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How difficult is it to become a full time lawyer?

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Henry’s Answer

Hi Jessica,

From start to finish it takes a minimum of 3 years (or 3.5 if you're a 5th semester 3L / 4 if you pursue a LLM). That's the general timeline that you'd be looking at after completing undergraduate.

I think how difficult it is, and ultimately will become, depends on a few factors, namely how well your perform in your first year, and how well you figure out what you have a knack for i.e litigation, tax, intellectual property, science, etc.

It also costs a sizable amount of money to go through law school, depending on which one you decide on, and one of the most difficult things in making the decision and sticking with it was job prospects.

There are a lot of moving pieces in how difficult it will be for you in particular, but generally if you have a good work ethic and are determined to overcome obstacles that may come your way, it should be a moderately challenging goal to become a full time lawyer.

Henry recommends the following next steps:

Take a look at specific fields of law and think of what specific type of law you might want to practice.

I have to second everything in this comment. Rafi Stern

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Kent’s Answer

Hi Jessica -

I agree with Henry's answer, and I have a few additional thoughts:

Law school
As Henry stated, you generally (but not always) have to go to law school. It's possible to take the Bar Exam (more on that below) without a law degree, but that's not recommended. Law school usually takes 3 years to complete (if you attend full-time). There are also part time options (evening and weekend classes) at some law schools so you can work while you attend law school.

What do you receive from law school? You receive a law degree - a "Doctor of Jurisprudence" (J.D.).

Why is law degree important? Because it helps you get a full time job as a lawyer. In fact, most, if not all, employers will only hire a lawyer who has a law degree. And if you have a law degree from a good school, that degree can help you get a good law job.

Bar Exam
You will need to take and pass a test - the "bar exam" - in order to practice law in the United States. Each state has its own exam. Passing the bar exam in a state provides you a license so you can practice law in that particular state. You cannot practice law without a license in that state or other permission to practice in that state.

Getting a job
To Henry's answer, a key to finding a job practicing law is deciding what kind of law you want to practice because that will impact what kind of job you look for and how easy it is to find a job doing what you want. For example, if you studied corporate law in law school, or have an interest in it, you will likely look for a job practicing corporate law with a law firm or a company. If you like being in the courtroom, you may look for a job with a law firm, a company, a government agency, or other options - - there will likely be quite a few jobs for trial attorneys/litigators. If you are interested in civil rights law, you may look for a job with a legal clinic, non-profit organization, a government agency, but probably not a law firm or a corporation.

Keep in mind you may need to work part time (or even for free) during law school or initially when you get out of law school before you may get the kind of job you want. But stick with it! The more legal experience you have, the better your chances of getting the full time legal job you want.

Hope this helps! Good luck!

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Lily’s Answer

I would say the main obstacles to becoming a lawyer are as follows:

1) LSAT: Admission to law schools requires your LSAT score and your grades at a minimum. Then, they look at you as a person and see how you can add to the diversity of the student body. You can pull the numbers from a US News and World Report and see what the average scores and GPA are for the universities that they rank in their report so you have an idea of what you should aim for if you are interested in a certain law school.

2) Law School Grades: When you start law school, what they don't tell you as that your first year grades affect your likelihood of getting a summer associate position in a law firm (if you would like to start your career in a law firm). It is a terrifying idea that while you're trying to settle into law school, your grades matter immediately. I did not get stellar grades during my first year and I was also in law school during the dot com bust so law firm jobs in California were scarce. I ended up not getting a summer associate position for my 2L year. However, I was able to land a permanent job with a large NY law firm before graduation and ultimately started my career as I hoped for. Takeaway is to never give up.

3) Bar Exam: One major obstacle to becoming a lawyer is the Bar Exam. Most law students go to ABA accredited law schools so they do not need to take the Baby Bar. The Bar Exam differs state by state in terms of length of the exam and passage rate. There is now a Uniform Bar Exam that is administered and recognized by 16 states. I'm in California, so unfortunately, the UBE doesn't apply in my state. Historically, many people view the NY and CA bars as some of the most difficult in the nation. Last year, the passage rate was about 50%. This is the last major hurdle to becoming a lawyer.

Becoming a lawyer can be a very rewarding accomplishment. There are many career paths that a lawyer can take from working in a company (in all industries), law firm, public interest or government. If you decide to become a lawyer, I highly encourage you to speak to lawyers in many different areas of practice to ensure you can explore all the possibilities available to you.

Lily recommends the following next steps:

If you are in college, reach out to the alumni network to speak to lawyers that graduated from your alma mater. Alumni are usually eager to help students.
If you're in college, take a class in the law school or if there is a pre-law major, take a class under that department. This will give you a taste of what it's like to be in law school.

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Blake’s Answer

Hey Jessica,

It is definitely difficult to become a lawyer. Getting in to law school is very competitive and expensive. However, it can be done.