A career as a lawyer is one that requires substantial time, dedication, and perseverance. Despite the intense work required to obtain one’s Juris Doctor degree and pass the bar exam, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the career field will, in fact, grow by ten percent by 2031. There will always be a need for lawyers in American society, and it appears that those needs will only grow as the years pass.

Practicing law in most states requires that you pass the bar exam for that jurisdiction, but to even take the bar exam in many states, you must first obtain your law degree, a process that represents an investment of considerable time and financial resources, and comes on the heels of the individual already having prior higher education.

Various Law Degrees Explained

The Juris Doctor is just one of several advanced degrees that are labeled as law degrees by universities and law schools, and while each one allows a person to study American law and jurisprudence, not all of them enable the student to enter into the same career fields.

The different types of degrees that can be awarded for studying the law include the following:

  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • Doctor of Judicial Sciences (SJD)
  • Master of Legal Studies (MLS)

A JD awarded by an institution accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) is required by most states in order to take the bar examination and seek admission to practice. 

From High School Graduation to Bar Examination: A Timeline

The path to law school and becoming a practicing attorney begins after high school graduation. You must generally attend an accredited university and obtain at least a bachelor’s degree before you can apply to law school, which means you will need to complete at least four years of schooling past high school before you can begin pursuing a career as a lawyer.

Applying to a law school usually requires that you take a standardized test known as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which measures your aptitude for legal studies and is offered throughout the country several times each year. 

Your LSAT score, coupled with your undergraduate academic record and other factors, will determine which law school you are able to attend. Depending on when you take the LSAT, four to five years may have already elapsed since you graduated high school.

The majority of JD courses of study take three years of full-time study to complete. Taking an average of 15 credit hours per semester over the course of six semesters will give you the 90 credit hours most schools require for graduation. 

By the time you receive your JD, it will likely be seven to eight years beyond your high school graduation date, but obtaining it does not guarantee your ability to practice law. It merely makes you eligible to sit for most states’ bar examinations. 

Each state conducts its own bar examination, usually twice per year, and while most students take the bar examination in the same year they graduate from law school, there is no requirement that you do so.

Seven Years to Become a Lawyer

All told, becoming a lawyer is no small feat. Just becoming eligible for a state’s bar examination and becoming licensed to practice in that state will often require at least 210 semester credit hours of study — on average, a total of seven years — and if there are any pauses or breaks in your course of study, then the entire process can take even longer.

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