How Becoming a Lawyer Works

By: Laura Murray & Sam Burritt

Law School Commitment

There are many noble reasons to become a lawyer, not the least of which is the unique capacity the law has to influence and augment peoples' lives. More personally, however, the practice of law can be fulfilling if you enjoy meeting deadlines, exploring your intellectual limits, engaging in spirited debate, performing deep analysis and engrossing yourself in interesting research. You should also have a knack for organization, both with your work and with your time, and, of course, a passion for justice, fairness and the law.

Becoming a lawyer takes a rare kind of commitment as well; law school is three years on top of four years of undergraduate work. That's seven years of paying out tuition before you can even start thinking about collecting a lawyer's salary. And, depending upon the law school, it's often more expensive than other advanced degrees. There is a great deal of competition out there for law students (26,500 applicants in fall 2005 alone) and for lawyers (1,104,766 actively practicing lawyers in the United States as of 2005, according to the American Bar Association). It takes tenacity to face those odds.


The first step to becoming a lawyer is to get into law school. To do this, you need a college degree with a relatively high grade point average (GPA). You also need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), an entrance exam. After three years of law school, you're required to take another test, the Bar Exam. Passing the Bar licenses you to practice law in the state where you take the exam, and voilá -- you're a lawyer. Then you have to get a job.

But it's not like in the movies. Most young associates don't see the inside of a courtroom for years. Some never get to argue in front of a jury. In fact, most of a lawyer's time is filled with paperwork, interviews, research, filing and re-filing motions and organizing case files. Unfortunately, no one gets to be Atticus Finch except Gregory Peck.

These are all things that need to be considered carefully when considering law as a career. It isn't right for everyone, but many people do it and find it a challenging, rewarding profession.

So you really want to be a lawyer -- now it's time to talk schooling.


First, study hard in high school so you can go to a good college. When you get to college, choose any major that interests you most and allows you to develop your analytical skills. Law schools accept many majors, and some majors can lead you to a focus during law school. History, for example, may help you in Constitutional Law courses, while a Computer Science or Engineering major is excellent for students who want to focus on Intellectual Property or Internet Law.

Some colleges offer pre-law majors, similar to a pre-med major. However, medical schools have specific course requirements that a pre-med major satisfies, whereas law schools don't have such requirements. So these pre-law majors aren't actual majors in the traditional sense, but rather hybrid courses of study that cut across numerous fields. You get a great variety in a pre-law major, but not an area of concentration that can be helpful later in you career.

The important things to take out of your undergraduate studies are communication skills (both oral and written), analytical skills and organizational skills. Any major, if you take the rigorous and demanding courses within it, can enhance these skills. So pick something you have great interest in and excel at it.