Learn how to become an attorney in the United States
Written by: Enjuris Editors
Though there are several paths to becoming a lawyer, there are 5 general steps that must be completed to become an attorney.
American humorist Will Rogers once famously said that “the minute you read something you can’t understand, you can be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.” Will Rogers might be surprised to learn just how long it takes to develop the skills necessary to write in a manner that only confuses people.
There are many different paths to becoming a lawyer, but all of them tend to be long and uphill. Let’s explore some of these paths by looking at the 5 main steps to becoming a lawyer.
Step 1: Obtain an undergraduate degree
Law schools want well-rounded students. Therefore, most law schools don’t require you to study a particular subject (such as pre-law) as an undergraduate. In fact, there’s some evidence that law schools prefer students who major in areas other than pre-law.
With that said, lawyers who are interested in becoming intellectual property attorneys should strongly consider developing a technical background (for example, by majoring in engineering, chemistry, biology, physics, or computer science).
While law schools don’t require you to study a particular subject, the vast majority of law schools require you to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Enjuris tip: While working your way through college, it’s a good idea to find out the minimum GPA of applicants accepted by your law school of choice.
Step 2: Take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The LSAT is a standardized test administered several times each year by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) at testing centers around the country.
All law schools require that you take the LSAT in order to be admitted. Law schools generally place a lot of emphasis on your LSAT score. For that reason, it’s imperative that you take the LSAT seriously. Most admissions counselors recommend studying for at least 3 months.
You can enter your GPA and LSAT score into the LSAC calculator to predict your likelihood of admission to each ABA-approved law school.
LSAT Scores of 2019 Law School Applicants
Enjuris tip: In order to apply to law schools in your senior year, you must take the LSAT during the summer between your junior and senior years of college (or in the fall of your senior year). Read more about the ideal timeline for a law school applicant.
Step 3: Apply to law schools
Based in part on your LSAT score and GPA, you’ll need to decide on and apply to law schools.
There are a number of considerations that go into choosing which law schools to apply to, including:
Your GPA and LSAT score
Cost of attendance
Location of the school
Bar passage rates
Specializations of the school (including clinics offered by the school)
Facing factsDid you know women attend certain law schools much more than others? To learn more, read our report on where women go to law school.
When applying to law school, most law schools will require the following information:
Enjuris tip: The majority of states require a degree from an ABA-accredited law school in order to take the bar and practice law (only California, Vermont, and Virginia don’t have this requirement). What’s more, graduates from unaccredited law schools have lower bar passage rates, lower starting salaries, and lower employment on average.
Step 4: Complete law school
Under the ABA rules, a law student must complete no fewer than 83 credit hours in order to graduate from an ABA-approved law school. At least 64 of these credit hours must be in courses that require attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or direct faculty instruction.
Additionally, these 83 credit hours must be completed no earlier than 24 months and, except in extraordinary circumstances, no later than 84 months after the student has begun law school. Accordingly, it will take law students anywhere from 2–7 years to earn their J.D. (with most students completing law school in 3 years).
In The News: You may have seen the recent news reports about Kim Kardashian West announcing that she’s studying for the California Bar Exam — despite the fact that she doesn’t have an undergraduate degree or a law degree. She’s only able to do this because California allows applicants to sit for the bar exam without an undergraduate degree or a law degree so long as the applicant has met certain requirements (completing a certain number of undergraduate credits, passing a pre-bar exam, and completing an approved 4-year legal apprenticeship).
Step 5: Pass the bar exam
Before you can practice law, you’re required to pass the bar exam of the state in which you want to practice.
So, what’s the bar exam?
The bar exam is administered through the Board of Bar Examiners of the state in which you’re applying.
Though the testing can vary from state to state, the most common testing configuration consists of a 2-day bar exam involving the following components:
Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). A 6-hour, 200-question multiple-choice exam covering civil procedure, contracts, torts, constitutional law, criminal law and procedure, evidence and real property.
Multistate Essay Examination (MEE). Consists of 6 essay questions covering business associations, civil procedure, conflict of laws, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, family law, real property, secured transactions, torts, and estates and trusts.
State-specific essays. Some states include additional state-specific essays or multiple choice questions.
Multistate Performance Test (MPT). Consists of two 90-minute skills questions requiring: factual analysis, legal analysis and reasoning, problem solving, identification and resolution of ethical dilemmas, written communication, and organization and management of a legal task.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). A multiple-choice examination concerning ethics.
In addition, you must complete an extensive character and fitness application and investigation.