What to Study to Become a Lawyer

What to study to become a lawyer

There are more than 1.3 million lawyers in the United States, earning a median annual wage of $145,760 and turning their passions into lucrative and fulfilling careers. Becoming a lawyer takes time, planning and hard work. If you’re an aspiring lawyer, prepare yourself to take many steps to practice law, from completing an undergraduate degree to passing several stringent tests, exams and licensing processes.

If you’re prepared to put in the time and effort, you could practice a branch of law that appeals to your skills and interests. The first step on your journey to becoming a lawyer is to gather as much information as possible so that you know what to expect.

What Degrees Do You Need to Be a Lawyer?

To become a lawyer, traditionally, you need a bachelor’s degree followed by an advanced Juris Doctor (JD) degree, which requires an additional three years of schooling once you’ve received your bachelor’s degree. The first step is to complete an undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s or an associate degree. This degree will lay the foundation for your further legal studies.

Depending on your goals and situation, you can enroll in a four-year college and immediately begin working toward a bachelor’s degree or start an associate degree and transfer to a four-year college, making your studies more cost-effective in the long term. The latter is a more affordable education path for many, especially if you have other commitments like a job or familial responsibilities.

What Undergraduate Programs Are Best for Lawyers?

The American Bar Association (ABA) allows you to choose your field of study at the undergraduate level. Students can gain admission to law school from many areas of study. If you know early on that you want to study law, some of the best undergraduate degrees for law school include English, political science, business, criminal justice or economics.

Think about what type of law you would like to practice so you can take related courses in your undergraduate studies. Criminal justice would be an excellent fit if you want to practice criminal law. Aspiring corporate lawyers can take business or economics undergraduate courses.

The ABA encourages aspiring lawyers to consider undergraduate studies that build their problem-solving, oral communication and public service skills. It’s always best to allow your existing skills and interests to influence your choices.

Law schools do add weight to your major. Still, they’re often more interested in your grade point average (GPA), demonstrating your commitment to higher education and showing you can maintain the level of achievement necessary for a JD.

Other Helpful Courses and Subjects for Prospective Lawyers

Practicing law requires a combination of legal knowledge and other skills. So many branches of law exist that almost any subject you choose to study could be helpful. Incorporating a diverse range of subjects throughout your education gives you a well-rounded baseline on which to specialize. It also gives you a good idea of what subjects you’re passionate about.

Consider subjects that build your soft skills and contribute to your overall education. The following subjects can all bring a unique perspective to a law degree:

  • American history: The U.S. legal system is based on hundreds of years of precedents that set the standards we understand today. Understanding the country’s history can help you identify precedents and give you a background in local, state and federal institutions.
  • Communication: A strong command of written and verbal English can mean the difference between a good lawyer and an average one. Consider taking classes that improve your communication, and participate in public speaking and debating activities. Lawyers also need to read through significant text, so enhance your skills with classes focusing on reading, writing and comprehension.
  • Math: This subject may only be distantly related to law, but it can help you sharpen your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
  • Philosophy and ethics: Many legal cases involve ethical dilemmas. A solid background in philosophy can help you navigate these issues.
  • Social sciences: Law is about humanity, and any social sciences can provide valuable insights into human behavior and social dynamics, which can prove invaluable when handling complex legal matters.
  • Statistics: Part of being a lawyer is working through massive amounts of information and drawing logical conclusions. Subjects like statistics and data science can also help you detect flawed data, which could be critical in legal proceedings.

What Tests Do Lawyers Take?

You can expect to take several tests on your journey to becoming a lawyer, including:

Lawyers must take the GRE, MPRE, and the bar exam

Law School Admission Tests (LSATs)

Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, your next step is to start the law school application process. Most law schools require you to submit your LSAT scores with your application. LSATs are purpose-built to test people applying to law school and focus on the essential skills you’ll need to succeed there. The first part of the exam is entirely multiple-choice and aims to test your reading, comprehension and reasoning skills. The second part requires you to write an essay.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Although many law schools require LSAT results, some are now accepting GRE scores in their place. The GRE is a more standardized test, ideal for anyone applying to various graduate programs. The exam has a similar structure to the LSAT but is separated into three sections — verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing.

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

Once you’ve been accepted to law school and started working on your JD, you’ll also begin preparing for the bar exam. Before taking it, you must take the MPRE, which occurs commonly in your second year of law school. The exam is two hours long and covers 60 multiple-choice questions. A passing score is required for admission to most state bar associations.

The Bar Exam

Once you’ve passed the MPRE, you can complete an application to sit for the bar exam. Your state’s bar association administers this exam, and you must pass it to practice law in that area. You need to file a Petition for Admission of Examination through your state’s board of bar examiners, which acts as an application to take the exam on a specific date. In Massachusetts, you have two opportunities a year to take the exam — in February and July.

The bar exam takes place over two days. It comprises three parts — the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). Each part consists of a combination of multiple-choice questions and written essays. Once you’ve passed, the Supreme Judicial Court will contact you for formal admission as a practicing lawyer.

Take the First Step Toward Your Law Degree With Mount Wachusett Community College

If becoming a lawyer is your dream, you’re about to embark on one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Let MWCC help you start on the right foot with undergraduate courses in pre-law to lay the foundation for a successful career. Our pre-law students have a unique opportunity to add a service learning component to their required classes, applying their skills to solve real-world problems.

Our legal studies degree program provides the perfect pathway into law, whether you want to become a paralegal or transfer to a four-year college and continue to get a law degree. We have transfer agreements with many Massachusetts colleges, allowing you to transfer your credits quickly and progress to a bachelor’s degree and beyond. We care about all of our students and offer help on traditional and non-traditional education paths. Apply online at MWCC or request more information and start your new academic journey today.

Take the First Step Toward Your Law Degree