Did you know that lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the US? They're also esteemed members of society with many business, networking, and advancement opportunities.
To become a lawyer, you must complete several years of study, education, and training. This article will discuss how long do lawyers have to go to school and the steps involved in becoming one.
Without further ado, let's see whether or not this is a career path you would like to pursue.
What Does A Lawyer Do?
Have you ever thought about what your lawyer does for you? There are different types of legal work that lawyers do, but generally, they:
- Provide legal advice and defend clients in court
- Prepare and draft legal briefs and documents such as contracts and wills
- Researching and gathering evidence
- Negotiates settlements and plea bargains on behalf of clients
The Path To Becoming A Lawyer In The US
While a high school education is crucial for a legal career, the official path to becoming a lawyer in the US begins in college. The following are the educational requirements for a lawyer:
1. Complete an Undergraduate Degree Program (2-4 Years)
The first step in becoming a US lawyer is completing an undergraduate program. Most ABA-accredited law schools require a bachelor's degree, which takes four years of study.
There's no specific major required to enter law school once you graduate. Most law schools, however, prefer political science, psychology, and economics majors.
Of course, you'll also need to pay tuition fees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the annual fees averaged $25,910 in 2020–2021.
2. Pass the Law School Admission Test
Once you're done with your undergraduate degree, you must pass the standardized LSAT. The LSAT tests your critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension.
Law schools use it as an admission requirement. Since 2021, they have also accepted the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) as an alternative to the LSAT.
As of writing, the LSAT registration fee is $215. The test takes 3 hours for standard test takers. They say LSAT scores of 160 or above are already good.
3. Go to Law School and Pursue a Juris Doctor Degree (2-5 Years)
After passing the LSAT, the next step is to apply to law school and pursue a JD degree. The JD program takes three (3) years, and students learn about the law and legal systems.
Some can complete it in 2 years, while part-timers can finish in 4-5 years. While in your JD program, you can pick from several specialties. Popular options include:
- Tax Law. Tax lawyers offer counsel on tax matters and often work on tax policy.
- Civil Rights Law. Civil rights lawyers protect the civil rights of individuals.
- Criminal Law. Criminal lawyers prosecute crimes or defend a client accused of those crimes.
- Family Law. Family lawyers help families with adoption, marriage, divorce, and child welfare.
- Corporate Law. Business lawyers deal with mergers, acquisitions, and corporate disputes.
- Labor Law. Labor lawyers deal with relations between employers and employees, typically regarding compensation, discrimination, etc.
- Environmental Law. Environmental lawyers work on pollution, land, and natural resource management cases.
The Education Data Initiative reports that American law school tuition and fees average $45,990 per year. It's also rising by $1,070 annually.
4. Take the State Bar Exam
Once you have obtained your JD degree, the final step is to pass the bar exam. The bar exam tests your legal knowledge and ability to apply it in practice.
If you work full-time or have other obligations, you can start studying for the exam before the final semester of law school. Bar test preparation requires 400–600 hours. That means you can expect 10 to 16 40-hour workweeks of study!
Remember that passing the bar exam is a requirement for practicing law in the US. The cost varies by state but can range from $100 to $1300.
5. Apply for Legal Jobs
Passed the bar exam in your state? Congratulations!
When you have all the necessary education and certification, you can begin your job search in the legal field.
Freshly graduated lawyers work as associates at law firms with experienced attorneys. Successful attorneys may become partners or open their own offices after several years.
It's also important to note that you can continue your education and pursue other law degrees after earning your JD.
Types of Law Degrees and Their Completion Times
There are other degrees for those who want to work in law but not become lawyers. These alternative degrees to a JD have shorter and cheaper programs.
- Master of Laws (LLM). It's a graduate degree for JD holders who want to specialize. It's a customizable program that takes one year (1) to complete.
- Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD). It's the highest law degree and is required for law professors. SJD degrees take between three and five (3-5) years of full-time study. SJD applicants must first earn an LLM, which requires a JD.
- Master's degree in Law. A Master of Science in Laws (MSL), Master of Legal Studies (MLS), or Juris Master (JM) may suit non-lawyers interested in law. A master's degree typically takes two (2) years after earning your bachelor's.
- Legal certificate. JD or master's degree holders can also get legal certifications. Legal certifications take three months to three semesters and require a bachelor's degree.
So, How Long Does It Take To Become a Lawyer in the US?
Becoming a lawyer in the US is no small feat. Earning that title takes 7-8 years of hard work and dedication!
You'll need to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree and then buckle down for three (3) years of Law School. But here's the kicker: the timeline to becoming a practicing lawyer can vary depending on several factors.
Are you specializing in a particular area of law? How much time are you devoting to studying for the LSAT and Bar exam? Are you attending law school full-time or part-time?
And let's not forget about taking a much-deserved break after finishing your education. The path may be long, but the rewards are worth it for those up for the challenge.