How to Become a Lawyer:
The Definitive Guide


Are you usually the first one watching the new courtroom drama on television?

Do you like sticking up for what is right and providing people with safety, justice, and an answer to their problems?

Then becoming a Lawyer might be right up your alley.

A lawyer is someone who represents a client and their legal rights in both criminal and civil cases.


What is a Lawyer?

Lawyers are licensed by the state in which they practice.

This means that they are able to counsel people on different rights, laws, and legal matters.

A Lawyer either represents a plaintiff- the party filing for litigation or the defendant- the party that is being sued or charged.

A client’s case gets heard in a courtroom, where the Lawyer speaks about the different matters and how the client is either guilty/innocent.

A Lawyer’s roles and responsibilities may vary depending on the type of law they practice.

Duties

There are many things that a Lawyer has to do on a daily basis.

Some of these activities include:

  • Advising clients regarding ongoing litigation
  • Researching details of a case
  • Interpreting laws
  • Developing case strategies
  • Preparing documents
  • Appearing in court before a judge
  • Orally defending clients

Lawyers can work in different sectors or be a public defender.


Salary

The average salary for a Lawyer in the United States is around $145,000 a year.

Lawyers that work in more populated areas, such as California, will typically make more money than Lawyers working in rural areas.

A California Lawyer can make around $175,000 a year.

While a Lawyer in Idaho may make only around $100,000 a year.

This is due to the number of clients and the salary of the clients.

With many years of experience, it’s possible to earn nearly $200,000 a year as a Lawyer.

Having a specialty or working in a specific field of law will guide you toward more money as well.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $145,300

$59K
$80K
$145K
$186K
$K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$114,240
Alaska$115,260
Arizona$136,170
Arkansas$94,000
California$173,970
Colorado$150,630
Connecticut$154,610
Delaware- NA -
District of Columbia$192,180
Florida$130,010
Georgia$130,320
Hawaii$109,420
Idaho$105,450
Illinois$157,010
Indiana$111,790
Iowa$119,700
Kansas$110,290
Kentucky$102,980
Louisiana$108,070
Maine$106,350
Maryland$135,500
Massachusetts$164,800
Michigan$116,310
Minnesota$124,510
Mississippi$95,040
Missouri$109,820
Montana$83,030
Nebraska$112,860
Nevada$131,190
New Hampshire$126,220
New Jersey$147,170
New Mexico$103,290
New York$168,780
North Carolina$133,290
North Dakota$113,280
Ohio$124,160
Oklahoma$116,270
Oregon$116,860
Pennsylvania$142,890
Rhode Island$124,600
South Carolina$111,090
South Dakota$112,810
Tennessee$124,370
Texas$144,110
Utah$134,770
Vermont$104,790
Virginia$143,220
Washington$129,550
West Virginia$102,040
Wisconsin$129,440
Wyoming$100,090
Guam$96,540
Puerto Rico$71,030
Virgin Islands$127,860

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $192,180.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $192,180
California - $173,970
New York - $168,780
Massachusetts - $164,800
Illinois - $157,010
*Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Lawyer

Step 1Complete a Bachelors Degree

In order to become a Lawyer in the United States, you have to have a Bachelor’s degree.

It’s not necessary to pick a field of study, however political science economics, and business are major contenders.

With a Bachelors degree, you can expect to have access to careers like:

  • Legal consultant
  • Judge
  • Politician
  • Legal defense
  • Prosecution

And many more.

There are also specific fields of law that you can go into, including:

  • Constitutional law
  • Business law
  • Family law
  • Criminal law

Law schools often will not accept anyone who doesn’t have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Nowadays, it’s even possible to earn a Bachelor’s degree online.

Make sure that the school is accredited, and that upon graduation you are eligible to take the LSAT.

Step 2Pass the Law School Admissions Test

After you graduate from an accredited university with a Bachelor’s degree, you must take the Law School Admissions test and pass it.

Called the LSAT for sure, this exam is a core component of the law school admissions process.

The exam consists of three categories placed into five sections:

  • Logical Reasoning
  • Logic Games
  • Reading Comprehension

In order to stave off cheating, the tests may differ from the test takers sitting next to you.

For example, your test could look like:

Section 1: Logical Reasoning

Section 2: Logic Games

Section 3: Logical Reasoning

Section 4: Reading Comprehension

Section 5: Logical Reasoning

While your neighbor’s exam could look like:

Section 1: Logical Reasoning

Section 2: Reading Comprehension

Section 3: Reading Comprehension

Section 4: Logical Reasoning

Section 5: Logic Games

Only four of these sections are scored, and you won’t know which one when you are taking the exam.

Once you pass the exam, you are eligible to begin law school.

Step 3Earn a Juris Doctor Degree

The purpose of a Juris Doctor’s degree is to prepare students for a career within the legal system.

A typical law program in the United States takes around three years to complete.

Some law schools may offer part-time programs that can take 4-5 years to finish.

It’s possible that you can earn a joint degree as well, this can also take around 4-5 years to complete.

