Becoming a lawyer can be appealing to people for a number of reasons. The ability to help people or society in general leads some to become prosecutors and assistant district attorneys. Money or trying to protect people from false accusations lead to others becoming defense lawyers. Starting a career as a lawyer can mean a lot of fairly different actual jobs within the field.
Aside from the famous (and infamous) jobs of prosecutors and defense attorneys are less exciting professions such as tax attorneys and those who specialize in corporate law. Anyone who works as an attorney must first go to law school and pass a state exam called the bar exam, though. There is the exception that in four US states, a practice of studying under an attorney or judge for an extended period of time (called “reading the law”) may be substituted for a formal law school education.
Law schools in the United States are graduate schools. Most require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree, and all require some previous college experience. The choice of major is usually left up to the student, however, and law schools accept students with broad varieties of undergraduate majors. A certain GPA and score on the LSAT, the law school admission test, may be required for admission.
Law school generally takes three years to complete. The first two are classroom based, and the last may have more real-life experiences. Many law students clerk for judges at some point during their education, which can provide some hands-on education in the field. At the end of their program, students receive a JD, or Juris Doctor, which is a doctorate in the field of law, and considered a professional degree.
After receiving their JD, students must still pass the state bar exam in order to be qualified to practice law in that state. Each state has their own bar, and while having passed the bar in one state will automatically satisfy the requirement in some other states, each state makes their own rules about practicing in the state.
Passing the bar consists of passing both an exam and a moral fitness and character assessment. Again, each state makes their own rules and regulations. Those who pass both parts must then take an oath to uphold the law and agree to comply with the rules regarding practicing law in that state.
Licenses to practice law must be periodically renewed. In some states, this requires completing a given number of continuing education units in the field before the renewal date. This practice helps keep lawyers up to date in their field, and ensures that they know the most relevant laws that they might be asked to use.
Most people that start a career as a lawyer stick with the profession, since it is a large investment of time and money. New attorneys generally spend several years working under other, more experienced lawyers before they begin making a generous wage, and those who work for a city or state may never make much money. Thus, enjoying the profession is generally a requirement.