Becoming an Attorney in the US

 Becoming an attorney in the US is not that difficult. Most law schools require the student have a four year degree, however, there are some the only require a two year degree, such as an AA or AS. Another common prerequisite is that you pass the LSAT exam, which basically tests your reasoning and understanding of issues problems. Again, some schools may not require this and some may allow a passing LSAT instead of a degree.

Many will ask why? As far as I am concerned, they are simply hurdles and will weed out those not having the stamina. Passing the LSAT or having a degree does not mean you will succeed in law school or even you will be a good attorney.

Assuming you have jumped the hurdles successfully, the next is choosing a law school. In the US, you have either the four year one or a three year. The four year schools are for those changing careers and working in the day and doing law school at night. The three years school is a full-time deal and generally much more expensive. One can even go to law school online and do it from a remote location. Law schools come in two types: the well known ones and the small unknown ones. The major difference is the price. The quality difference is dubious as all students learn the same concepts and types of law. All students will be reading a lot and be in a socratic type classroom. The unknown schools cost from $8,000 - $11,000 per year. The known ones are double that.

Law school is not like college. It felt more like boot camp. The term student is only because you are in school, it does not denote any other status. In night law schools, you will have all sorts of people changing careers, from dentists, doctors, carpenters and clerks. All age groups, from 25 to 50. In the three year, full-time schools, you will have mostly an age from 23-30, as most are directly moving from school to school. Inside the classroom there is always an air of tension. Students glance at one another when the professor begins the law discussion from his podium, for they know, the person he calls to recite the case law and to interpret it might be them. One never really gets over having to stand up and try to explain why the court ruled a certain way and then have the professor drill you and confuse you like a drill instructor in a military boot camp. Talk about embarrassing. Red face and all, and it will happen over and over again. It does prepare you for the courtroom, but sometimes I thought the professor really enjoyed messing with my reasoning. The worse thing in law school is that if you ask a question about a law, ruling etc., most professors will not answer you but respond with another question! This defeats the purpose of asking! So, the only way one will get their answer usually means more reading, discussion groups etc. Some professors are way more understanding of the student and will simply answer it or refer you to material that will clarify it. Professors will soon find out who can withstand the spotlight, who is doing their homework and who is understanding. The students also soon know who might be a stellar student as time goes on, by how they handle it, how good their public speaking is etc. Standing up and reciting the case law and being in the hotseat is not for everyone. Some are clearly not comfortable with public speaking. They stutter, stumble, sweat and jumble their argument, sometimes quite funny.

Usually first year courses are: Contracts, Torts, Criminal, Legal Research, it does vary. 2nd year courses include Evidence and others. The first year students are always shocked by the amount of reading each class demands, the huge thick law books with cases that teaching the elements, the black letter law, a real case and how the court ruled. There are some very interesting and odd cases. The cost is also so very high for these books, students are always looking for used ones, which still are costly. It is common to read over 100 pages in each class, outline the cases (use Casenotes) and what to memorize.

Usually, schools determine who goes onto the 2nd year etc., by having a midterm exam consisting of essay questions and circumstances (as if a client comes to you with a situation and facts) and you have to pretent you are in court making a written argument  for your side of the case. At the end of the year, you will have a final exam.

Grading, despite what is said, it really is subjective to the professor reading it. They will also take into account how much you participated and volunteered when in class during the year. They know who are willing and those that need to be forced and recite to the class. Grading is percentage points. Students have had to repeat a year by being less than one point the passing score!  A student may request that the exam be regraded, but it remains at the professor's option, most could care less unless you have made some sort of impression during the year.

Once you complete law school and get your Juris Doctor degree, you are an unlicensed attorney. This means that in most states you cannot practice law until you take and pass the mother of all exams, the State Bar. This exam usually will cost up to $600 to take over 3 days. Once taken, you have to wait almost six months for the results. If you pass, You get a Bar card and member number and are an "attorney at law". Now, you can apply for jobs, which is just like any job you have applied for, except at a much higher level and competition is keen. For now, you will compete with new lawyers from well known law schools, which are preferred for many jobs. For one position, there may be 100 lawyers submitting their applications. Interviews are usually a panel with legal questions. If you fail the Bar, you either continue to clerk for a law firm at $20 hr or find some other job and continue studying for the next Bar exam (they are given twice a year). The Bar exam usually will have hundreds of new law grads taking the exam.

