How to Be a Lawyer in The Next 7 Years
It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to become a lawyer, and the process takes several years. Furthermore, the job market for attorneys has been extremely tight over the past several years. It's important to understand the commitment and time involved before you decide to become a lawyer. Learn how to be a lawyer in the next 7 years so you can start a successful law career as soon as possible.
Succeeding in College
Apply to college.Almost all law schools require that you have an undergraduate degree first. You can major in anything; law schools do not require specific majors.
- Although not required to attend law school, some specialized legal fields require certain undergraduate degrees. For example, if you want to be a patent lawyer, the United States Trademark and Patent Office requires that you have a degree in an approved technical field.
- Also, if you want to be a business lawyer, then a business undergraduate degree might help.
Keep your grades high.Your grades are one of the most important pieces of your law school application.Try to keep your grades up above a 3.00 in order to get into a law school.
- The higher-ranked a law school is, the higher your GPA needs to be. Georgetown University, which is ranked in the top 14 nationally, has a median GPA of 3.76. Stanford, which is ranked in the top three, has a median of 3.90.
- For a law school ranked near the top 50, the median undergraduate GPA for newly-admitted students is around 3.5.
Build relationships with professors.When you apply to law school, you will need to submit letters of recommendation. Make the most of your four years in college by building relationships with professors who can write you strong recommendations.
- A great way to build relationships with faculty is to work as a research or teaching assistant. You not only build expertise in an area, but you can impress the professor with your dedication, analytical thinking, and personality--all important traits for a successful legal career!
Taking the Law School Admission Test
Register for the test.The LSAT is offered four times a year, in June, September/October, December, and February. It is offered on Saturdays, but there are special sessions for those who observe a Saturday Sabbath.
- Give yourself enough time to take the test. If you want to become a lawyer in 7 years, then you must take the LSAT in September or October at the latest to qualify for fall admissions. If you take the June exam and are disappointed with your score, you will have enough time to take it again before applying for the fall.
Study for the test.The LSAT may be the most important factor in your law school application, so take it seriously. It tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.Test prep companies offer tutoring, but you can also study on your own.
- A top-notch study program should provide adequate time to study for the exam. For the summer examination, begin studying in January. Over the next five or six months, you can take plenty of practice exams and address any weaknesses that you have.
- Your local library or bookstore should have copies of old LSAT exams. Find the most recent to take as practice exams and then move backward in time.
Take the test.The LSAT has five multiple choice sections and one unscored essay. Four of the five multiple choice sections count toward your score. The fifth is experimental and does not count toward your score. Unfortunately, you will not know in advance which section is experimental.
Retake if your score is low.Applicants are allowed to take the exam more than once. Schools may choose to accept your higher score, or they may choose to average the two. If you take the LSAT twice but your score doesn’t improve, you should reconsider before taking it a third time.
- The LSAT is scored on a 120-180 scale. To gain admittance to a law school, students generally need a score around the 50th percentile, which is about a 151. For more elite schools, the score will be much higher. Georgetown's median, for example, is a 168, which is at the 96th percentile.
- Use a law school probability calculator to gauge your chances at different schools. Admissions is a numbers game, and can give you an idea of your chances depending on your GPA and LSAT.
Gathering Application Materials
Register with the Credential Assembly Service.CAS is used by all law schools. You send them your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and evaluation; they create a packet and send it to the law school. The service requires a fee.
- Register early and make sure to get your transcripts to CAS in a timely manner.
Solicit letters of recommendation.Now is the time to draw on the relationships you have built up with faculty during your undergraduate career. Ask your professors if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation. Only follow through if that professor says “yes.”
- If you didn’t build strong relationships with faculty, don’t despair! You can also ask for recommendations from present and past employers, as well as church or volunteer organizations.
- Some recommenders may need to be prompted to complete the letter. Send a friendly email reminder, or stop in to chat.
Draft a personal statement.Law schools require that you write a short statement, typically on a topic of your choosing. The statement is usually only 500 words.
- Follow the directions. If the school wants you to write on a specific topic, write on that topic. Also, if they give you a word limit, stick to the limit. Going over, by even a few words, can harm your chances of admission.
Think about writing an addendum.An addendum can be a great way to explain something that looks bad in your application. A solid addendum will provide context for any information that might raise “red flags.”
- For example, an addendum might clarify why one LSAT score is much higher than another, or it might explain why your grades were low one semester. Remember to explain, not make excuses.
- A sample addendum might read something like this: "I am writing to explain why my grades dropped the fall of my junior year. Late that summer, I fell sick with mono. Although I could have taken the fall semester off, I wanted to graduate in four years for financial reasons. Accordingly, my grades suffered as I fought my illness, but they improved once I physically recovered."
Consider costs.Law school tuition can run upwards of ,000 a year. Recent graduates often carry debt loads totaling over 0,000. With a majority of law school grads making less than ,000 a year, you may want to consider finding the least expensive school to attend.
- Many public law schools are cheaper than private schools, but not always. Carefully calculate the total cost, including average annual living expenses.
- If you are interested in attending a public law school in a different state, contact the Admissions office to ask about establishing residency.
- You could shorten the time to becoming a lawyer to under 7 years if you attend an accelerated J.D. program. The law schools at Northwestern and Arizona State University offer 2 year programs.
Applying to Law Schools
Pick only ABA approved law schools.Each state decides who to admit to their bar, and many states make it difficult for those who didn’t attend an ABA-approved law school to be admitted. If you can’t get into an ABA-approved law school, you may want to reconsider law as a profession.
