Becoming a Lawyer: Frequently Asked Questions
What does a lawyer do?
Working as a lawyer means helping individuals or businesses solve their legal problems, understand regulatory matters, and make business or personal decisions.
A lawyer may help draft a will, collect overdue bills, advise about a divorce, answer questions about new federal broadcast regulations, defend a person being accused of a crime, assist a corporate executive in researching tax law and international trade, and much more.
The most important thing to remember is that there are many ways to use a law degree and the opportunities to find a job based on personal interest or passion are endless.
What are the education and licensing requirements to be a lawyer?
Seven years of education following high school is typically required to obtain a law degree: four years of undergraduate school and three years of law school. Law schools generally require a bachelor's degree for admission.
After graduating from a law school approved by the American Bar Association with a doctor of jurisprudence degree, candidates must then take the bar examination – a comprehensive test of knowledge in many areas of law. After passing this test, the person is licensed to practice law.
In Texas, both applicants to law school and candidates for the bar exam are screened by the Texas Board of Law Examiners for qualifications and standards of moral character.
As an undergraduate, should I take certain types of courses?
Many law schools recommend the broadest possible undergraduate education. There is no required or suggested course of study for pre-law students. However, it would be wise to choose an undergraduate major with career alternatives so if your law careers plans change in the future, you will still have options.
A legal education is so different from everything preceding it that no single course will prepare you for it. Consider courses that develop organized thinking, a command of the English language – both written and spoken – and the ability to work well with others. Of course, a class that gives insights into some of the legal questions lawyers must face would be beneficial.
The self-discipline and study habits required in law should be developed during undergraduate courses. Do not choose the least demanding courses for a high grade point average at the expense of achieving valuable learning skills.
What are the entrance requirements to law school?
Admission is usually based on undergraduate class standing and scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Many schools also will consider other factors, such as letters of recommendation, student leadership activities, work experience, community involvement, and extracurricular activities.
Applying to law school and taking the LSAT should be completed at least eight months, and up to one year, before enrollment.
How do I choose a law school?
Base your law school selection on your individual needs.
Location is a factor if you prefer to attend school in the state or city where you intend to practice.
Cost considerations may influence your choice of an out-of-state public school or a private school where tuition will be higher than in-state schools.
If you are accepted by more than one school, consider the comparative public reputations of the schools, since reputation may affect demand for graduates with employers.
How much will law school cost?
Tuition and fees for law school vary considerably – for updated costs visit the Texas Law School Information page.
Financial aid, work/study programs, and state or federally funded student loan programs are available. Other sources of aid may include local bar association scholarships or private scholarship funds created to assist law students. Some schools also provide special programs for minority students.
Investigate financial assistance when asking for admissions information.
What career options are available?
Private practice means practicing law in your own firm or a firm that employs hundreds of attorneys.
The private practitioner may be a trial lawyer, or engaged in an office practice, which includes preparing contracts, deeds, wills, and other legal documents as well as giving written opinions and advice to a client.
The attorney in a small firm must often be a "jack of all trades" in order to take a broad variety of cases. Attorneys in large firms often specialize in specific areas such as income tax law, patent and trademark law, oil and gas law, and labor law.
Starting salaries are often higher in larger firms, and the security afforded by large corporate clients is attractive. But the freedom and independence of the small practice, with its close client contact, also has advantages.
Corporate law usually means working in the law department of a large business, performing legal work as varied as the activities of the company.
If the company has diverse interests and the counsel staff is large, attorneys may specialize just as in a large law firm.
Government employment at the federal, state or local level involves a number of different activities, including hearings conducted by regulatory agencies, prosecuting criminal defendants, and representing a government agency in court.
Government lawyers also draft regulations or ordinances and evaluate the legal aspects of policy and other decisions made by a governing body or its chief administrator.
Public Interest law provides representation to people and interests that have historically been unrepresented or underrepresented in the legal process.
These include the less fortunate and others without access to courts, administrative agencies, and other forums where decisions affecting them are made.
The most visible public interest law office in Texas is the local legal aid program; however, there are other programs.
Programs may be available to help pay for your legal education if you commit to a career in public interest law.
Judiciary offers the opportunity to serve the public as a municipal, state, or federal judge, and preside over criminal and civil court proceedings.
Academic positions include teaching law and law-related courses, such as law enforcement, business law, and real estate law at universities and colleges. Other academic positions include law librarians, editors, and administrators.
Military service in armed services' legal offices may provide a variety of legal experiences and an opportunity to live in many places. Like private practice, military legal offices may be small or large and may offer an opportunity to gain experience in specialty areas.
Other opportunities in fields such as journalism, industry, advertising, banking, politics, administration, and accounting exist for law school graduates.
Some graduates may choose to work in these fields immediately and later practice law, while others will move to these areas after initially practicing law.
What are my chances of getting hired after graduation?
Job hunting is always competitive because approximately 3,000 new lawyers are licensed in Texas each year.
Opportunities vary from area to area, with the most attractive openings having many applicants.
The strongest competition for job openings is in large cities, while smaller towns tend to offer more opportunity. Graduates should consider a full range of employment options to be successful in their job search.
Can I be involved in law-related work without a license to practice law?
An individual cannot give legal advice, offer representation in court, or handle many other legal matters without a license to practice law in Texas.
However, many tasks traditionally performed by lawyers are now done by legal assistants supervised by lawyers.
Paralegal education and training courses are offered at several Texas colleges and universities and other institutions.
Law-related job areas that do not require a license include trust work at banks, public administration, law enforcement and criminal justice, and judicial administration.
How can I learn more about the legal profession?
You can learn firsthand about lawyer duties by observing trials at your local courthouse or by discussing with a lawyer his or her daily activities.
Your high school also may have law-related education courses or activities.
Consider volunteer work involving counseling and assisting people to test your abilities to deal with other people's problems.