Lawyer Education

Education and Testing Required to Become a Lawyer

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Lawyers must undergo extensive educational training and testing to become licensed to practice. Although the exact requirements can vary somewhat by state, educational requirements for lawyers always include certain degrees and exams. 

You'll need a four-year undergraduate degree followed by three years of law school and a juris doctorate (JD) degree. This degree is awarded by law schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association. You must then pass the bar examination. Each state has its own bar so you must pass in the state in which you want to practice. In many states, you must then additionally pass an ethics examination. 

Bachelor’s Degree

A four-year degree from an accredited college or university is a pre-requisite to acceptance at an ABA-accredited law school.

Students are not required to major in pre-law, however. Law schools accept a diverse pool of applicants with many different majors and backgrounds which you can finetune to your ultimate career goals. For example, you might want to major in business if you hope to eventually pursue business law or even sociology if you want to work in the public sector.  

A bachelor's degree does not ensure that you'll be accepted to a law school. You must also take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) before you can apply to a law school. This is a half-day standardized examination that tests the analytical and reading comprehension skills deemed necessary to succeed in law school.

Law School

Lawyers must graduate from a law school approved by the American Bar Association and have their JD to qualify for the bar examination in most states. ABA accreditation signifies that the law school has satisfied certain standards established to ensure a quality legal education. Not all law schools are ABA-approved and attending a non-ABA approved school can significantly hinder your employment prospects.

Law school typically involves both general courses and core subject coursework, including courses in constitutional law, international law, business law, criminal law, courtroom procedures, and civil procedures. 

The Bar Examination

Law school graduates who want to be admitted to their state's bar to practice law must pass a 2-day examination that tests general legal principles and substantive knowledge of the law. Although the exact requirements can vary by state, generally one day of the examination consists of a standardized multiple-choice test and the other day consists of a series of essay questions design to test knowledge of state law.

After licensure to practice law, most states require that lawyers take continuing education courses throughout their careers to keep current and to maintain their licenses to practice. 

Ethics Examination

Many states also require lawyers to take an ethics examination which tests knowledge of the codes of professional responsibility and judicial conduct. In some states, students can take this examination during law school, usually after completing an ethics course.

Other Options 

Although the juris doctorate is the most common law degree, you might want to pursue a master of law degree or doctor of judicial science degree depending on your aspirations. The latter is the highest and most prestigious law degree available and recognized in the U.S. It's a second degree that can only be acquired after successful completion of the JD or a master of law degree. It, too, is a three-year degree. Most law professors have the distinction of having earned doctorates of judicial science.

A master of law degree also requires first completing the JD. It's a one-year degree that allows you to focus on and specialize in a certain field of law.