CHOOSING A CAREER / SEP. 02, 2014
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How to Become a Lawyer

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Lawyers or attorneys are the cornerstone of the legal justice system, and their job is to use the law to protect and represent people and businesses. They do so by interpreting the laws and defending their client’s rights through the research and filing of legal documents, and by arguing their client’s stance in court.

What do Lawyers do?

When there is a dispute, people usually look to the legal system to solve their issues and to enforce and protect their rights. Lawyers represent people, businesses, and government agencies whenever there is a legal dispute. The law is expansive and there are several areas of law that a lawyer may choose to practice in. No matter what specialty the attorney chooses to work in, there are some common job duties that they all have. Some of the tasks that lawyers complete in a normal workday are:

  • Advise clients of their legal rights and obligations concerning their business and personal rights
  • Do legal research on statues, previous court decisions, regulations and ordinances that may help them prove their client’s case
  • Interview clients and witnesses to obtain facts that may help their client’s case
  • Prepare and draft legal documents
  • Summarise and present cases to a judge and jury
  • Negotiate and settle civil disputes outside of court

Work Environment

Lawyers work inside of an office environment. Most attorneys work for corporate and private law firms while some work for governmental agencies. They typically work Monday through Friday and during normal business hours. The stress level for attorneys is based off of the type of firm they work for and the type of law they practice. Larger corporate firms tend to produce the most stress for attorneys because of a more demanding work load. This results in longer working hours than at a smaller private firm.

Salary

Salaries can vary greatly depending on which area an attorney practices in, the type of firm they work for, their location as well as what level they are in their career. Here are some average salaries for lawyers:

Attorney Entry Level (0-5 years)

$65,000

Attorney Mid-Career (5-10 years)

$96,000

Attorney Experienced (10-20 years)    

$118,000

 

Source: Payscale

Education and Training

Aspiring lawyers will first need to obtain their bachelor’s degree. Bachelor degrees usually take about four years to complete, but it can be completed sooner by taking CLEP or AP courses. Some people go to school part time while working, stretching the time to complete an undergraduate degree from four to six years.

While it is not required to have a specific major, it is preferable to major in the liberal arts with majors such as Political Science, History, and Philosophy. Some universities even have Pre-Law majors. If you know that you want to go into a specialized area of law such as Intellectual Property (IP Law), a major in Computer Science or Engineering may be applicable to your situation. Whatever you choose to major in, top grades and an active list of extracurricular activities are needed to be accepted into a wider array of top law schools.

LSAT

After the successful completion of an undergraduate program, you will have to take the entrance exam to get into law school. The LSAT is the entrance exam to law school, and it is one of the most important factors on your law school application. The test is offered four times a year and is 175 minutes long. It ranges from 120 to 180 with 150 being about the average score. It is a rigorous test that many study for months in preparation. One popular forum that discusses the LSAT and test taking strategies is Top Law Schools. This site is beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about the LSAT or anything concerning law schools.

Law School

One must attend law school and obtain their Juris Doctorate (JD) in order to become an attorney. Most programs take about 3 years with the exception of part time programs and double major programs (some people choose to pair their JD with a Business or a Public Policy Degree). It is common and often essential that law students obtain a legal internship during their second summer in law school, often referred to as their L2 summer. Most L2 summer internships result in an invite to join the firm as a new associate the following year after they pass the bar. Law school is very competitive and most law schools grade on a scale, only giving out a few A’s per class. Grades are really important, and those who are at the top of their class usually obtain the best internships.

Passing the Bar

After applying, getting accepted, and completing law school, you will have to pass the bar in your state in order to obtain licensure to practice law legally. Nearly every state in the United States uses the Multistate Bar Examination to license their attorneys. The bar examination is a rigorous exam and most study for half a year in preparation. Whatever state you pass the bar in is the state that you’re licensed to work in. Lawyers can practice in as many states as they’re licensed in.

Continuous Learning

Attorneys are mandated by the American Bar Association to have a certain amount of Continuing Learning Education credits (CLEs). This is to ensure that attorneys are always up to date on the field of law they practice in. CLE requirements may vary by state. Check out the official American Bar Association site for the required number of CLE hours for lawyers in your state.

Career Development

Attorneys can further their career by obtaining a master’s degree that is related to their field of law. For example, an environmental attorney may want to pursue a master’s degree in public policy or environmental engineering. An intellectual property attorney may want to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science to further their ability to protect their client’s technical creations. As mandated by the American Bar Association, lawyers have to have a certain amount of training each year. Lawyers may be sent to conventions and other workshops to help them hone their skills. Also, the American Bar Association assigns mentors to newly barred lawyers in an effort to help them break into the field.

Employment Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for lawyers are expected to grow by 10% which is the average for all jobs. Jobs for lawyers are really competitive since there are more law school students than there are jobs available. Newly graduated lawyers took a hit in the 2008 recession, but now law firms are beginning to pick back up in their hiring practices.

It is also important to note that there are many different sectors that require lawyer’s services. Lawyers can work at big corporations as their in-house counsel. They can work with public policy makers, governmental organizations, and with non-profits. Every business, public or private, needs legal advice, and with a degree in law, one could carve out their own career path.

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