FAQ page about law and lawyers:
Becoming a lawyer is no simple task. In order to even approach the rigorous work that goes into taking the LSAT, applying to J.D. programs, attending graduate school, and passing the bar, aspiring attorneys must have a clear sense of the complex path before them, addressing the most challenging logistical and procedural difficulties of becoming a lawyer up front to streamline their trajectories and achieve their goals.
It’s only reasonable to have many questions at the outset of pursuing a career in law.
This page is intended to serve as a home base for all of your questions and concerns about getting your law degree. From preliminary questions about applications and qualifications for entry to macro-focused inquiries about plotting one’s career in the long term, this page can serve as a guide to help you along every step of the way.
This page is divided into several categories, the index of which is provided here:
- Applying to law school
- Attending law school
- Taking the bar exam
- The career of a lawyer
- All other questions
Some questions appear with links, meaning even more extensive answers are provided on their own dedicated pages.
Applying to Law School
The requirements for becoming a lawyer are decided upon by each individual state as it sets guidelines for the practice of law. The first step to becoming a lawyer is earning a Bachelor’s Degree. From there, it is necessary to complete three years of law school at an accredited university. After that formal education part of the process is completed, it is necessary to take and pass the state’s Bar Exam. This examination is a comprehensive and arduous test that covers all different areas of the law. Once that is completed, candidates must pass an investigation of their moral character and then be formally sworn in by their respective state court.
Do you need a bachelor’s degree in a specific subject to become a lawyer?
No. One does need a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for law school, but there are no stipulations as to your area of concentration as an undergraduate. In fact, having an education in fields that are more unique among law students can be an asset, as they can make you qualified to specialize in particular areas of law that are less popular for lawyers. For example, those with a background in ecology can work in legal fields related to climate justice.
That said, there are some undergraduate majors that are more popular among lawyers, as they are more directly related to a law school education or the skills required to become a lawyer. These include political science, government, English, history, and economics.
A Juris Doctor degree, typically abbreviated to J.D., is the standard graduate-level degree by which one is eligible to become a licensed lawyer. This is what one receives upon completing law school. Though there are other law-related degrees out there, such as a Legal Studies degree, as well as even higher-level law degrees, such as a PhD., a J.D. is the expected degree for working attorneys to hold.
Attending Law School
In this day and age, law school is available in a variety of different models, including in person and online, full-time and part-time. This means the duration is subject to vary. However, the typical length of a full-time law program is three years, with a select few accelerated programs taking two. Those who complete their degrees part time tend to do so in four to five years.
Every student’s experience of law school is different, but law school has a well-earned reputation for being difficult. If you have not previously enjoyed school or studying, there is a strong chance you will not take to the rigorous demands of a law school education. That said, if you do enjoy an academic setting and have strong skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking, you are likely to succeed in law school, though it will still be a challenging process.
When does one choose their area of specialization in law school?
Lawyers arrive at their areas of specialization in many different ways. Some enter law school with a strong sense of what they would like to focus on in their careers, while others wait to explore different topics and areas of focus in their classes as well as their field work opportunities while in school. Most law programs have at least a year’s worth of core curriculum to complete before students get to select specific classes, and even after the baseline requirements are out of the way, a law school education tends to prepare you to be a well-rounded lawyer with the ability to take on any area of specialty. This means that it is often in choosing one’s first job after law school that lawyers find their specialization that will last them their careers to come.
Is it possible to attend law school online?
Yes, there are numerous J.D. programs available online. These are advantageous for those who dream of pursuing careers in law but are not necessarily able to leave their jobs or their other at-home responsibilities. For those who do decide to attend online school, it is worth making extra effort to obtain some of the best features of an in-person education, such as direct mentorship from professors, networking with classmates, and field work opportunities. However, with dedication and commitment to your goals, you can arrive at these benefits while attending school remotely.
Is it possible to attend law school part-time?
Yes, it is entirely possible to attend law school part time. This is a popular option for students who wish to continue working while in school or have other responsibilities to maintain. Part-time programs often hold classes on weekends or at nights to accommodate students’ work schedules.
Part-time programs can make all the difference for students who would not otherwise be able to attend law school. However, if you choose this route, be sure to plan carefully, in particular finding time to incorporate an internship or field work experience into your academic plan. After all, this is one of the most important ways to build a career as an attorney, and will pay off as soon as you complete law school. (More on these field work opportunities in the questions below.)
Does law school involve field work or internships?
Typically, yes, and this can be a very important part of one’s professional development in the world of law. One’s legal internship can provide invaluable exposure to the ins and outs of working as a lawyer day to day, and can help law students determine where they would like to specialize. Some law students are even able to channel their internships into full-fledged professional opportunities when they get out of school, working full-time at the firms where they had first clerked while they were students.
Are legal internships paid?
Sometimes. This depends greatly on your internship and can also depend on where you are in school. While you may not have a great amount of control over where you are able to get an internship, it is a good idea to specifically seek out paid positions, though they are likely to be quite competitive. If your internship is not paid, it is nevertheless a terrific investment, as it will put serious work experience on your resume that can help you level up quickly as soon as you’re out of school. You’ll graduate with serious qualifications that will ensure a high salary, perhaps compensating for the unpaid work you provided while still in school.
Taking the Bar Exam
Only a select few states in the U.S. allow you to take the bar without completing law school: California, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington. In all other states, a J.D. degree is required. Anyone considering taking the bar exam without attending law school should appreciate that the test is considered to be one of the most difficult professional benchmark exams one can take, and will require extensive preparation. It is not easier to pass the bar exam without attending law school; rather, it requires an extensive autonomous education in law.
How long should I spend studying for the bar?
