Although often glamorized in the media, whether it's Elle Woods ("Legally Blonde") or Jack McCoy ("Law and Order"), what attorneys accomplish inside and outside of the courtroom can have a profound impact. From Brown v. Board of Education to Miranda v. Arizona and beyond, attorneys will continue to shape our country's legal system, as well as our political and social landscape.
Someone pursuing a law degree studies the legal system, including historic cases, legal theories and policies and procedures within different specialties of law--with the outcome of being able to practice law.
Although you'll need an undergraduate degree before pursuing law school, hopeful law students should have strong communication, writing, reading and research skills. It also helps to enjoy taking on challenges and thinking logically. Double majors are also very common as a pre-law undergraduate degree.
Law school involves intensive research, extensive reading of cases, statutes, and regulatory materials and writing law briefs and memos. You need to be prepared for this type of work if you are interested in attending law school.
Something to consider
Law school will be unlike any other schooling experience you've previously had, with its challenging course work and teaching methods that can be uncomfortable to the unprepared student.
During your undergraduate program, choose a major that can help prepare you for law school, such as political science, communications, history, sociology, engineering or English. These majors don't necessarily increase your overall chances of getting into a competitive law school, 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 four times a year and consists of reading comprehension and analytical reasoning and logical reasoning questions, along with a writing portion. Many students take LSAT courses and practice exams to help them prepare for the test.
Most law school programs take three years to complete and are usually full time. There are some schools that have part-time programs.
Also depending on the type of law you are interested in, you can combine your law school degree with a business degree (e.g. MBA, MPA), typically known as a JD-MBA. Most programs require you to be a full-time student and typically take four years to complete. Having two degrees gives you more flexibility when it comes to careers and makes you a more marketable applicant.
Before you can practice law, 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 what exams you are required to pass for the state you want to practice law in.
Job industries as an attorney include: government, judiciary, law firms, personal practice and corporations. Possible job titles include: criminal law attorney, prosecutor, defense attorney, environmental attorney, intellectual property attorney, corporate counsel, judge, clerk, and litigation attorney. After practicing law, many attorneys can have a career in academia, such as teaching at law school.
Where you could end up living
According to My Next Move, in 2013, there were 29 states that had average to above-average career opportunities as a lawyer. States include: Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Depending on your job, where you could be working can vary from Washington, D.C. to a small rural town in the Midwest.
Salary and occupation outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 there were more than 592,000 people employed as attorneys and the average salary was $131,990 per year. The growth rate for attorneys is 10 percent from 2012—2022, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations. With the increase of law school students, the job market will grow more competitive, and overall, create a small growth rate for employment.
Law school is three years of rigorous work and study. It's a heavy price, but in the end, it gives you many options both inside and outside the legal profession.