What Does a Career in Law Entail?
Once you have earned your law degree, the most common in this profession is known as a Juris Doctor (JD), you will be prepared to begin the practice of law in the specialization you select.
After earning your bachelor’s, possibly your master’s as well, and then your JD, you know more than just the basics. However, once you’ve been in a practice for a while and gain some experience, you’ll find there are even more nuances in the law. You’ll learn using the two methods in many law schools: the Socratic method and the case method. Alumni, graduates, and current students alike, as well as professors and staff, state that the academics and course content involved in earning any type of law degree is difficult, to say the least. Those who are intent on success should be ready to skip a few hangouts with friends as they complete their main law degree: a bachelor's degree focused on law or legal studies, Juris Doctor (JD), Master of Laws (LLM), or a Doctor of Juridical Science. There are a wide range of law degrees available, which can take anywhere from three years to complete if you attend full-time to 8+ years to earn the highest, terminal degree level.
Components of a Successful Career in Law
You have to go to law school to practice law. No matter what specialization you choose: general legal studies, business, immigration, family law, criminal defense, intellectual property, corporate, civil, trademarks, human rights, or copyright law - you must have a law degree to practice any type of law in the United States.
In one specialty, such as business, you will focus on several topics solely in the business field. Business law encompasses a wide range of sectors in which you can work. You may work on-site or in-house, in the same building as your client, or you may work for a federal or state government agency. Those who look to head a team of human rights lawyers, publish in law reviews or journals, and gain access to the centers of power in the United States or reach the top of their field in their community often earn the highest law degrees available to make this happen, such as the Doctor of Juridical Science or the Master of Laws degree. These types of law degrees take dedication and prove that you are devoted to the field, as well as making you an expert beyond the Juris Doctor.
How to Earn a Law Degree
Start your preparations early, while you’re still getting ready to graduate from high school. Enroll in a good university for your undergraduate degree, whether it is in legal studies or English. This is required. It isn’t necessary to major in criminal justice or political science. Instead, a four-year, bachelor's degree in English, political science, or philosophy will give you a solid foundation for the reading, writing, and logic you’ll have to practice in law school, as well as an understanding of political situations you could find yourself in. A bachelor's degree in legal studies doesn't necessarily give you a leg up in regard to your future law degree, so there's no reason to insist on focusing on any type of law in your undergraduate years.
What is the Difference Between a Lawyer and an Attorney?
Good! You’re aware that there is a difference in functions between both terms. An attorney acts for someone else, often as an “attorney-in-fact.” They don’t necessarily need a legal education. As an attorney-in-fact, you can act on your aged grandmother’s behalf in court if she is unable to make decisions on her own.
A lawyer, on the other hand, does have to have a legal education. A lawyer must earn a law degree, such as the Juris Doctor or Master of Laws, and pass the state bar exam in their state to be able to legally practice or represent anyone, in court or not.
Typical Law Degree Requirements
To receive your Juris Doctor law degree, you have to complete the following:
- Hold a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 while you complete 90 credit hours
- Complete at least 90 credit hours
- Take and complete every required course
- Satisfy the course requirements, which are writing intensive
- Satisfy the “in residence” requirement
- Satisfy the experiential course requirements
- Complete all course requirements within five years of your first enrollment - it can take as little as three years to complete the Juris Doctor and some degree programs offer 3+3 for a bachelor and law degree so you can take six years rather than three years to complete both while attending full-time
Typical Law Certifications Needed
If you know what specializations you’ll be taking, you’ll need to complete both elective and extracurricular courses in these specializations.
If you’re going to practice labor and employment law, you’ll need a Certificate in Workplace Law. To earn this certification, you’ll need to complete core courses in Labor and Employment Law. You’ll also have to take and complete foundation courses in Business Associations and Administrative Law. You'll have the opportunity to take several optional specialty courses (a requirement of four minimum hours) in International Human Rights, Immigration Law, Worker’s Compensation, and Public Employment Law.
Other certificates, such as the Business Law Certificate, have similar requirements.
Academic Standards for Law Degrees
As a student earning a law degree, you need to demonstrate a mastery of your topic. For this, you need to earn at least a 2.0, 2.25, or higher for your cumulative GPA for your law degree courses. If you meet this minimum, you’ll progress to your second-year classes.