If you passed the Bar in a specific state and decide to move to another, you need to check if the state you are moving recognizes the Bar from the state moving from, not all do. If it does not, you will need to take that state's Bar exam! How fun!

Once on the job as new attorney, you will find good pay (you will be thinking, I am getting paid this much for so little) and a lot of hand holding by the experienced lawyers. They will give you little bites of a case at a time, they may let you go to court and observe or even present a part. When this happens, it is like school all over again, at least you are prepared but still very nervous! Judges seem to love playing with new lawyers in their courtroom. I guess it is just a "right of passage".  Competition in law firms is fierce. What you see on some law drama TV shows is accurate. Your goal at a firm is to reach "Partner", where you receive profits from the firm as well as your normal pay check. By then, you have a lot of clients under your wing.

Much of the job is like any job you have had. It is routine, boilerplate with standard answers and much of your time is reviewing a legal assistant's work product for accuracy before you sign it. Many types of cases are routine also, and every once in awhile a case will fire you up. Like any job, it can become routine and boring at times, that is the reality.

Being an attorney today has less respect for it than 30 years ago. There are many reasons for it and there are many people with law degrees who are not working as an attorney. Many who are lawyers tried to start their own practice and soon found out it was a tough business to succeed in due to competition.

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Comments 23 comments

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

thanks for the detailed and clear explanation.

It doesn't half cost, though! £40,000 for just the uni fees, on top of an ordinary degree.


perrya profile image

perrya 7 years ago Author

well, a 4 year degree at a State college, not University (there is not much difference) runs around $23K for tuition and books. More if the student is in the dorms.The Univ of Calif campus sites (ie Berkeley) is more. At a private university like Stanford or Harvard, it is WAY more. Many go from High School to a Community college (2 yr) and get their required courses out of the way and then transfer to a State or University, it is much cheaper that way


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

so a new lawyer owes the GDP of a small African country?


perrya profile image

perrya 7 years ago Author

Pretty much. I think the cheapest law schools are those for working folk and go to night classes. It will cost $8-10K a year. Going to a big name one, like Stanford Law, Harvard Law, UCLA Law is around $20K a year excluding books and living expenses. You are really paying for the name, which in the end, may help you get that job over a no-name law school. There is also an ego associated with those schools when attorney's from those schools mix with the same from little law schools.


issues veritas 7 years ago

perrya

I think that you nailed it.


perrya profile image

perrya 7 years ago Author

well, heck, I tried having been there.......


issues veritas 7 years ago

perrya

And I was referring to your hub in toto


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

thanks very much - you write clearly and well, it's a pleasure to read.


perrya profile image

perrya 7 years ago Author

well, the writing either flows or it is grind, it happens to all writers!


Attorney Charlotte NC 6 years ago

Any advice on where to find funding for all of the law school & testing fees?


perrya profile image

perrya 6 years ago Author

Not really. But recently, a single attorney position was advertised with law firm, the firm had 500 lawyers applying for it!


caranoelle profile image

caranoelle 6 years ago from Sacramento, CA

Perrya, thank you for this hub. It is great, and full of helpful information.


razor ground force electric powered go kart 6 years ago

Becoming an attorney is surely not easy. I always wanted to become a lawyer but could not do so as it required a lot of work and understanding. :(

Anyway, nice hub. You just reminded me of my old days.


OpinionDuck profile image

OpinionDuck 6 years ago

Perry

The Socratic Approach sucks, and it probably accounts for why lawyers don't do a good job. They just never got the right answers in school.

Contract Law is made more difficult in law school because like boot camp it strips you of your experience and knowledge about the subject, then it embeds complicated logic, to something that is basically simple.

