There are a lot of good reasons to become a lawyer. Many lawyers earn top salaries and are well-respected in their communities. Several U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, went to law school. If this job sounds right for you, then you may be wondering, “How do I become a lawyer?”
First, it may help to learn what lawyers actually do on the job. Whether lawyers are employed by a large corporation, work for the government, or operate their own law firm, they help clients with questions or problems that involve laws. They do this by giving advice, interpreting laws for their clients, and representing clients in criminal or civil court proceedings. Lawyers generally work in offices most of the time, where they research laws about their clients’ cases and prepare legal documents, but they may also travel to clients’ offices, courts, and jails. Many lawyers put in long hours, working 60 or 70 hours weekly.
It takes years of schooling to become a lawyer. The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university. It’s also important to get top grades in order to be accepted to law school. You can study any subject, but most pre-law students major in political science, history, or English to prepare for the competitive atmosphere in most law schools. In your last year of college, you must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and send the scores to all law schools to which you apply.
After three years of law school, you’ll earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Your coursework will include general classes that apply to all areas of the law, and you’ll have an opportunity to choose electives that focus on a particular area, such as environmental law, family law, or immigration law. After graduation, the next step is to pass the bar exam in the state where you want to work in order to become a lawyer licensed to practice law in that state. Most students spend several months preparing for this crucial exam, and many take it more than once before passing it.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median salary for lawyers in May, 2010, was $112,760. However, this can vary widely depending on what type of legal job you have and its location. Salaries tend to be higher in urban areas, in large corporations, and in law firms that work primarily with wealthy clients. Rural areas, small law practices, and legal aid offices have lower salary ranges.
Finding a job after you become a lawyer can be challenging, too. Lawyers are employed by corporations such as manufacturing and insurance companies, at the local, state, and national levels of government, and in large and small law firms. Many law students find internships during their summer breaks in private or government law offices, which may lead to a permanent job later, especially if you want to specialize in that office’s type of law. In addition, law school career offices will have a schedule of recruiters from law firms and corporations looking for promising new lawyers.