Use your GPA and LSAT score to find appropriate schools.These are the two most important factors in law school admission, and schools will rely on them heavily. Because application fees can be expensive (sometimes close to 0), you will want to be selective about which schools you apply to. Look for schools where your GPA and LSAT fall near the school’s medians.
Pay attention to a school's specialties.Law schools do not generally specialize in any particular area of law. However, some schools have a strong reputation in the legal community for certain types of law, such as intellectual property.
- Wake Forest Law, for example, has a strong reputation in healthcare and intellectual property law, as well as entertainment law.
Examine bar passage rates and employment statistics.Since the purpose of going to law school is ultimately to work as a lawyer, look at how well schools have prepared their graduates for passing the bar and finding employment.
- Pay careful attention to employment numbers. The most relevant statistic is the number of graduates who are working full-time in legal occupations.
- Avoid schools with low passage rates. You will not find work as an attorney if you can't pass the bar exam. Having to take the bar exam twice will also lengthen the time it takes to become a lawyer.
Apply to multiple law schools.Applying to more than one school increases your chances of being accepted. If you don’t get into a school, then you will have to wait a year before applying.
- Divide your applications into three pools: safeties, targets, and reaches. A safety is a school where your GPA and LSAT are above the median. A target school will have medians equivalent to your scores, with reaches being those schools where you are well below the reported medians.
- Feel free to throw a few applications at reach schools, but focus most of your attention on targets and safeties.
Consider applying to a school in a community where you are willing to live.Since most law schools do not have a national reputation, they feed their graduates into the local legal economy. You should apply to a law school located in an area where you would be happy to set down roots.
Attending Law School
Attend full time.Law degrees can be completed in three years, but some law schools also offer part-time enrollment. Attend law school full time if possible to get through faster. This will help keep you focused, could reduce your student loans, and will help you meet your 7-year goal.
Join a study group.Law school is stressful and isolating, and a study group is a great way to meet people. Study groups help with exam preparation, sharing notes and outlines, as well as just blowing off some steam.
- If you join a study group, stick with it. No one likes people who join a group only to drop out after a month.
Take exams seriously.Before you can become a lawyer, you have to pass law school. Your grades will also follow you around your entire career. Though the importance of grades decreases over time, poor grades could keep you locked out of jobs, at least initially.
Build a network.Most jobs are found by word-of-mouth and personal recommendation. Use your law school years to meet as many local attorneys as possible.
- Many law schools employ practicing attorneys as adjunct professors. Adjuncts are a great resource for learning more about the local legal market.
Pass the MPRE.The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination is required to practice in all but three jurisdictions in the United States. The exam has 60 questions and tests your knowledge of legal ethics.You will take the exam in your third year of law school.
- Since you have already taken the LSAT, you should know the importance of preparing for any standardized exam. Gather practice materials, set a schedule, and approach the exam seriously. Give yourself enough time to fully prepare.
Applying to the Bar
Apply for admittance.Each state administers its own bar exam, so check with the bar of the state where you wish to practice.They will provide you with a list of the necessary steps to take.
Register for the bar exam.Nearly every state requires that you pass a written exam. The exam typically includes an essay portion as well as a multiple choice test.
Prepare for the bar exam.Prep courses abound. They typically last several months and prepare you for both the essay and multiple choice portions of the bar exam. Costs can run up to several thousand dollars.
Fill out the background survey.In addition to passing the bar exam, you also need to pass a character and fitness review. This requires filling out a detailed survey on your background.
- Common problems with character and fitness include criminal convictions, financial irresponsibility (such as bankruptcy), and accusations of plagiarism. These may not completely block you from admission, but be prepared to discuss them with the character and fitness committee.
- Always be honest when filling out the background survey. Often the attempt to hide something is worse than the offense in the first place.
Finding a Job
Start looking early.Many jobs will come from people you meet in law school. You should spend time in law school thinking about the kind of law you want to practice and try to meet lawyers who work in the field.
- A great way to get a job is to clerk during your summers. Clerking may not pay much, but you will meet practicing lawyers who will remember you when you graduate. Always remember to keep in touch with your summer employers after you return to school in the fall.
- You also can volunteer while in law school at different legal aid organizations or for a state's attorneys office. Sometimes you can even get course credit for this work.
Sign up for On Campus Interviewing.Law firms will register to interview students on campus. Typically this happens the summer before your third year, but firms can come any time during the year. Even if you don't think you have strong credentials, it doesn't hurt to introduce yourself to potential employers. They might remember you years down the road, when you are ready to lateral to a better job.
- Be sure to bring copies of your resume, transcripts, and writing samples, as well as the names of references. Being prepared creates a great first impression.
Search online.Small firms will not spend the money to buy a newspaper ad, but they will post a job notice on the web. You should check daily and have a resume (as well as writing sample) prepared to send electronically on a moment's notice.
Set up informational interviews.After taking the bar exam, you should identify attorneys whose practices you would like to learn more about. Draft a letter (not an email) and introduce yourself. Be sure to mention who gave you their name.
- In the letter, explicitly state that you are not asking for a job. You will get a better response this way.
- Develop a list of questions and take notes. Be engaged.
- Ask the attorney if she knows anyone else you can talk to, and be sure to send a thank you note afterwards.
Attend bar events.Sure it costs money to join your state's bar organization, but any money spent could reap big rewards as you make new contacts and introduce yourself to people. Be sure to have a business card available and speak confidently.
Volunteer.Even though you are a qualified attorney, you might still need to volunteer in order to keep your skills sharp and to build a resume. Volunteer opportunities may be posted online, but you can also mail a resume or pick up a phone and call.
- Working for free can pay off big time. If the firm or organization suddenly has an opening, you may be hired quickly.
How many years before you become a regular and successful attorney?
Video: Thinking like a lawyer
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