobs.
    • Larger firms hire associates and will require extremely long hours and dedication from them.
    • Large and multi-national corporations usually recruit from the top graduates.
    • Working as a judge’s law clerk or research attorney is often desirable. Judges are very selective in whom they hire.
    • If your grades were below average, you may consider a career as a paralegal.

Beyond Academics

  1. Maintain High Ethical Standards. History has taught that great opportunities and stellar reputations belong to those individuals who observe the highest of ethical standards. It is important to always abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Never compromise your integrity.
  2. Find a Great Mentor. To become a great name in the legal profession, you need a mentor whose integrity matches your own personal values and with whom you can establish a rapport.
  3. Have a Genuine Concern For Your Clients. As any great lawyer will tell you, your clients should be treated with the greatest respect.
  4. Maintain Flexibility. A flexible mindset will enable you to schematically address the turns and twists you may encounter in the legal profession.
  5. Stay Up to Date. Keeping up to speed with the latest laws and changes in technological approaches will give you an edge and elevate your chances of success as a lawyer.

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Edit Tips

  • Look for schools in your state to avoid out-of-state tuition costs.
  • Schools sometimes consider soft factors such as experience, hobbies or number of others applying from your state to enhance the diversity of their class. It’s a factor, but don’t rely on it.
  • You will need to sign up with the Law School Admissions Council, which will coordinate your scores, paperwork and recommendation letters for the application process. You must go through this agency. It isn’t an option.
  • Research other sites and find out which students with grades and LSAT’s similar to yours are getting accepted.

Edit Warnings

  • Law school is extremely stressful and time consuming. Make sure you have a good support system in place and can balance the requirements.
  • Stay out of trouble. Although a misdemeanor or a felony does not automatically prevent you from becoming a lawyer in most states, a criminal record will severely hinder your career.

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