- In most countries, becoming a lawyer can take six to ten years. This period can vary depending on whether you are studying full-time or part-time.
- A solid high school curriculum can help you be admitted into top Law schools.
- A degree in Political Science, Business, or Humanities can prepare you for your degree in Law.
- Getting work experience during your studies is fundamental if you want to work with top employers.
Becoming a lawyer is an appealing career for many students. There are several reasons to study Law: whether for the profession’s social prestige, the potential for high salaries, family tradition, or helping people in need, a career in Law can be the path to fulfilling many dreams.
Still, however rewarding a career in Law may be, it comes with many challenges. The process is long - it usually takes seven years to become a licensed lawyer - and expensive - a Law degree in the U.S. will cost about US$40.000 per year, with top schools like Columbia surpassing US$70.000 per year.
Regardless how hard it is and how long it takes to become a lawyer, the profession is on the rise: in the U.S., the employment rate for lawyers is projected to grow 10% by 2031- a growth larger than the average for other fields.
But, while Law school can be academically demanding, your degree will eventually open doors for a bright future in just about any country in the world - whether you choose to be a private practitioner, represent clients in court, work for a law firm, or pursue a career in academia.
As with any challenging profession, the earlier you know what you want and start preparing for your future, the better.
Here, you will learn the steps to becoming a lawyer. Continue reading to find out what education and skills you will need, how long it will take, and what your career in Law will look like.
Remember: the most demanding challenges lead to the biggest rewards!
How to start preparing since high school
Preparing early for your career is crucial, especially since you can hone the core skills you need to become a proficient lawyer even before university. A strong high school curriculum will make you stand out and provide a solid foundation for future study.
To gain an edge, take advanced classes that develop written, verbal, analytical, and interpersonal skills.
You can also gain hands-on experience by interning or working summer jobs at small firms, which will expose you to the field and help you understand the profession better.
What to study to become a lawyer
Not all countries require you to obtain a Pre-Law degree before you enter Law school. In fact, some experts recommend that you use your time as an undergraduate as an opportunity to gain expertise on a subject unrelated to law.
Nora V. Demleitner, professor of Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia, believes that "A Pre-Law major doesn't provide particular subject matter skills, and may therefore be a wasted opportunity. After all, in today's Law practice lawyers often benefit from subject matter knowledge, such as acquired in data science, health, art, forensics, depending on the practice area. Why limit your exposure and interest to law only?”
Here are some degrees you can pursue instead that will prepare you for your career as a lawyer:
Political Science: Covers government and judicial systems, ethics, political theory, and many other subjects that can prepare you for any specialisation in Law.
Economics and Business Administration: Excellent choices if you want to become a tax or corporate lawyer.
History and English: You will significantly improve your critical thinking, interpretation, and communication - all essential skills for any lawyer.
Remember that Law school is highly selective. Choose a degree that interests you and that you can excel in academically.
Attending Law school
In many countries, a Bachelor’s degree in Law is required to become a lawyer. It qualifies you to take any required national exams and start working. In the U.S., you will need a separate undergraduate degree before being able to apply to Law school.
A Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree is usually needed by those who want to deepen their knowledge in a particular area or international students with a foreign law degree who wish to become better acquainted with a new country’s legal system.
The Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) degree - the highest form of accreditation a Law professional can obtain - is typically a research-intensive programme for those interested in becoming a university Law professor.
How to gain work experience
Acquiring work experience can seem challenging, but it is crucial to start building your career as soon as possible. You can gain work experience before graduating by:
Shadowing lawyers in different areas of expertise to determine what kind of practice interests you the most.
Volunteering at smaller firms or providing pro-bono work.
Applying for internships during academic breaks.
Considering online internships.
What your Law career will look like
After graduating, you can work in corporate Law, family law, immigration law, intellectual property law, criminal Law, and many other specialities.
In the private sector, you can start as a paralegal at a law firm and then work as an associate attorney before becoming a senior attorney or a partner. In government, you can work for the Department of Justice or as a prosecutor or public defender.
Lawyers can earn high wages, with the average lawyer salary in the U.S. being US$127,990 per year in 2021 and government lawyers earning up to US$152,590.
Best countries to study Law
If you’re considering studying Law abroad, these are the best countries to choose from:
United Kingdom - The U.K. has a long history of legal education in universities like Oxford and Cambridge, in addition to offering a shorter study path.
Australia and Canada - Both countries offer high-quality education and a solid legal system, with highly ranked Law schools like the University of Melbourne, the University of Toronto, and McGill University.
Germany - Germany has a complex legal system and highly respected schools like LMU München and Humboldt-Universität, making it attractive for those interested in European Law.
Many law schools and legal systems in the world are inspired by how things work in the US, UK and Germany, which are also top destination countries for international students. So, this is what Law school looks like in these three popular countries:
Becoming a lawyer in the United States
Once you have your Bachelor’s degree, you will need to take the Law School Admissions Test (L.S.A.T.) or the Graduate Record Examination (G.R.E.) before you can apply to Law school and earn your Juris Doctor (J.D.). Full-time students typically complete their Law degree in three years, while part-time students take four to five years.
Some states in the U.S. don’t require attorneys to have a J.D. While becoming a lawyer without going to Law school is possible, it’s uncommon and typically not recommended.
Once you have obtained your Law degree, you must pass the bar exam to become a licensed attorney.
Becoming a lawyer in the United Kingdom
In the U.K., legal practitioners are divided into several categories. The title for the professional who provides legal services and represents clients’ interests is “solicitor”.
You can become a solicitor through the academic route. For that, you will start by obtaining a Bachelor of Law (L.L.B.) degree - usually completed in three years - and, later, taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (S.Q.E.). After passing the exam, you will need two years of legal work experience to meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (S.R.A.) requirements, qualify for admission, and apply for a practising certificate.
You can also bypass university entirely and apply for a Solicitor Apprenticeship right out of high school if you take at least three A-level classes and meet any additional requirements by your employer. Once you’ve completed the six-year program, you can apply for the S.Q.E. and qualify for legal practice.
Becoming a lawyer in Germany
To become a lawyer in Germany, you will first need to complete a Law-related undergraduate degree, which typically takes four years. After graduating, you will need to take the First State Examination, which consists of an oral exam and written case studies.
After passing the First State Examination, you will need to complete two years of internships at one or more legal institutions to gain work experience in different fields of the legal system.
Once you have completed your internship, you can take the Second State Examination and qualify for admission into the German Bar Association, allowing you to start practising the profession.
Becoming a lawyer requires a lot of dedication, but the results pay off. If you follow these steps and choose the right study programme and country, you can start a successful career in this challenging but exciting field!