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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.