Some of the courses that you can expect to take in a Juris Doctor program are:

  • Public Law
  • Civil Law
  • Civil Procedures
  • Criminal Law
  • Courtroom Procedures
  • Contact Law
  • Torts
  • Business Law

It is likely that you will also have to take some sort of internship while in law school, this can help secure you a job after graduation as well.

Step 4Pass the MPRE and BAR Exams

The MPRE or Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination is required in all states except Wisconsin, Maryland, and Puerto Rico.

The MPRE is a two-hour ethics exam that consists of 60 questions.

This is a prerequisite to taking the BAR exam.

Once you’ve graduated with a Juris Doctor degree and passed the MPRE, you are going to need to take yet another exam.

This one is the Bar Exam.

There are three parts to this exam:

  • Multistate Bar Exam
  • Multistate Essay Exam
  • Multistate Performance Test

The Multistate Bar section is around 200 questions.

This part of the exam is administered over 6 hours on two dates per year.

These dates are the last Wednesday in February, and the last Wednesday in July.

The Multistate Essay Exam consists of 6 30-minute questions.

These exams are administered before the day before the Multistate Bar Exam every year.

Some of the subjects that you can expect during this part of these exams include:

  • Contracts
  • Conflicts of Law
  • Real Property
  • Torts
  • Trust and Estates
  • Criminal Law and Procedure

Lastly, you will take the Multistate Performance Test.

This part of the exam consists of two 90-minute exams.

The MPT is designed to show your knowledge in realistic applications.

This test is administered the day before the MEE.

Step 5Advance Your Career

Typically, as a new lawyer, you will start out as a junior associate or an associate in the law office that you work.

This way, you can work closely with seasoned lawyers to obtain as much knowledge as you can.

After a few years, you may want to think about gaining a promotion or starting your own law office.

It may be time for you to become a judge, or even go back to school to earn a Masters or Doctorate in Law.

Whatever you decide to do, you will likely have an opportunity if you become a Lawyer.


Education

A Lawyer is required to earn a Bachelor’s degree in order to begin law school.

This degree can be in anything, but a lot of lawyers have degrees in political science or other social majors.

Instead, the American Bar Association looks for people who have skills in the following areas:

  • Critical analysis
  • Problem-solving
  • Research and reading skills
  • Time management
  • Project management experience
  • Writing
  • Speaking

Some universities have prelaw advisors that can help you determine which courses you should take.

A Bachelor’s degree can take around four years to complete, which means that you’ll have a lot of time to think about your classes.

Some of the classes you should take while studying for your degree are:

  • Government
  • English
  • Introduction to Logic
  • Constitutional Law

After you earn a Bachelor’s degree, you are going to want to earn a Juris Doctor degree.

This degree takes around 3 years to complete but can take up to 5 years if you are going to school part-time.

There are several different avenues to travel down when earning a Juris Doctor degree.

Some of the potential concentrations you may uncover at your school include:

  • Administrative Law
  • Litigation
  • General Practice
  • Family Law
  • International Law
  • Intellectual Property

Many times, a law school will require some type of internship.

This can be done through the school or through an employer.

With a Bachelor’s degree, you learn a lot about many different subjects.

In law school, you will only learn things that are important when becoming a Lawyer.

The information that you obtain from a law program includes:

  • Civil procedure
  • Property law
  • Torts
  • Regulatory law
  • Criminal law
  • Constitutional law

Don’t forget that in order to earn a Juris Doctor degree, you’ll need to take the MPRE, and after you graduate with a Juris Doctor degree, you’ll need to take the BAR exam before being eligible to work as a Lawyer.

Video About The Career


Licensing

There are two exams that you must take in order to work as a Lawyer in the United States.

The first exam called the MPRE, or the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam will be taken before you take the BAR exam.

The second exam, the BAR, or the Uniform Bar Exam gives you permission to work as a Lawyer in the state that you took the exam.

The MPRE is a two-hour exam, that has around 60 multiple-choice questions.

This exam measures your competence in standards related to becoming a Lawyer.

This test is only given out a few times a year, so you will need to contact your local BAR examiner’s office to find out more information.

After you graduate with a Juris Doctor Degree, you will be eligible to take the BAR exam.

This exam is given in three parts, on consecutive days, only twice a year.

The three parts of the exam include:

  • The Multistate Bar Exam
  • The Multistate Essay Exam
  • The Multistate Performance Test

The Multiple Bar Exam is used to show the knowledge of prospective lawyers when it comes to practicing law.

The Multistate Essay Exam is used to determine how efficient the lawyer’s communication is.

Lastly, the Multistate Performance Test gives real-life examples to show how a prospective lawyer would act in certain situations.

It can take several tries at the BAR exam before completion.

Many aspiring lawyers have to take it two or three times before they pass, so don’t give up!

When it comes to certifications, there are plenty at your disposal if you are looking to become a Lawyer.

These certifications can vary by state, but some of the most popular are:

  • Accredited Tax Preparer
  • Certified Legal Manager
  • Registered Professional Landman
  • Estate Planning Law Specialist
  • Certified Commercial Contracts Manager

All of these certifications are in different areas of law, which means there are a wide variety of specialties that can boost your career.

