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Becoming a lawyer might seem a straightforward process: college, law school, pass the bar exam and you’re done. In reality, however, the path is lengthier and more complex. For example, lawyers specialize in many different fields, and your ultimate goal should guide your education. In addition, law school is very competitive, so you should take all steps necessary to improve your chances and apply to multiple law schools. You must also complete other examinations before you attempt the bar.
Start with A Bachelor's Degree
You must have a bachelor’s degree to enter law school. Although any field of study is accepted, the State Bar of California recommends you chose courses or a major that will improve your skills in certain areas. Among these skills are writing, as lawyers must be able to write logically and precisely. You should also be able to analyze problems and develop workable solutions, explain your positions and debate them. Lawyers must read large amounts of material, analyze the relevant points and retain what they read. Finally, the SBC notes lawyers need good people skills and must work with many different people. Before you can apply to law school you must also complete the LSAT, or Law School Admissions Test.
About Law School
Although some states have state-approved schools and correspondence courses that offer law degrees, choose a law school accredited by the American Bar Association to ensure your school meets certain standards acceptable in all states. In law school you will earn a Juris Doctor, or J.D., degree. You’ll spend at least three years studying topics such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, trusts and estates, torts and legal writing. You should also begin to take courses for the specialty in which you want to practice, such as tax, labor or real estate law. During the summers, “The Princeton Review” notes most law students work as clerks in the offices of experienced lawyers to gain experience and learn more about various legal specialties.
Special Examination Requirements
You may need to take certain exams depending on the school you have chosen, your planned course of study and the state in which your school is located. In California, for example, you must take the First-Year Law Student’s Examination if you are enrolled in an unaccredited or correspondence law school or if you are in the law office/judge’s chambers study program. You must also submit to a four-to-six-month process known as the “moral character” screening process, conducted by the Committee of Bar Examiners’ Subcommittee on Moral Character.
Passing the Bar
Your last hurdle in becoming a lawyer is the bar exam -- or to be more accurate -- exams, plural. Each state determines the examinations a lawyer must pass to practice law in that state. The National Conference of Bar Examiners notes there are five exams: the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination, the Multistate Performance Test, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination and the Uniform Bar Examination. The UBE is the most comprehensive exam and includes the MEE, two MPT tasks and the MBE. Check with the state bar, as some states may require up to four of these examinations.
2016 Salary Information for Lawyers
Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.