How to Become a Lawyer After Undergrad
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Alexander Oddo in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- Applying to Law School
- Attending Law School
- Gaining Work Experience
- Taking the Bar Examination and MPRE
- Applying to Jobs
This article provides an overview of the steps that you need to take after graduating from college to become a practicing attorney.
Applying to Law School
You can apply to law school during your final year of college and matriculate during the fall semester after you graduate from college. It is also common for people to graduate from college, work for one or more years, apply for law school the year prior to when they hope to attend, and then matriculate at law school.
Regardless of when you choose to attend law school, you will need to prepare your applications, which consist of the following components:
- LSAT or GRE test score: Your LSAT or GRE test score is, in addition to your undergraduate GPA, considered heavily by law schools when making their admissions decisions. Take the time that you need to prepare for these standardized tests, and score well to be a competitive applicant.
- Transcripts: You will need to provide official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions to law schools. Make sure to request transcripts well in advance of when you intend to apply.
- Letters of recommendation: The number of letters varies depending on the law school to which you are applying, but two or three letters are usually required. Be sure to ask your recommenders to write their letters months ahead of the application deadline, and follow these other best practices for requesting letters of recommendation.
- Personal statement: Your personal statement is your opportunity to share and reflect on your background, experiences, interests, values, and goals. You may wish to directly address your decision to apply to law school and your legal aspirations. Regardless, your audience is composed of law school admissions officers, and they should finish reading your personal statement with a better understanding of who you are and why attending law school is the next best step for you.
Attending Law School
After you are admitted to one or more law schools, you will decide which school to attend and then matriculate. Most students attend law school full time, which takes three years to complete, though there are a few law schools that offer part-time programs for students who will attend school while working full or part time.
During your first year of law school (1L), you will take a predetermined set of courses, including civil procedure, contracts, torts, criminal law and criminal procedure, constitutional law, and legal research and writing. The 1L curriculum is fairly uniform across all law schools, and many of the topics covered will be tested on the Multistate Bar Exam (the multiple-choice portion). After your 1L year, you will spend your second and third years of law school fulfilling requirements, taking more courses related to the bar examination, and completing electives.
Your grades in law school are mostly determined by one final exam at the end of each semester. These exams are writing intensive and are meant to prepare you for the bar examination that you will ultimately take to become a practicing attorney.
Gaining Work Experience
After your first year of law school, you have the opportunity to gain practical work experience. During the summertime, you can intern with law firms, government agencies and offices, legal aid clinics, and nonprofits. During the academic year, you can gain experience working in clinics at your law school under a supervising attorney. As with obtaining most jobs and opportunities in life, it helps to have a strong professional network. Throughout your time in law school and beyond, make an effort to join professional associations, attend conferences, and network with professors, classmates, coworkers, family, and friends.
Taking the Bar Examination and MPRE
You will need to take and pass the bar examination and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) to gain admission to the bar in the state where you intend to practice. There are reciprocal agreements between states, which means admission to one state’s bar may confer admission to other states’ bars.
The MPRE is a 60-question, multiple-choice exam that can be taken before or after the bar examination and tests prospective lawyers on the standards of professional responsibility and legal ethics. In contrast, the bar examination takes two full days and consists of multiple-choice questions and essays. Many prospective lawyers will take two or more months to prepare for the bar examination, often spending the summer after they graduate from law school studying. The bar examination is offered twice per year, and it can take several months to receive your results. This is important to know for planning purposes because depending on the jobs to which you are applying, you may not be able to begin working as an attorney until you are admitted to your state’s bar.
Applying to Jobs
The last step of becoming a lawyer is to apply for jobs in the legal profession. Some job markets are more competitive than others, and it depends on the state where you live and the area of law that you are entering. Regardless, you should leverage your professional network and make use of your college and law school’s vast alumni network and career services departments and the bar association and professional groups at the local, state, or national level.
As you go through the application and interview process for various positions, you will want to know what each one entails. This includes:
- Scope of work and responsibilities
- Compensation and benefits
- Office culture
- Reputation and employee satisfaction
- Room for growth and upward mobility
The journey to becoming a practicing attorney is a long and arduous one, but if you are pursuing this career path because it matches your values, goals, and interests, you will find it worthwhile.