How to Become a Lawyer

Want to be a lawyer? Follow these steps

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So you’ve been watching Suits religiously and have decided you want to be a lawyer. Skipping law school isn’t an option for most people outside of Hollywood fantasies (although sometimes you can). What’s required, if you go the typical route to becoming an attorney? Read on for details.

  • Take the LSAT. The first step to becoming an attorney is typically to take the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. Certain schools are experimenting with not requiring the LSAT, but most do. It’s important to take the LSAT seriously for two reasons. One, it’s a very challenging test, and you need to prepare thoroughly to do well. Two, law school admissions are highly influenced by LSAT scores. If you do well on the LSAT, you’ll be well positioned for scholarships and admission to the school of your choice – even if your undergraduate grade point average is less than stellar. Bomb the LSAT, and you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you. 
  • Apply to law school. Entire books have been written about the law school application process (here are a few useful ones: The Law School Decision Game and The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions), but it’s critical to prepare the best application you possibly can, and to submit it early, to maximize your options. Think carefully about where to apply, and use these LSAT and GPA calculators to get a sense of your options.
  • Attend, and graduate from, law school. In most states, you’re required to attend law school, and graduate in good standing, to sit for the bar exam and become a lawyer. (As discussed in How to Become a Lawyer Without Going to Law School, that’s not always the case, however.) The American Bar Association accredits 205 law schools around the country, and graduates of these schools can sit for the bar exam in any state. If, for some reason, you can’t gain admission to an ABA-accredited school, certain states have other options. In California, for example, graduates of California-accredited schools can sit for the California bar exam, and be certified to practice law in the state of California. Graduates of non-ABA-accredited schools have a much lower pass rate on the California bar exam, so you should tread carefully before paying to attend one of these schools!
  • Pass the bar exam. Each state offers its own bar exam, and (with rare exceptions, such as Wisconsin, which allows in-state law grads to practice without passing the bar exam) you’re required to pass the bar to practice in a state. Pass rates vary widely by state. Again, it’s important to take the bar exam seriously, as it’s a very difficult test and the repercussions of not passing are quite serious. After you’ve practiced law for a while, you might be eligible to “waive in” to states that have reciprocal agreements to admit each other’s attorneys. Or, you might be able to sit for an abbreviated version of the bar exam, such as the California Attorney’s Exam.
  • Pass the MPRE. In addition to the bar exam, states typically also require you to take and pass a multiple-choice test of professional responsibility and ethics, the MPRE. You can take this test in law school, so it’s best to get it out of the way early.
  • Pass a Character & Fitness evaluation. After you’ve suffered through three years of law school and passed all of these tests, you’re still not automatically a lawyer! It’s still necessary to get past the Character & Fitness evaluation, and to comply with other requirements set out by the board of bar examiners in each state. (These might include letters from practicing lawyers in the state vouching for you, and so on.) When completing your Character & Fitness evaluation, it’s important to disclose exactly what they ask for! Failing to disclose prior legal problems, or issues in law school or undergrad, can cause big problems later. When in doubt, consult a lawyer experienced in the area.
  • Comply with any ongoing requirements and pay up every year. In most states, even after you’re a lawyer, the fun doesn’t stop! Each year, you’ll have to pay bar fees and, typically, do a certain amount of ongoing CLE, or continuing legal education.

Doesn’t this all sound fun?!?

Are you sure you want to be a lawyer? Maybe it’s easier to just watch them on TV, right?

If you want to learn more about becoming a lawyer without going to law school, check out this post.

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