Certification Example:

lawyer certificate

Average Training Program Duration: 4+ Years

It can take quite a while to become a Lawyer.

That’s good though because Lawyers need to know a lot of information.

In order to work as a Lawyer in the United States, you need to have a Bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor degree.

This can take around seven years to complete.

The exams can take a year or more, depending on how long you have to wait to take one, and if you pass.

Popular Degree Programs


Job Outlook

It seems that people who are interested in becoming Lawyers shouldn’t fret.

This career is projected to grow around 6 percent within the next decade.

Demand for legal work is expected to remain the same, if not rise, within the next ten years as well.

Some things to consider are the price of the legal services, as more competitive rates become available, Lawyers may want to rethink their costs in order to remain active.

Competition for jobs will rise as well, as more and more students are attending law school now more than in the past.

Due to the fierce competition, Lawyers who are willing to relocate are becoming more important.

Consider where you would want to live when thinking of becoming a Lawyer.

Employment Growth Projection: 6%

823,900
2018
874,000
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 50,100 jobs.

Lawyer: Interest Over Time


Should You Become a Lawyer?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

It seems that the consensus is that the longer a Lawyer is out of law school, the happier they become in their career.

Most Lawyers believe they get paid well, however many work long hours and have little personal life.

This can cause stress, which makes for a less satisfying career.

There is little flexibility in this career, however, there are many ways to move up with promotions and raises.

Lawyers who had experience in the criminal justice system before graduating seem to have a much more satisfying time in this career.

Average Salary: High

Average Salary

It seems that you can make a pretty penny while working as a Lawyer in the United States.

A typical Lawyer can make around $145,000 a year.

Those that have more experience or work in more populated areas can make up to $200,000 a year as a Lawyer.

Lawyers that are just starting out make a little less, at around $100,000 or even less in some cases.

Places that have higher profile clients, like Washington D.C., make around $192,000 a year.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

This career will continue to grow over the next decade.

The job growth outlook for a Lawyer will grow around 6 percent within the next ten years.

More people are becoming conscious of their rights, which means more clients for Lawyers.

Some things to keep in mind, though, are that big corporations are using in-house Lawyers much more often now.

Also, many people do not want the high-cost Lawyers they used to, so surprisingly, Lawyers with lower rates typically do better.

Education Duration: 4+ Years

Education Duration

Becoming a Lawyer can take several years to complete.

An aspiring attorney must complete a Bachelor’s degree, which can take around four years.

Then you must complete a Juris Doctor degree, this can take another three years to complete.

Some law schools do allow for part-time JD degrees, which can take anywhere from 4-5 years to complete.

After completing both degrees, it is necessary to take the Bar exam in the state you wish to work.

This means it can take around 7-9 years to become a Lawyer.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

There are good Lawyers and bad Lawyers out there, it’s important to be one of the good ones.

Those that respect their clients and have morals make great Lawyers.

Some other attributes a Lawyer should have include:

  • Analytical skills
  • Perseverance
  • Patience
  • Ability to work with others
  • Project management skills
  • Accountability
  • Charisma and people skills
  • Talent for negotiation
  • Creativity
  • Attention to detail
  • Articulate
  • Good listener

If you have many of these talents, you could become the next great Lawyer in the United States.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How much does a Lawyer Make?

In the United States, a Lawyer can make around $145,000 a year on average.

When just starting out as a Lawyer, most people can expect to make a little less.

A starting Lawyer may find that they make around $100,000.

While a seasoned Lawyer can make up to $200,000 a year.

Some factors that may determine your salary as a Lawyer are, the population of where you work, and the socioeconomic status of that population.

Q. What does a Lawyer do?

Lawyers do a variety of tasks, but to put it simply they work with clients to find legal battles.

Some lawyers work with victims of crimes, other Lawyers may work with criminals.

Throughout the day, you can find a Lawyer researching evidence and the law, as well as attending court hearings and interviewing clients or witnesses.

Some Lawyers may work on wills, divorce papers, or other legal documents in order to make sure they are legally binding.

Q. How long does it take to become a Lawyer?

It can take a while to become a Lawyer, from 7-9 years.

In order to become a Lawyer, you must earn a Bachelor’s degree.

This can take around four years to complete.

After that, you will need to earn a Juris Doctor degree.

This is a law program that can take around 3 years, or between 4-5 for part-time students.

Q. Is there a demand for Lawyers?

As long as there is a crime or other issues going on in the world, there will always be a need for lawyers.

Many large corporations and other companies are even adding Lawyers to their in house team.

This opens up many more opportunities for Lawyers in the future.

There will also be Lawyers needed for many other things, like wills, estates, pubic defenders, etc.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Lawyer?

It can cost a pretty penny to become a Lawyer, but it’s all worth it in the end.

The average Bachelor’s degree costs around $30,000-$40,000 in total.

A Juris Doctor degree can add another $50,000 on to that number.

This means that it can cost anywhere from $80,000 to even over $100,000 to become a Lawyer.


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