How to Become a Lawyer

lawyer with hands on desk

Table of Contents

1. Overview: Job Responsibilities, Salary, and Common Requirements

2. A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Lawyer

3. What Does a Lawyer Do?

4. Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Lawyer

5. How Do You Become a Lawyer?

6. What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Lawyer?

7. Popular Schools and Colleges in the U.S. for Aspiring Lawyers

8. How to Get a Job as a Lawyer

9. Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

10. Make Your Resume Stand Out

11. Ace Your Lawyer Interview

12. Top Online Courses for Aspiring Lawyers


Job Responsibilities

  • Represent clients in legal proceedings, criminal or civil litigation in courts, before government agencies, and in private legal matters
  • Provide legal advice and management
  • Communicate with their clients, colleagues, judges, and others involved in the case
  • Research and analyze legal problems
  • Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for clients (individuals and businesses)
  • Present written and verbal facts to their clients or others
  • Argue on behalf of their clients
  • Prepare and file legal documents, such as deeds, affidavits, appeals, wills, contracts, and lawsuits

How Much Does a Lawyer Make?

Lawyers made a median salary of $122,960 in 2019. The best-paid 10 percent made $208,000 that year, while the lowest paid 10 percent made $59,670.


Common Requirements

  • Four years of undergraduate study with courses in English, public speaking, government, history, economics, and mathematics
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
  • Three years of law school with courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing
  • A Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA)–required by most states and jurisdictions
  • Pass the licensing exams called “bar exams” with individual state and jurisdiction requirements
  • Lawyers who want to practice in more than one state must take the bar exam in each state
  • Legal education courses to help stay current with recent developments
  • Specialization in areas such as tax, labor, and corporate law (optional)

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$122,960 per year
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A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Lawyer

Becoming a lawyer is no easy feat. It requires extensive study that spans even beyond school and throughout a lawyer’s professional practice. The reason for this is that they hold some serious responsibilities towards issues that legally affect a person or their business.

What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyers advise and represent their clients in legal issues. They act as advocates in situations where they are employed such as in disputes. Here are some of the more detailed roles and responsibilities of this profession:

  • Represent clients in legal proceedings, criminal or civil litigation in courts, before government agencies, and in private legal matters
  • Provide legal advice and management
  • Communicate with their clients, colleagues, judges, and others involved in the case
  • Research and analyze legal problems
  • Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for clients (individuals and businesses)
  • Present written and verbal facts to their clients or others
  • Argue on behalf of their clients
  • Prepare and file legal documents, such as deeds, affidavits, appeals, wills, contracts, and lawsuits

Work Environment for Lawyers

Lawyers mostly spend time in legal offices, courtrooms, and legal libraries. In addition to those common locations, they also may travel to meet clients in various settings such as prisons, hospitals, homes, and even public places such as cafes where they can discuss legal matters outside of the office.

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Lawyer

If you think that a lawyer’s duties are exciting and enjoyable, and you want to consider becoming one, here are some of the tell-tale signs that becoming a lawyer is the best career choice for you:

You have excellent communication skills.

One of the most obvious requirements for a lawyer is communication. Having excellent communication skills are equivalent to being able to adequately perform one of the most critical responsibilities of a lawyer, which is to represent his or her client.

A lawyer should be able to present arguments in front of a judge as fluently, persuasively, and efficiently as possible. You can start practicing these skills as early as your school days through participating in debate clubs, youth parliaments, and moot courts. You can also develop written communication skills similarly. Research can usually tackle both written and oral forms of communication through the process of writing and defense. On the basis of your expertise and interest, you can choose an option from available options such as international divorce lawyer, family lawyer, criminal lawyer, business lawyer, and many others.

You are a good listener.

Cross-examining witnesses and delivering strong rebuttals not only require excellent communication. More importantly, it needs to begin with excellent listening. To be able to come up with a compelling argument, you first need to know and understand what you are arguing against thoroughly, and that cannot be achieved if you don’t have excellent listening skills.

While some individuals are naturally excellent listeners, those who are not need not despair. There are ways you can practice good listening, which you can apply to various life scenarios and eventually into legal practice. It usually involves physical and mental exercises that tie up together to produce better communication and better comprehension.

