How to Become a Lawyer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a lawyer is a significant undertaking that requires years of rigorous effort and a substantial financial investment. According to experts, it is important to carefully consider the decision to pursue a legal career.

To practice law in the United States, one must obtain a license, which typically involves obtaining a law degree and passing a bar exam.

This process often requires incurring significant student loan debt to cover the cost of law school. However, a legal career can also lead to a six-figure salary, with the median annual pay among lawyers in the U.S. being $127,990 as of May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you are interested in pursuing a legal career, here are some key steps involved in becoming a lawyer that you should consider.

How to Become a Lawyer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Learn About Legal Jobs and Careers

If someone is considering a career in law, it is important to conduct research on the legal profession. The Law School Admission Council’s “Discover Law” portal can be a helpful resource as it provides information about what it’s like to be a lawyer and how to prepare for law school.

Linda Sugin, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law in New York, recommends that students talk to lawyers in their community to gain an understanding of the various job options available in the field. There are several specializations to choose from, such as aviation law, sports and entertainment law, corporate law, real estate law, immigration law, and criminal law.

As a service profession, lawyers have a primary role to help their clients. Therefore, aspiring lawyers should think about their social and emotional skills, personal resilience, as well as their intellectual skills.

Additionally, lawyers have an obligation to all legal institutions and to the democratic system. Young people who have a strong sense of ethical obligation, personal integrity, and commitment to justice are considered to possess important attributes for a career in law.

Step 2: Develop Communication and Reasoning Skills and a Strong Work Ethic

Students who have determined that the legal profession is a good fit for them should focus on obtaining academic and extracurricular experiences that will help them develop the necessary skills to become a successful lawyer.

Law schools do not require specific undergraduate coursework, so students from all academic backgrounds have the flexibility to pursue the courses that interest them the most.

According to Steven Freedman, associate dean of admissions at the University of Kansas School of Law, aspiring lawyers should take several upper-level humanities courses, since reading, writing, and research skills developed in those classes are critical for most legal jobs.

Social science courses are also helpful since they cultivate societal awareness and teach people skills. Analytical courses, whether in philosophy or STEM fields, are also beneficial since logical reasoning is a fundamental component of the legal profession.

Interestingly, students are not helped much by taking a pre-law curriculum in undergrad, according to Sugin. Instead, she believes that law students need to carefully read, think critically, and communicate effectively, which are the most important skills.

One effective way to prepare for a career as a lawyer is to participate in a speech and debate team or a mock trial team. These extracurricular activities can help students learn to argue persuasively, and drama can also provide solid preparation for a legal career since the performing arts emphasize public speaking skills.

Even an activity that initially appears unrelated to the practice of law, such as playing a sport, writing for a school newspaper, or doing volunteer work, could prove useful to aspiring lawyers if it helps them develop personal discipline and collaboration skills.

Step 3: Study for the LSAT or GRE

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the most common entrance exam taken by prospective law students to qualify for law school. However, students may also have the option to take the Graduate Record Examinations General Test (GRE).

A high LSAT score can make a student more competitive, but other components of the application are also considered by admissions committees. Law schools review candidates holistically, and no single factor can guarantee admission.

However, LSAT and GPA may play a significant role in gaining admission to the desired schools. Therefore, it is essential to take both of these factors seriously.

Step 4: Get Into Law School and Earn a J.D. Degree

It’s important for people applying to law school to understand that some schools are highly selective. Admissions officers consider many factors when evaluating candidates for a J.D. degree, including college GPA, test scores, personal statement, and resume. Legal industry experts recommend attending a law school with a track record of preparing people for the desired job.

Judith Szepesi, a partner at Nicholson De Vos Webster & Elliott intellectual property law firm in Silicon Valley, advises assessing the return on investment of a law degree by comparing the cost of the degree with probable future earnings. Full-time J.D. programs usually last three years and are rigorous, especially during the first year.

Different law schools have different cultures, academic emphases, and alumni networks. So, students should look for the best fit for them, and understand that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s a different community that students will enter into when they choose different law schools.

Step 5: Get Admitted to the Bar Where You Intend to Practice

To become a lawyer in the United States, one must usually pass the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice. Each state has its own specific bar exam requirements. Wisconsin, for example, has a “diploma privilege” policy that exempts graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University law schools from taking the bar exam.

Some state bar exams are renowned for being particularly challenging. Aspiring lawyers must take the exam seriously and prepare thoroughly, according to experts.

Elena Langan, dean and law professor at Touro University’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in New York, advises law students to absorb as much knowledge as possible during their studies, as they will need it to pass the bar exam. She stresses that law students should not just aim for good grades, but should aim to master the material covered in their courses. Essentially, students should start preparing for the bar exam from day one.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Lawyer?

Becoming a lawyer requires a stable mental and physical condition as it demands years of hard work and dedication. Full-time study for five to eight years is generally necessary, depending on the chosen career path. Pursuing an integrated law course can take up to five years to earn a law degree. In addition to this, an undergraduate degree requires four years of study, followed by three years of law school. The process may also include 6 to 12 months of training.

Is Law a Good Career?

Becoming a lawyer is a challenging task, but earning your degree can be very rewarding in the long run, offering you a highly advanced career. You will have the opportunity to work alongside accomplished lawyers, secure a profitable job, and continue to develop your skills as an individual. Additionally, you can choose from various law specializations, which can lead to even more career opportunities.


Lawyers are known for their high-paying jobs, which is one of the main reasons why many people aspire to become lawyers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of lawyers in the US was $127,990 in 2021. However, the salary range varies depending on the industry and experience level. The top-paid percent of lawyers earned more than $208,000 annually, while the lowest-paid percent made less than $61,400 per year. To give a better understanding, here are the median annual wages for lawyers in the top industries.

  • Federal government – $152,590
  • Legal services – $127,530
  • State government – $100,330
  • Local government – $100,240


If you aspire to become a lawyer, it’s essential to have a clear direction and goal. If you’re someone who enjoys challenges and takes pride in winning cases, then pursuing law may be a suitable fit for you. The legal profession is thrilling, and it allows you to make a significant impact on society as you possess the power to bring about change.