The road to become a practicing lawyer varies by country, so are the requirements; this guide on how to become a lawyer in US will set you on the right path if you dream of becoming a lawyer in the land of the free.
Education is a key factor in the legal profession, and your choices right after high school affects how you proceed towards the legal profession dream.
It is also worth noting that, legal education is not cheap, you will have to make a substantial financial input to complete your legal education.
Law school admission in US
The journey to become a lawyer in US starts with gaining admission into a law school of your choice. Attaining such a feat is no easy task as there are several admission requirements that one must meet.
In addition to the requirements is of course the competition for the limited space, especially in the prestigious law schools such as Columbia Law school, UC Berkeley Law school, Stanford law school, Harvard among others.
Bachelors Degree and GPA Scores
To gain admission into the Juris Doctor program of most law schools in the US, such as the NYU Law School, one must posses an undergraduate degree, usually in any field, although having such a degree in social sciences such as political science, sociology, philosophy etc. is a plus.
A good final Grade Point Average (GPA) will serve as a boost to an application.
Other universities consider qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) for entry into their JD program.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
As part of the law school admission requirements, law schools require applicants to write and submit their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. As the name suggests, the test assesses candidates aptitude to pursue a law degree. Getting a higher score is also boost for a law school application.
Personal Statements, Resume and recommendations
Applicants are also required to submit personal statements on their motivation and reason for pursuing a law degree or on a topic dictated by the specific law school being applied to.
Recommendation letters from professors and people who can testify to an applicant’s academic ability and general suitability to pursue and successfully complete the program is required.
A resume detailing the professional profile, extra-curricular activities, impact in society among others is also required as part of the law school admission requirements.
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Attending Law School in US
Gaining admission to law school is just the beginning of the journey on how to become a lawyer in the US.
Law program requires a lot of reading, assignments, demonstrations, seminars and practice in moot courts. It takes a level of commitment, focus and mental fortitude to balance academic work and social life as a law student.
Some of the courses you will study as a law student in the US include:
- Antitrust and Intellectual Property law
- Constitutional law
- Corporate and Commercial law
- Criminal Justice
- Environmental Law
- Family, Gender, and Sexuality
- Global and International law
- Human Rights
- Immigration law
- Labor and Employment law
- Legal Theory, History, and the Social Sciences
- Litigation and Procedure
- Regulation and Public Policy
- Taxation law
Graduating from Law school in US
To successfully complete law school, you must have completed all applicable courses, and passed the semester exams for all your courses.
Upon successfully graduating from law school, one is awarded the Law degree and can add the JD title after name. Law school graduates cannot add esquire after name without being called to the bar.
Admission to state bar
Completing law school does not make you a lawyer yet, you have a law degree, but you can’t practice law. Admission to the state bar is the next step in the journey on how to become a lawyer in US. The following are required for a lawyer to be called to the bar.
1. Passing the state bar exam
Practicing lawyers have been licensed by the state in which they practice after passing the state bar exam. Completing the law school approved by the state qualifies one to sit for the state bar exam.
2. Pass MPRE (Ethics Exam)
Law graduates are required to write and pass the ethics exam in most states as part of the bar admission process.
3. Character and fitness
In most states, lawyers seeking admission to the state bar must pass a character and fitness check. A committee looks into the criminal, personal and financial background of applicants to ensure they’re morally adequate and not facing bankruptcy.
Applicants who pass the checks are recommended by the committee for admission to the bar.
4. Admission to State Bar
In most states, a lawyer who has satisfied all the requirements will have to formally apply for admission. The lawyer is made to swear an oath by an officer of the court.
Admitted lawyers are issued with unique identification numbers and a certificate.
Practicing Law in the United States
Lawyers in the US are allowed to practice law only in the state which they have been licensed. To practice in multiple jurisdictions, a lawyer must be admitted to the respective bars or be granted permission by the state in the ways discussed in the next paragraph.
How to practice in multiple states as a lawyer in US
There are several ways that lawyers in US can practice in multiple states, instead of being restricted to practicing in one just one state.
1. Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)
This is the bar exam organized by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX). Lawyers who opt to take the UBE and pass can practice in 26 US states that have adopted it.
The UBE is a 3-part exam that focuses on test of knowledge of legal concepts rather than state-specific law.
US States that accept UBE
The following states in the US have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), allowing lawyers who successfully passed the exam to practice in their jurisdiction.
New York, Missouri, North Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the Virgin Islands
2. State Reciprocity
3. Pro Hac Vice
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