You are emotionally balanced with sound judgment.

This quality is inherent in many successful lawyers. This is a type of trait that is usually developed around an early age. To be able to come up with sound judgment means being able to draw up logical conclusions objectively, and this should be done without clouding from uncontrolled emotions.

Explosive behavior, while it may seem dramatic in movies, is frowned upon in court. There is certain courtroom etiquette that needs to be observed during legal proceedings. Having a rein over your emotions means that you are always composed no matter what the situation is in court. It displays honor, ethics, and professionalism–all of which are essential qualities to show when in front of a judge, a jury, or an entire court.

You are patient and persistent.

One of the courtroom no-no’s is interrupting the speaking party. This is one of those instances wherein an advocate’s patience is tested. An inherently patient lawyer should easily breeze through this without acting overly-defensive.

Another reason to be patient is that it usually requires a lot of persistence to get to the answers you are aiming for when doing cross-examinations. Sometimes, you will find that you are rephrasing questions repeatedly until you get the response that you need to prove a point. Someone patient enough can undertake this with grace and without losing their calm and collected demeanor.

You are organized.

In one case, you will be juggling multiple files. Most of the time, you will be handling numerous cases, which then multiplies the number of records you will be juggling exponentially. That being said, having a sense of organization in your materials is essential since you are handling crucial documents that have the potential to make or break a case.

Similarly, it is also essential to keep your thoughts and arguments organized. When presenting arguments, everything should be orderly in such a way that makes it as easy as possible for listeners–the judge, the jury, witnesses–to understand.

You are creative.

Some of the most notable lawyers possess an element of creativity in their work. Several cases might seem identical and, therefore, may warrant a solution that has worked before. However, sometimes, taking an off-road path towards tackling an old problem can yield to newer and better results. 

Having a creative streak might allow you to come up to a faster or better solution for your clients. On top of that, you can also make a name for yourself in this manner and possibly grab the attention of more prominent firms or more clients.


How Do You Become a Lawyer?

Becoming a lawyer is no easy feat. There are several sieves you have to pass through and several accomplishments you have to make to enter into the profession. Lawyers are some of the most prominent professionals there are in the states. You can check out some of the most famous lawyers in history, and you might encounter a familiar name or two.

If you are ready to take the plunge into this line of work, here’s how:

1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree 

Before you even think of starting law school, make sure first to complete a bachelor’s program. Many of those who get into law school usually have bachelor’s degrees majoring in political science. There are several other degree programs that can lead up to law school, but it usually doesn’t matter what your major was in college for as long as you finished the entire program.

How to Prepare for Law School while Completing Your Bachelor’s

  • Choose the right major courses that are relevant to a law degree.
  • Develop and hone your writing skills.
  • Take part in a pre-law group.
  • Establish relationship with your professors.
  • Study  for the LSAT in advance.

2. Finish Law School

The next and probably the most definitive step towards your legal career is entering and finishing law school. There are several degree programs, but the most common is the Juris Doctor (JD), which takes about three years to complete.

It all starts with a Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), which determines if you are qualified to enter into law school. This test is a prerequisite to any law school in the country. Its scores are usually on a scale of 120 to 180. 150 is the national average, but some of the more prestigious law schools may require at least a score of 160 to allow admission. 

3. Take the Bar Exams

The National Conference of Bar Examiners is a nonprofit corporation that develops licensing exams for bar admissions. It publishes the bar admission guidelines which indicate all requirements per state and all admitting agencies. 

Passing the licensure exams and getting admitted to the bar requires an applicant to first comply with all the prerequisites to be eligible for the exams. Before taking, make sure to prepare yourself thoroughly. Seek out some reliable review and preparatory materials and practice a few tips on coping with bar exam prep.

4. Continuing Legal Education

After having been admitted to the bar, freshly minted lawyers need to take mandatory or minimum continuing legal education (CLE) to keep their knowledge updated and relevant. This professional education is required and depends differently under each jurisdiction (state, district, or territory). 

Usually, there is a minimum number of CLE units that a newly practicing lawyer must collect through legal training from senior attorneys. Senior attorneys, on the other hand, gain CLE units by speaking, teaching, and training.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Lawyer?

