How to Become an Attorney

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The path to becoming an attorney typically requires seven years of post-secondary education — four years earning your undergraduate degree and three years in law school. Many attorneys obtain their bachelor’s degrees in subjects commonly associated with law — political science, history and English — but an array of undergraduate disciplines are acceptable for admission to law school. For example, some lawyers major in economics or philosophy to gain a broader perspective on how laws are made and influenced by society.

During law school, you’ll focus on developing critical thinking and communication skills that are the foundation for the legal profession. You’ll also build the specialized knowledge needed for your desired area of practice, though these specifics vary from state to state. The American Bar Association has established several programs, called juris doctor, or JD, and specialist or master of law, or LLM, degrees that allow you to sharpen your knowledge in specific areas of the law. These degrees are not required to become a lawyer, but can help you differentiate yourself in the job market.

Once you earn your JD, you must pass your state’s bar exam to become licensed to practice law. Most states require that you complete a two-day exam, with one day consisting of a multiple-choice section and the other involving writing essays that test your understanding of the state’s laws. Many attorneys also obtain professional development opportunities, such as seminars and workshops on various legal topics, to further develop their skills.

The job of an attorney is demanding and complex, which requires a strong foundation in the law. A successful lawyer must be able to read and write well, understand complex issues quickly and clearly communicate them in simple terms. Patience is also important, as court proceedings can take months and sometimes even years to conclude. Munger, Tolles & Olson provides training opportunities for associates through a combination of formal coaching and informal learning. Twice-weekly attorney lunches, for example, function as training sessions that feature outside speakers and firm attorneys discussing their experiences and insights on current or recent matters.

Career Paths

Aspiring attorneys have a wide range of career paths to choose from. They can choose to work for a large law firm that focuses on high-profile cases with well-known clients, or they can start their own practice. They can also find work in the public sector, such as with a state or federal government department.

Some attorneys are interested in working in a specific area of the law, such as family law or personal injury. Others may want to focus on business law or other legal areas that deal with issues such as intellectual property or mergers and acquisitions. Attorneys may also choose to specialize in a particular type of case, such as criminal defense or bankruptcy.

Many new lawyers begin their careers as associates at law firms, honing their skills on various cases under the guidance of seasoned attorneys. Once they have gained sufficient experience, they can become partners at the law firm. This is a significant milestone, and it requires extensive networking skills to gain new clients.

Other attorneys seek in-house counsel positions at companies. This can be a more stable and lucrative option, and it can also offer greater job satisfaction. As an attorney in this role, you will be responsible for managing legal matters and providing strategic oversight and leadership to the company.

Some lawyers choose to become law professors. This is a challenging and rewarding career choice that can have great rewards, such as the ability to shape the future of the legal profession. Other attorneys choose to serve as political leaders, or they may run for office. The decision to pursue a career as an attorney is a big one, and it is important for prospective attorneys to consider all of the pros and cons carefully before making their decision.

The law is a demanding field, and it can be difficult to balance work and family life. It is essential for new attorneys to develop a strong support system before they begin their careers. They should be prepared to work long hours and to meet strict deadlines.

Job Duties

Attorneys use a wide range of skills to represent clients in court and advise individuals or companies on legal compliance. These job duties can include researching laws and interpreting them for their clients, writing legal documents, negotiating and drafting contracts, and appearing before judges or juries to present cases. Some attorneys also work as consultants to help their clients prepare for trials, conduct research and draft legislation. Others specialize in certain areas of law, such as criminal defense, environmental law, estate planning, or corporate issues.

Most attorneys work for private or public practices, although some work as in-house counsel for businesses and some are employed by federal agencies. In addition, many attorneys are self-employed and run their own practices. In some instances, attorneys must travel to meet with clients or other parties involved in the case and attend meetings or hearings. Depending on the area of law, some attorneys must even visit incarcerated clients in prison.

Legal Research and Analysis

Lawyers must have a thorough understanding of all laws, rulings and regulations that apply to their clients. As part of their research duties, attorneys analyze facts and evidence to determine a probable outcome for each case. They must be able to explain the law in a clear and concise manner. Attorneys must also have excellent writing skills to write legal documents, such as letters and memos, as well as reports and court filings.

Attorneys must have a high level of professionalism and integrity to be successful in their careers. They must be able to maintain a strict code of ethics and be willing to challenge improper or unethical actions by judges, other lawyers or government officials. They should have strong interpersonal communication skills to be able to interact with clients and witnesses during trial proceedings.

Attorneys should be familiar with the local, state and federal rules of civil and criminal procedure as well as any other pertinent laws. They must be able to interpret the law and its implications for their clients, such as how to avoid criminal charges or how to handle a divorce.


In the United States and many other Common Law countries, prospective attorneys must complete a postgraduate law degree and pass a bar exam. Applicants must also undergo a rigorous character evaluation to become admitted to the bar. Some jurisdictions require a bachelor’s degree in another subject area and a year or more of practical training, referred to as pupillage, under the supervision of a practicing attorney.

In Kenya, prospective attorneys must complete an undergraduate foundational law degree and a professional legal degree called an LL.B (honours) degree, which includes two years of practical training. They must then pass the Bar Examination, which is supervised by a chief justice. Upon passing the Bar Examination, Kenyan lawyers are known as Advocates and have the right of audience before all courts in the country, including the Supreme Court.

To be an advocate in Indonesia, a person must possess the following requirements: he or she must hold a bachelor’s degree in law, passed the special education for advocates organised by Peradi, have completed an internship in a law office for at least 2 years, not be a state official and has never been convicted of any criminal offence that could result in imprisonment of 5 years or more, must be well behaved, honest and able to act fairly, and have a high integrity.