Most law schools recommend students take 400-600 hours to study for the bar exam, which translates to nine to ten weeks of studying forty to sixty hours. This may sound like a huge amount, but remember that it is a make-or-break test that can ensure a long-term, high powered career on the other side. Some choose to study on their own; others choose to study in groups. Whatever you decide, be sure to commit to studying fully and schedule your test at a time when you can truly take on the work that will be expected of you.
How many times can I take the bar exam if I do not pass?
There is no limit to how many times you can take the bar exam in most states. However, there is a point at which it is not recommended that you continue attempting to pass the bar if you have not been successful. This is because studying for the bar is extremely arduous, and can also be extremely expensive. If you have completed law school but have not been able to pass the bar, there may be other legal careers you can pursue outside of being an attorney.
How often is the bar exam offered per year?
In most states, the bar exam is administered twice per year, in the months of February and July. It is imperative to look into the exact date of your test well in advance of studying, as most people take several months to study intensively before the test.
The Career of a Lawyer
A lawyer is someone who has been trained and approved to provide professional advice on a legal issue. This could apply to criminal charges, a civil lawsuit or drafting a legal document. Lawyers are also referred to as attorneys and there are a number of specialty areas. Lawyers perform a variety of tasks that include representing clients in court, negotiating settlements, defending legal rights, creating legal briefs and much more.
An attorney is an individual who has graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, and now practices law with clients. This means representing clients in court and other legal proceedings. A licensed attorney is able to add “Esquire” to their title, which designates that they have passed the bar exam.
While the terms “lawyer” and “attorney” are often used interchangeably, there is technically a distinction between the two. “Lawyer” can refer to anyone who has completed law school, regardless of whether or not they have passed the bar exam and can represent clients in court. “Attorney,” meanwhile, specifically refers to someone who has passed the bar and practices law as their profession. While many conflate these two terms – including those in the legal profession themselves – this is in fact a meaningful difference. While all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers are attorneys.
What are the responsibilities of a lawyer?
The American Bar Association defines specific responsibilities of a lawyer. These responsibilities include protecting their clients’ rights while always upholding the law. Lawyers are expected to be well-versed in their practice area and maintain ethical practices. A lawyer works for his/her client and is expected to resolve client needs.
How do lawyers spend their time?
Contrary to what most people believe, lawyers do not spend every day in court. Some lawyers do not ever have to enter a courtroom. They spend their time with tasks that are centered on representing their clients. A lot of time is spent researching law and preparing legal documents. Lawyers also provide legal advice and many provide consultations before being hired by a client. There are also lawyers who argue cases in a courtroom, but that does not typify the majority.
Some of the top skills lawyers need to possess are strong reading and writing skills, refined problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, meticulous research skills, and excellent time management capabilities. These are what is required to perform the duties of a lawyer with full competence. The American Bar Association has also published and renewed its Code of Ethics that enshrines the standard values by which lawyers are expected to practice (see more on that below).
Is there a code of ethics for lawyers?
Yes. The American Bar Association maintains the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which codifies the professions expectations for lawyers in order to practice law. Failure to comply with these can result in being disbarred, making one unable to practice law.
The ABA’s Model Rules pertain to numerous aspects of a lawyer’s career, including the following: client-lawyer relationships, attorney’s roles as counselors, attorney’s roles as advocates, transactions with persons other than clients, law firms and associations, public service, and maintaining professional integrity, among others.
All Other Questions
When is it time to hire a lawyer?
You should contact a lawyer when you feel as though your rights have been violated. It is also a good idea to contact a lawyer when you believe your freedom has been compromised or your finances have been jeopardized. It is not advisable to handle legal issues yourself. There are no second chances in the legal system, so it is important to navigate through the process with informed decision making. It is also important to refrain from signing any legal documents without having a lawyer look at it first.
How much does it cost to hire a lawyer?
There is no standard fee that applies to all situations. Some lawyers charge clients per hour while others demand a flat fee. There are also lawyers who work on contingency, meaning they do not get paid until you win your case. This is typically a practice of personal injury lawyers. However, the longer a dispute lasts, the more you are likely to pay in attorney fees.
What else do lawyers charge for?
Lawyers may charge additional amounts to their billable hours. These fees can apply to court filing fees, travel expenses, cost of investigators, paralegal hours, and the hiring of experts. There could even be charges for postage and various types of paperwork.
What if I cannot afford a lawyer?
There are instances when people can qualify for free legal counsel. This is most common when someone is charged with a criminal offense and cannot afford representation. When this occurs, a court-appointed attorney is provided and that is commonly known as a public defender. In situations where criminal charges are not filed, there is the possibility of gaining legal counsel from a community law center. These centers typically operate on a pro bono basis I which legal services are provided without charge to those who meet specific qualifications.
What does it mean to receive legal advice?
Legal advice is feedback from an attorney based on both experience and training. Lawyers have a detailed knowledge of the law and their advice comes from years of schooling and learning about various components of the law. Legal advice also applies to the specific laws that are related to your issue or questions.
Before hiring a lawyer, what kind of questions should I ask?
It is common to be a little uncertain when attempting to hire a lawyer. Most consultations are free, and this will give you the opportunity to ask questions and determine whether an attorney is the right one for you. Here is a look at some commonly asked questions.
- How long have you been practicing?
- What is your specialty area of practice?
- Do I have a legitimate case?
- How much do you charge and what will I be billed for?
- What do I need to do as your client?
- How often will you contact me in regard to my case?
- Can I call you with any questions I may have?
Should I meet with multiple attorneys and shop around before hiring one?
Like shopping for anything else, it is always wise to do some research. But just like shopping, you usually get what you pay for. That does not mean you can’t find a good attorney for an affordable rate. However, be wary of rock bottom prices when it comes to hiring an attorney. Also, be sure that consultations are free when meeting with a prospective lawyer.