Lawyers are usually talented and highly intelligent professionals who have undergone several years of specialized study to begin and sustain their practice. They need to possess and develop specific skills for them to be productive and successful at their job. Here are some of the strengths and capabilities that good lawyers must possess:

Public speaking

When representing a client in front of a court, public speaking skills are extremely vital. Knowing how to deliver your point verbally effectively is a critical factor in ensuring that those who are listening “get it.” You should feel comfortable with the idea and the act of speaking in front of people–whether in a courtroom, during a meeting, or in an interview.

Here are a few useful tips to improve your public speaking skills:

  1. Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel nervous
  2. Prepare and practice ahead of time
  3. Learn more about your audience
  4. Organize your material in a way that makes it practical for you
  5. Be sensitive to how your audience responds to your speech and adjust accordingly
  6. Be yourself
  7. Avoid reading out of a script and use an outline instead
  8. Use your hands and vocal tone to communicate nonverbally
  9. Prepare an attention-grabbing intro and finish strong
  10. Use audio-visual aids

Legal writing 

Writing is one of a lawyer’s most essential skills. Lawyers prepare and deal with a host of legal documents such as lawsuits, affidavit, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds. One of the most prominent things that an attorney has to do is legal writing. It is the practice of presenting an analysis of fact patterns and arguments in documents like case briefs and legal memos. 

There are generally two types of legal writing: the balanced type, which does a fair analysis of a legal issue, and the persuasive type which favors one legal position over another. Legal writing is a skill, and there are several ways you can improve yours with easy-to-apply practices.

Research and analysis

As stated above, legal writing involves analysis. That analysis is usually extracted from extensive research. Legal research is done when seeking to answer a legal answer or looking for a legal precedent that can be used for a case brief or trial. It is right to say that a lawyer should be an adept researcher and analyst in his practice too.

Inquiry and comprehension

A lawyer needs to ask a lot of questions. A lawyer also needs to know which questions are right to ask. The skill of inquiry is highly valued because it is the only way you can uncover facts that have the potential to win you a case. 

To pair with the talent of correct and valid inquiry is comprehension. A lawyer should be quick enough to grasp a point after it has been delivered immediately. He or she should be able to effectively analyze statements and afterward know different ways on how to tackle them and use them to his or her client’s advantage.


Lawyers make so many decisions throughout their daily work. Most of these decisions happen to be important ones, regardless of their magnitude, which is why decision-making is also a vital skill for this profession. Whether a lawyer is deciding what to advise a client, how to handle a transaction, or deciding to litigate a case, the decisions are never-ending.

Here are the top 30 law schools in the US according to US News and World Report:

  • Yale University – New Haven, CT
  • Stanford University – Stanford, CA
  • Harvard University – Cambridge, MA
  • University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
  • Columbia University – New York, NY
  • New York University – New York, NY
  • University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
  • University of Virginia – Charlottesville, VA
  • University of Michigan,Ann Arbor – Ann Arbor, MI
  • Duke University – Durham, NC
  • Northwestern University (Pritzker) – Chicago, IL
  • University of California (Berkeley) – Berkeley, CA
  • Cornell University – Ithaca, NY
  • Georgetown University – Washington, DC
  • University of California, Los Angeles – Los Angeles, CA
  • University of Texas, Austin – Austin, TX
  • University of Southern California (Gould) – Los Angeles, CA
  • Vanderbilt University – Nashville, TN
  • Washington University in St. Louis – St. Louis, MO
  • University of Minnesota – Minneapolis, MN
  • University of Notre Dame – Notre Dame, IN
  • George Washington University – Washington, DC
  • Boston University – Boston, MA
  • University of California,Irvine – Irvine, CA
  • University of Alabama (Culverhouse) – Tuscaloosa, AL
  • Emory University – Atlanta, GA
  • Arizona State University (O’Connor) – Phoenix, AZ
  • Boston College – Newton, MA
  • University of Georgia – Athens, GA
  • University of Iowa – Iowa City, IA

How to Get a Job as a Lawyer

How do lawyers get into the practice? Did you know that they can start their careers even while still studying? Here’s how:

Do part-time work as a student 

You can start getting a lot of valuable work experience while still studying. A lot of smaller firms, companies, and government offices accept law students for part-time or summer internship programs after their first year. More prominent organizations and agencies may require such part-timers to finish at least two years of law school first. This type of experience can help students decide what kind of legal work they want to focus on later in their careers.

