So you want to be a lawyer
Everyone has a lawyer joke that they think is the funniest. Love them or hate them, lawyers remain an integral part of our society and play a critical role in the delivery of justice.
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Some of the founding fathers of our nation were lawyers. The profession has grown tremendously from those days however; some of the lawyers from yesteryears may not recognize or fit into the present and highly-regulated legal field.
So while you may think that becoming a member of the “prestigious club” is worth the effort, it is worth reminding ourselves that becoming a lawyer requires a lot of hard work and patience.
Do you have what it takes to be a lawyer?
Thousands graduate from law schools every year. Many of them pass the bar exam and get licensed to practice, yet most remain anonymous. Successful lawyers have the following important qualities that may catapult them ahead of their colleagues:
- Analytical skills
- Writing skills
- Speaking skills
- Research skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Interpersonal skills
Of course these important traits are of no use unless you have graduated with a law degree from an accredited, American Bar Association (ABA) approved law school. The Juris Doctor or J.D. degree is the primary law degree in the United States.
Offered by every accredited law school in the country, it is a 3-year post-graduate degree in law.
Full-time or part-time enrollment
Many law schools offer both to their students; part-time students may take more than 3 years to complete the degree.
Joint Degree Programs
Joint degree programs in business administration, public policy, public health, etc is an option for J.D. candidates.
What does the J.D. degree aim to do?
Help students become effective advocates by polishing their advocacy, writing, research and analytical skills.
What does the J.D. degree prepare you for?
You may qualify to apply for a law-related job in a:
- Large or small law firm
- Government agency
- Public interest organization
Surprisingly, the degree, in addition to preparing you for a career in law, also prepares you for the following careers:
Why do students call the first year of law school the toughest?
Legal studies aren’t easy, but whether the first year of law school is actually the toughest as compared to the two subsequent years and a life-long career in law, is arguable. Still, the ABA has written a document titled “How to survive the First Year of Law School”. You may want to read it before deciding whether a law school is for you or not.
Juris Doctor Courses and Concentrations
As mentioned earlier, the J.D. degree is a 3-year, full-time, program. Some of the required first year courses may be titled as:
- Criminal Law
- Legislation and the Regulatory State
First year electives may be titled as:
- International Law
- Income Taxation
- Constitutional Law
Second and third year are more flexible as there are no compulsory or required courses. Instead students are expected to follow a particular concentration, a field of their interest in which they would like to practice after graduation and getting licensed.
Some of the concentrations or specialized tracks are:
- Science, Technology, and Intellectual Property Law
- Business and Commercial Law
- International and Comparative Law
- Family Law
- Constitutional Law and Theory
- Dispute Resolution, Mediation, and Negotiation
- Environmental Law and Natural Resources
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Public Interest Law
- Civil Procedure and Litigation
- Interdisciplinary Legal Studies
Juris Doctor Degree requirements
Depending upon your law school, you may be asked to complete academic, residency, professional skills and legal writing requirements before graduation.
Some of the academic requirements may be:
- Successful completion of the degree or credit hours
- Maintenance of the minimum GPA
- Completion of required courses with a passing grade
- Fulfillment of the enrollment requirements
Legal writing requirements:
- Typically satisfied by full-time or part-time enrollment status
Professional skills requirements:
- For example, 2 credit hours of coursework based on written work (not examination)
- For example, 2 credit hours of coursework in practical legal skills
The following are some of the typical admission requirements for many, if not, all accredited law schools in the United States:
- A bachelor’s degree
- Cumulative GPA
- LSAT score
- Personal Statement
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal achievements
Which undergraduate degree is favored by law school admission committees?
None! It is a myth that you need to be a pre-law major at the undergraduate level to get into a law school. Applicants with degree in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, etc. have been admitted into law schools.
It is true however that many law school applicants have academic training in social sciences or humanities. This is because 4 years of extensive reading, and writing skills prepare them for further 3 years of law school, better than those students who have extensive lab or scientific research skills.
Some law schools have “tricky” or confusing admission requirements
This is especially true of Ivy Leagues. They may not say what specific GPA or LSAT score they are looking for. Some say that they are looking for applicant’s overall personality and achievements, rather than his/her academic achievements.
How to crack the ambiguous admission “code”?
The secret to knowing what a law school is looking for is in looking at its incoming freshmen class. Law school websites have information on their incoming class profile and facts. These pages usually contain information on the incoming students’ GPA and LSAT scores. Looking at their numbers, you can get a fairly good idea whether you stand a chance of getting into that famous Ivy League law school.
Exams, licenses and training
Now that you have graduated from law school with a J.D. what’s the next step? You need to be licensed to practice anywhere in the United States. To get licensed, you need to sit for the state’s bar exam. If you are thinking of practicing in more than one state, you may have to take additional bar exams.
Graduating law school and passing the bar exam is not the end of your legal education; it is a continuing process. Your state may require you to participate in continuing legal education, either every year or once in three years. You may fulfill this requirement by enrolling in online courses. <
It is true that lawyers make a very good living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported them earning a yearly median salary of $113,530 in 2012. This was who had a J.D. degree and no prior work experience or on-the-job training. Senior lawyers and partners in law firms may be earning higher than the reported salary. The BLS also predicts 10% job growth for this sector from 2012 to 2022.