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  • There are a number of undergraduate majors that can help prepare you for law school, and life as a lawyer, including English, history, and philosophy.
  • As of 2021, lawyers earn a median salary of about $128,000 a year, though this can vary greatly depending on location and field of law.
  • To become a lawyer, you need to pass the bar exam in the state you plan to practice. If you’re willing to certify in more than one state, you can move anywhere.

A career in law can be rewarding and—depending on what field you go into—well paid. While there are a lot of steps to becoming a lawyer, it’s worth it for the impact you could have on the legal, political, and social landscape.

What do lawyers do?

Lawyers may be involved in helping a client write their will, negotiating a contract, advocating for constitutional reforms, or advising and strategizing on a political campaign.

Students who pursue a law degree will study legal systems and theories, historic cases, legal methods, procedures, and writing as well as particular areas of the law such as civil, criminal, contract, and torts. Law school requires intensive research; extensive reading of cases, statutes, and regulatory materials; and writing law briefs and memos.

What are the pre-law degree requirements?

Although students pursuing a degree in law (i.e., a Juris Doctor (JD)) do not need to have any specific undergraduate degree to attend law school, certain skills are essential. Those skills include strong communication, writing, reading, and research as well as the ability to think critically, logically, and analytically.

As an undergraduate, it's helpful to choose a major that can prepare you for law school, such as English literature, history, philosophy, or political science. These majors don't necessarily increase your overall chances of getting into a competitive program, but they will prepare you for the type of work you will be doing in law school.

You'll also need to prepare for and take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT®) as part of the admissions requirements for law school. It's offered several times a year and is administered digitally. The exam focuses on three skills required in law school: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. There is also a separate writing portion, and as of August 2021, there is an extra unscored section that the LSAT uses to determine future test questions. Many students take LSAT prep courses and practice exams to help them study for the test.

What to expect in law school

For most students, law school will be unlike any other academic experience they've had before. The coursework is challenging and the teaching methods—the case method and Socratic method—can be both unfamiliar and quite uncomfortable for students who are not prepared. If long hours at the library aren't of interest, law school may not be for you.

Although most law school programs take three years to complete and are full time, some schools have part-time programs. Depending on the type of law you are interested in practicing, you can also often combine your law degree with another advanced degree, such as an MA, MBA, or PhD. Having two degrees gives you more flexibility professionally and makes you a more marketable job applicant.

Steps to becoming a lawyer after graduation

Before you can work as a lawyer, you'll need to pass your state's bar exam and be admitted to practice by the highest court for your state. The bar exam is generally offered twice a year in late February and again in late July. Double-check which exams you are required to pass for the state you want to practice in.

Once you are licensed to practice law, you can work at a law firm or in any number of different industries such as government, politics, business, non-profit and advocacy, arts, and education—the list goes on. Possible job titles include: prosecutor, defense attorney, environmental attorney, intellectual property attorney, corporate counsel, judge, clerk, and litigator. Some attorneys also teach in law schools after practicing for a number of years.

Best places to live and work as a lawyer

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021, the top five states with the highest employment levels for lawyers are:

  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • District of Columbia

How much do lawyers make?

The median annual wage for lawyers was approximately $128,000 in May 2021, according to the BLS. However, depending on the particular industry, that wage varied significantly. At the top tier were lawyers employed by the federal government, earning a median wage of about $153,000 as of May 2021. At the low end were lawyers who worked for local government, excluding education and hospitals, with a median annual salary of about $100,000. Lawyers who own their own private practices tend to earn less than those who work for law firms and other businesses.

Are lawyers in demand?

As of May 2021, the number of jobs for lawyers is expected to increase by 10% between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the average for all occupations at 5%. While law firms will remain the most common employer, the BLS expects to see more corporations across various industries—such as finance, insurance, consulting, and healthcare—hiring attorneys as in-house counsel to cut costs. And, despite the job growth, competition for positions will remain strong. That means a willingness to relocate and strong practical experience will be key to landing a good job after law school.

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