Look for an associate position

If you just got admitted to the bar and are looking for your first official job as a licensed attorney, you can seek out associate positions. If you have had previous experience as a student, this part will come easy. You even have the option to search for such jobs in online platforms such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn.

Advance to a partner position

After several years as an associate, lawyers typically advance onto a partner position, making them partial owners of the company. Without advancement, associate lawyers may have to leave the company in a common practice that is called “up or out.”

Apply with large corporations

Another option experienced lawyers have in terms of employment is to seek out large corporations looking for senior legal advisors. Big companies now publish such vacancies online as well. You may search for these in online job platforms or directly through a company’s website. You may also be referred by business acquaintances if you practice enough networking.

Go into private practice

Yet another avenue that a lawyer can practice in is private practice. In this manner, you can treat yourself as a business offering private legal services to several entities. You may even eventually open your firm and employ associates and partners of your own.

Popular Specializations in Law

Below are some of the most popular specialties in law which you can choose from early on in your studies. You may opt to choose the following as electives during your law school studies to broaden your options once you decide to pick a niche to specialize in.

Constitutional Law

This is arguably the broadest and most-involved of all specialties. You need to have an in-depth understanding of the US Constitution should you choose to practice this specialty.

Criminal Law

In criminal law, you will mostly be involved in the government’s prosecution of individuals who are charged of performing criminal acts, as defined by public law. 

Admiralty Law

This specialty is also called Maritime Law as it covers all dealings that involves maritime such as shipping, navigation, insurance, canals and even piracy. It falls under the jurisdiction of federal district courts.

Business Law

Business law covers all issues concerning commerce and industry, including taxes, licensing, and trademark. It is further subdivided into Small Business Law and Corporate Law.

Environmental Law

As the name implies, this specialty revolves around protecting the environment from public and private actions such as business practices that have an effect on the surroundings.

Health Care Law

In healthcare law, you will mostly be dealing with the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the department that spearheads Medicare and Medicaid programs. This specialty also covers medical malpractice, licensing, patient rights, and bio-ethics.

First Amendment Law

The first amendment aims to protect citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly against law. 

Intellectual Property Law

With intellectual property law, you will be focused on acquiring and enforcing intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Patents are for technological innovations, trademarks are there to protect a person or business’s investment on its identity or symbol, and copyright aims to protect ownership of artistic, literary, or musical work.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

With the extensive study and the scope of their responsibility, it is only fair that lawyers have a normal six-figure annual income. Here are the pay differentials for practicing attorneys per state:

State2019 Mean Annual Wage
California$ 173,970
New York$ 168,780
Massachusetts$ 164,800
Illinois$ 157,010
Connecticut$ 154,610
Colorado$ 150,630
New Jersey$ 147,170
Texas$ 144,110
Virginia$ 143,220
Pennsylvania$ 142,890
Arizona$ 136,170
Maryland$ 135,500
Utah$ 134,770
North Carolina$ 133,290
Nevada$ 131,190
Georgia$ 130,320
Florida$ 130,010
Washington$ 129,550
Wisconsin$ 129,440
Virgin Islands$ 127,860
New Hampshire$ 126,220
Rhode Island$ 124,600
Minnesota$ 124,510
Tennessee$ 124,370
Ohio$ 124,160
State2019 Mean Annual Wage
Iowa$ 119,700
Oregon$ 116,860
Michigan$ 116,310
Oklahoma$ 116,270
Alaska$ 115,260
Alabama$ 114,240
North Dakota$ 113,280
Nebraska$ 112,860
South Dakota$ 112,810
Indiana$ 111,790
South Carolina$ 111,090
Kansas$ 110,290
Missouri$ 109,820
Hawaii$ 109,420
Louisiana$ 108,070
Maine$ 106,350
Idaho$ 105,450
Vermont$ 104,790
New Mexico$ 103,290
Kentucky$ 102,980
West Virginia$ 102,040
Wyoming$ 100,090
Mississippi$ 95,040
Arkansas$ 94,000
Montana$ 83,030

