Lawyers work in a variety of roles including presenting evidence in civil and criminal trials, providing legal advice to clients and creating contracts. Lawyers work for federal agencies, corporations and in private practice in a variety of specialty areas including family law, criminal law and constitutional law. The specific certification requirements to become a lawyer vary by state, but all attorneys must have a professional law degree and be a member of the bar association in the state where they practice.
Law Degree Prerequisites
In order to be accepted into law school, prospective lawyers must meet several qualifications. These include having a four-year undergraduate degree, although no specific major or degree is required. In addition, the applicant must take the LSAT or the Law School Admission Test. This is a standardized test. The LSAT scores, undergraduate grade point average and the applicant's experience and interview are considered during the admissions process.
In order to practice as an attorney, the individual must obtain a juris doctor, or J.D., degree. This is a three-year program that includes course work in torts, contracts, constitutional law and legal writing. Students take additional courses in a specialty area, such as immigration law or international law, toward the end of the program.
Once students complete their juris doctor degree, they can apply to be licensed to practice law. This involves being admitted to the bar by passing the bar exam in the state in which they wish to practice. Each state has different requirements, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 48 states use the Multistate Bar Examination as part of the process. This is a six-hour exam. Other exams may be required as well including the Multistate Essay Examination, a three-hour exam, and an exam specific to state laws.
Continuing education is required for lawyers to maintain their certification in 46 states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Continuing education keeps lawyers up to date on new laws, relevant case rulings and issues in their area of specialty. Other requirements vary by state. For example, the state of Ohio requires lawyers to meet a professional conduct requirement that includes instruction on substance abuse and ethics.
Lawyers must demonstrate strong writing and speaking abilities. They should also have excellent reading comprehension and analytical skills. Building a case and putting together a contract also require a great deal of research and knowledge of relevant laws and cases. Lawyers should have knowledge and understanding of ethical issues in their specialty.