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Law Schools & Careers | How to Become a Lawyer

Prospective lawyers must undertake a series of steps to practice law,

including completion of undergraduate and graduate degrees, examinations and

licensing processes. Prior to embarking in this journey, those interested

should ask themselves why they want to become a lawyer and if they are willing

to commit several years to studying law in order to do so. For those who

answer affirmatively, the following guide outlines the various academic, skill

building, and licensing steps required to begin a career practicing law. There

can be an excellent payoff by the hard work it takes to become a lawyer — the

median annual salary is $126,930, with salaries that exceed $200,000,

according to the

Bureau of Labor Statistics


How to Become a Lawyer

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program You Enjoy

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for admission to

law school. No singular field of study is recommended by the American Bar

Association at this level. In fact, the ABA notes that students gain admission

to law school from nearly every area of study, ranging from political science

to mathematics. Common undergraduate majors for prelaw students include

English, political science, economics, business, philosophy, and journalism.

There’s no correct major to pursue to get into law school. But according to

legal educators, prospective J.D. students who take classes they enjoy report

better GPA scores. And given the importance of your undergraduate GPA in the

law school admissions process, focusing on coursework you enjoy can help you

become a competitive candidate.

Pass the Law School Admission Test

Along with an undergraduate degree, the

Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a

core component of the law school admissions process. Admissions officers use

scores from the LSAT as an objective measure to assess the knowledge and

quality of applicants. The examination includes five multiple-choice question

sections and an unscored writing sample. The LSAT measures candidates’ skills

in critical areas of future legal work, including reading comprehension,

information management, analysis and critical thinking, reasoning, and


Identify Law Schools and Complete Applications

After finishing an undergraduate degree, some students choose to forego

further education, while others gain professional experience in other fields

prior to enrolling in law school. Regardless of the timing, prospective

students should only consider law schools accredited by the American Bar

Association. In addition to overall GPA, undergraduate coursework, and LSAT

scores, other admission factors may include community service, organizational

affiliations, and recommendation letters from educators, alumni or legal

professionals. The

Law School Admission Council is a great

resource for students in the research phase of the law school application


Earn a Juris Doctor Degree

The Juris Doctor (JD) is the nationally recognized degree for practicing law

in the United States and is currently offered by 205 ABA-accredited law

schools. Prospective students should have knowledge of the faculty, areas of

study, tuition, and curriculum prior to applying. There are numerous

specialties within legal practice and students should select a program that

offers a focused curriculum in their area of interest. For example, students

may choose to concentrate in areas of real estate, property, criminal,

environmental, tax, or family law. Typically students can complete their Juris

Doctor in three years of full-time study. Popular concentrations include:

Corporate law: Corporate or business law is a lucrative field

with responsibilities such as the formation and dissolution of corporations,

mergers and acquisitions, corporate disputes, and more.

Family law: Family law deals with legal relations between

families such as marriage, divorce, domestic partnerships, adoption, and child


Labor law: Labor attorneys deal with relations between

workers and employers, often representing one side or the other on matters

including discrimination, compensation, and collective bargaining.

Civil rights law: Civil rights lawyers work to protect

individuals’ civil rights, often representing individuals in matters against

or relating to the government.

Health law: Health law is a broad field that focuses on

everything related to healthcare, including healthcare policy, patents, and

medical malpractice.

Intellectual property law: Attorneys in this type of law work

to protect the intellectual property of clients through patents, trademarks,

and copyright.

Tax law: Tax lawyers work closely with the tax code, often

working on tax policy, and representing clients in tax matters.

Most states require lawyers to graduate from an ABA-approved law school and

pass the state bar examination prior to qualifying in that state. Although

each state sets its own testing guidelines, the bar exam is commonly a two day

process: day one is spent completing the Multistate Bar Examination while day

two focuses on writing examinations covering various legal matters. In

addition to the bar examination, the state board of bar examiners also

consider the candidate’s educational background, competence, character, and

ability to represent others in legal matters prior to offering full legal


There are many opportunities for lawyers to advance their careers. Freshman

lawyers generally start out as associates, working closely with seasoned

lawyers to hone their craft. After several years of successful practice,

attorneys may rise to become partners in a firm while others may choose to

open their own law office. Some may move beyond practicing law and become a

judge or shift into public positions. Lawyers may also pursue further

education at both the master’s and doctoral levels. The Master of Law (LLM)

and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are two common choices for lawyers interested

in careers involving research and academic scholarship.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyers are licensed by

their state’s bar association to represent clients on a wide range of legal

matters. Law is a broad field, but professionals typically provide legal advice,

perform research, gather information, draft legal documents, and more. A

spectrum of options is available, allowing legal professionals to pursue

opportunities in corporate, private, government, and international settings.

Lawyer Salaries

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for lawyers was about $126,930 in

2020, with the top 10 percent of earners taking home more than $208,000 per

year. Those working in state and local government tend to earn less while

lawyers specializing in financial and insurance law are in the top bracket.

Prospective lawyers considering where to practice law should also be aware

that in

25 states, the

annual salaries surpassed the national average. The District of Columbia

topped this list in 2020, with lawyers taking home $197,100. Below is a list

of the top ten paying states for lawyers in 2020, according to the BLS.


2020 Average Salary



New York










New Jersey








Use the map below to compare salary estimates for lawyers by state:

Did You Know?

According to the 2020

Robert Half International Salary Guide for the Legal Field, 87% of lawyers said

it’s challenging for their firm or company to find skilled legal professionals


Exploring Law Degrees

Undergraduate Degree Options