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

A lawyer’s resume is different in a sense that it includes several varieties depending on that industry or specialty they are applying for. Here are some general tips you can use to just about any lawyer resume:

1. Practice brevity

Try to avoid any wordiness as much as you can. Legal hiring managers, or just about any hiring manager, would scan through applications reasonably quickly. If your best qualifications are buried beneath a pile of unnecessary flair, you might lose your chance. Maximize each word that you use and make sure that it deserves its space on your resume. 

If you have relatively fewer experiences, you can summarize everything in one page. You can spill onto the next page if you have more experience under your belt. Treat your resume as your introduction. You want it to be short but memorable. 

2. Strategic placement of education and experience

Did you know that there is a proper way to arrange your education and work experience in a resume? If you are fresh out of law school and just got admitted into the bar, it is best to put your education first and then insert your experiences (if any) afterward as a bonus. It is the other way around for more experienced lawyers. Your training wouldn’t matter as much if you already have enough accomplishments in your practice that prove your mettle.

3. Customize for every application

Anyone would tell you that it is a bad idea to send out the same resume for every application you make. Making your resume too generic can give the impression that you are not that passionate about applying for the company and that you have no interest in your employer. Avoid this by making each resume tailor-fit for every different company. Research as much as you can about the agency with which you are applying and include them in the document.

4. Update your details regularly

On top of customizing for every application, you should also regularly keep your resume updated with your current accomplishments and experiences. Your resume should grow as much as your practice, and it should reflect your professional development. You should take into account all of your accomplishments and include the ones you are most proud of. If you happen to have a lot, you can provide a list on a second page.

5. Have a simple and elegant layout

While you want your resume to stand out, you wouldn’t want to do it in a bad way. Flashy colors and multiple complicated fonts are major no-nos in resume writing, especially if it is for this type of position. Stick to clear and neutral hues for your background. Pick a classic black serif font such as Times New Roman. Use headings and bold letters as well as bullets to make it easy for employers to navigate through the document.

6. Include only pertinent hobbies and interests

While this portion seems a bit lighter and more personal, you can still choose to use it to your advantage if you happen to have hobbies that display good qualities such as leadership, creativity, or social skill. It would also help out if you include affiliations to law groups, alumni, or other exclusive interest clubs that your employer might be into as well.

7. Proofread your work

Treat your resume as your first writing test for employment. It should be as perfect as it can be; otherwise, you can say goodbye to your chances of being hired. You should read through your finished draft thoroughly. It would be better to make a printed draft since it is easier to spot errors on paper than on screen. If possible, have someone else proofread your work to have a fresh pair of eyes review it.

Ace Your Lawyer Interview

Here are some useful tips you can apply to prepare for your lawyer interview:

1. Research thoroughly about the law firm

Knowing as much as you can about the firm gives you an idea of what you are getting yourself into. It gives you clues as to what the organization is about, what matters to them, and what they are looking for in an applicant.

2. Have a good grasp of the role that you are applying for

Piece out the job description one by one to determine exactly what the company expects from you once you are on board. If you know what responsibilities are critical for the role you are aiming for, you will have a chance to brush up on concepts relevant to the position.

3. Brace yourself for difficult questions 

Have a good grasp of your career narrative. Be familiar with each item in your resume and be prepared to expound on each when requested. Also, be prepared for tricky questions such as “tell me about yourself,” “what are your weaknesses,” and “what makes you a good lawyer.”

4. Ask questions

Asking questions after the interview shows that you paid attention to the interviewer during the session. It also shows exactly how interested you are in the position you are applying for.

5. Express your gratitude

It is common courtesy to write a thank you note for your interviewer promptly after the interview. It is even more critical if you are applying for a legal position as it shows how you value respect and civility.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Lawyers

Sharpen your skills in law by taking these top online courses

Below are some top-rated online courses you can check out to sharpen your skills in legal practice:

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