Bilateral, unilateral, oral, in writing and constructive contracts are made complicated and they confuse the first year law student. Then they add the Uniform Commercial Code for business law. Later on you get additional types of contracts in specialty areas such as real property.

At the end of three years and covering over a dozen areas of the law, the student still has no idea on how to deal with the law. The Bar Exam is no filter for removing the incompetents from the field.

At that point, they still couldn't find their way around a law suit. Fortunately many of the attorneys will not go into trial law, and they will not be tested by the courts as to their expertise.

Those that do go into trial law will get paid whether they win or lose the case for their client. Those lawyers that are not Law Corporation selected will hang their shingle and practice divorce law.

Most people think that a lawyer is competent about the law, but in fact they are lucky if the lawyer even knows the law well enough in their area of specialty.

my opinion


perrya profile image

perrya 6 years ago Author

well, a newbie out of school and bar approved faces the daunting task of either starting his own biz or facing the hiring ordeal at law firms where competition is as keen as those at Walmart but at different levels. You still face many job applicants for the 1 job and maybe a panel of 3 attorneys asking questions. Some firms place a lot of weight on where you went to law school and your GPA rather than correct answers to legal questions. If you happen to have gone to a no name school, it is a strike against you, regardless of a 4.0 GPA.There are many unemployed law school grads. Starting a biz is also not easy and costs money.


OpinionDuck profile image

OpinionDuck 6 years ago

Perry

I agree, and addtionally starting a business is not taught at law schools.


Conny 5 years ago

After reading this column; I really do not think I am competent to be an attorney.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 5 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

The British system requires all this, plus a period of practical experience working in the office of a qualified lawyer - before you qualify as a lawyer. There are then more restrictions before you set up your independent practice. It is to protect the public from inexperienced lawyers, and to protect young lawyers from themselves.


Jack 5 years ago

This article is garbage. For instance, you cannot get into any accredited law school without a 4 year college degree. The "two year degree" nonsense suggested by the author is why people have so many misconceptions about the profession. Also, your grammar is sorely lacking.


Denise M. 5 years ago

Oh my God, this article is replete with inaccuracies, the worst of which being that it is "easy to become a lawyer." Are you kidding? Four years of college then the LSAT then three years of law school then a summer studying for and taking the Bar. Uh, no, it's not easy, especially not the first year of law school. And no, there are not any accredited law schools that will accept a two year degree, nor will they accept a good LSAT score instead of a degree. You need a four year degree, a high GPA AND a good LSAT score. Surely, this person is not an attorney. Much of what he or she says is simply innacurate - for example, that the professors consider your participation in class when grading your exams. Virtually all law schools use "blind and anonymous grading" meaning all the professor sees is a number. And grading is not subjective - it is quite apparent who is able to apply the material to the fact pattern in an analytical way. It takes some people longer than others to learn this way of writing. Another example - you do not "pass" or fail the LSAT, you receieve a score. Another example, price of tuition does NOT depend on how well known the law school is, nor its size. Some of the lowest ranked, small law schools are the most expensive, while some of the best public universities are much less expensive. And no, you CANNOT attend law school on line, not one accreditted by the ABA anyway. This article needs to be removed. And yes, I am an attorney.


ghazal 4 years ago

hi im a lawyer but im not from the Usa

and im not graduated from an commonlaw sistem as what inthe usa

i want to know how ican take part to an exam for beein =g a lwyer in the us?

is it possible foo foreigners to be lawyer in there?

and is it any visas for eager pepople to work as lawyer there?

thank u from ur website


ghazal 4 years ago

hi im a lawyer but im not from the Usa

and im not graduated from an commonlaw sistem as what inthe usa

i want to know how ican take part to an exam for beein =g a lwyer in the us?

is it possible foo foreigners to be lawyer in there?

and is it any visas for eager pepople to work as lawyer there?

thank u from ur website


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

@ghazal: good question, I do not know. However, each state in the US has its own nuances about practicing, some states will allow trained lawyers from other states to practice there. Other will not. I suspect you might have to go to a US law school or challenge by taking the Bar exam for the state you want to work in. Visas are a whole different issue!

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