Becoming a Lawyer in the USA

Like anywhere else in the world the demand for legal services continues in the United States and its increase or
decrease may depend on prevailing economic factors. Despite the high level of competition in the legal job market, there is also an increasing number of law students waiting to enter the market. In such a dynamic environment, it is important that you decide your future career options in the US carefully before deciding to study law.

Typically lawyers in the USA hold profiles ranging from defence attorneys, government counsels, corporate counsels (also known as in-house counsels) to legal aid lawyers. Lawyers can specialise in a particular area such as environmental law, tax law, intellectual property law, family law, securities lawyers, etc. Apart from these, they can also consider becoming arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators. If eligible they may become judges or hearing officers where they apply the law by overseeing the legal process in courts. 

Some students enter law school directly from their undergraduate studies without having had any basic work experience while others take a break from their work to pursue specific topics to enhance their future career prospects.

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Do You Need An LLM?

Although an LLM is not a necessary qualification to have when you want to become a lawyer in the United States, many of the skills needed can be learnt – or at least enhanced – by studying an LLM program. Essential skills such as reasoning, presentation, research and communication skills are all an intrinsic part of studying an LLM program. Therefore if you want to become a lawyer and are interested in expanding your knowledge in a particular field – and want to enhance your CV at the same time – an LLM program is well worth considering. Find out more here.

Skills Needed To Become A Lawyer

The American Bar Association suggests that to become a lawyer you must possess the following:

* A skill in applying applicable law to the facts of each case

Good vocabulary

* Sound reasoning skills

The ability to understand complex written material as well as to write clearly and concisely

* A good memory

* Good listening skills

* The ability to communicate well orally

Other skills that you should demonstrate to succeed in this career include:

* Good analytical skills

* Strong communication, research and problem-solving abilities

Financing your studies

Legal education is a long-term investment for your future. It is important that you look into LLM funding and weigh your options carefully before applying for study loans. Run through the scholarships, grants, and fellowships well in advance – and ascertain how these could help you complete your training.

4 main stages in becoming a lawyer in the United States

Completing a Bachelors Degree

You may choose from several subjects to help you prepare for law school. It is advised that courses in English, history, political science and economics can be completed within a variety of majors and can give students an idea of what area of law they want to pursue. However it is very important that you perform well in your undergraduate degree to gain entry into the right law school.

Appearing for the LSAT exam

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an exam that you must take before entering law school. It is offered four times every year and tests your reading and verbal reasoning skills. This is one of several factors that law schools will take into consideration before assessing applicants. Questions on the exam cover reading comprehension, analytical reasoning and logical reasoning.

Enrolling into Law School

Lawyers are required to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from a law school accredited by the ABA. Students are shortlisted based on several criteria including GPAs, LSAT scores, statement of reason, etc.

General requirements for application:
As mentioned above, you will need to have a bachelors degree or its equivalent (4-year university degree) in any subject
Register for the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS)
Submit LSAT scores
Recommendations
TOEFL scores if English is not your native language
Financial documents showing proof of funds

It is advised that during law school, you invest time in considering your future options and building your CV. Participate in co-curricular activities such as moot court competitions and debates and keep an eye out for holiday internship opportunities that are advertised.

Sitting for the Bar Exam

Bar exams are considered as the toughest form of exams in the US. Each state requires law graduates to pass the bar exam in order to practice law. While each state may offer their own exam, some states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, which allows lawyers to practice in any other state that also accepts this exam. The exam is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and composed of questions from the Multistate Essay Examination, Multistate Bar Examination and Multistate Performance Test. Some states may allow students to take the bar exam before they graduate law school.

To get help with exam preparation, students enrol in bar review courses which assist them in reviewing substantive law, drafting, tests and training in multiple choice questions. 

Other considerations

 The criteria for eligibility to take bar examinations or to qualify for bar admission are set by each state’s bar association. Therefore you are advised to consult the advisory for the specific state's jurisdiction based on your choice of state in which you plan to practice.

 While completion of an LLM degree in the US (for a foreign graduate) does not guarantee eligibility to take a bar examination, some states may make it eligible to take the bar exam on this basis alone, through a recognised law school. Please check websites such as the American Bar Association for updates on Bar Admission requirements.

If things go well and you pass the bar exam, you could be offered a position in the law firm that accepted your interest and agreed to offer you the position subject to you clearing the bar exam. It is important that you remember to identify well in choosing the right law firm including your interest in a specific area of practice. Things will be much easier if you find a job as an intern at a law firm or familiarised yourself well in the area. Having consistently excellent grades in law school also adds significant value to your credentials.

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