This may mean that this degree takes over your life and keeps you from attending events on your social calendar, but all of these requirements have been put in place to ensure that you understand the material you are learning so that, as you move through the program, you’ll master each successive year and be able to graduate within three years.
In addition to maintaining a required cumulative GPA, you must maintain a minimum course load of 12 credits for at least six semesters, meaning you will usually be expected to attend full-time.
This brings class attendance and outside employment to the table. Regular, punctual attendance is mandatory. You should not hold a job in your first year. Next, you will be required to graduate no later than five years after the date you enrolled in law school.
Exam/Experience Needed for Law Degrees
You may know in high school that you want to be a lawyer. Don’t wait until you’re in college and taking undergraduate courses to begin preparing. Take courses that require organized research and precise writing. Classes where you have to critically examine classmates’ writing will also equip you for the rigors of law school. Persuasive writing classes are another plus for you.
You’ll also have to take the Law School Admission Test or LSAT. Most law schools in the U.S. do require this exam to be taken and passed before admission to their programs.
While you won’t become a lawyer after completing your associate degree program, you can become a legal assistant, working in a law firm.
This degree in legal support and services allows you to work in corporations, law firms, healthcare institutions, and other environments. You’ll study torts, legal ethics and different legal disciplines so that, once you graduate, you’ll have a good foundation that will back you up as you work. You’ll learn to identify and gather information, analyze data needed to help clients, and draft and organize information for litigation.
- College Composition, I
- College Composition, II
- Interpersonal Communications
- Survey of Mathematics
- College Algebra
- Legal Research and Writing
- Legal Ethics
- Civil Litigation
- Family Law
- Introduction to Torts
If you want a law degree, but you don’t want to commit yourself to huge outlays of cash, an undergraduate degree in law may give you what you’re looking for. Once you graduate, you’ll have knowledge of law that will support you in careers where you focus on government regulation. You’ll also have opportunities, as an attorney (not a lawyer) to provide services to your clients. If your goal is to practice law, this degree will give you a faster path to your J.D.
In this BA program, you’ll view law as an intellectual discipline; you’ll learn legal reasoning; you’ll also learn law beyond legal studies and pre-law programs. The required law courses will teach you the skills and competencies you need for law-related work.
- English, 101 or English, 109H
- Foreign Language
- Math, 112 (or higher)
- Individuals and Societies (Tier 1)
- Traditions & Cultures (Tier 1)
- Natural Sciences (Tier 1)
- Arts (Tier 2)
- Humanities (Tier 2)
- Natural Science (Tier 2)
- Gender, Race, Class, Ethnicity or Non-Western Area Studies
- American National Government
- Politics, Policy, and Governance
- The American Common Law, I
- The American Common Law, II
- The American Public Law System
- 15 Units of Electives
- English, 102 or Law/Political Writing Emphasis Course
If you do want a law degree so you can practice, but you’re also interested in another academic field, some universities offer a dual degree program. These allow you to earn both your JD and a master's or PhD in another academic field. You may choose to earn your Juris Doctor, which is a three-year program. Once you finish and graduate, you’ll be able to take your bar exam so you can practice in a state of your choice.
- Criminal Law
- Torts in Contracts
- Practicum course (in-class, small group setting, with doctrinal instructor)
- Contextual course (Comparative and Historical Perspectives on the Law)
- Civil Procedure, I
- Property, I
- Introduction to Constitutional Law
- Elements of Legal Argumentation, II (Elements of Legal Argumentation, I is in your first semester)
You will write a legal brief, an appellate brief, then participate in a mock trial argument.
You may also take optional electives in this semester.
Cost Range for Degrees
Your costs will vary, depending on the legal program you choose. If you are seeking a Legal Administration Certificate in your associate’s program, you’ll pay about $4,800. If you live out-of-district, your cost will be about $12,641; out of state, $14,960.
For a bachelor’s degree in Pre-Law, expect to pay $23,879, in-state; $36,859, out-of-state; and $41,985 at a private law school.
For students earning a master’s degree in law, such as the Master of Laws and going full-time, the tuition for the academic year is $19,638.
Lawyer Careers and Salaries
Paralegals and legal assistants who have earned their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees begin at $31,130 for entry-level; the highest level of pay may reach $81,180.
Lawyers earn an average of a little more than $40,000 annually, which is much higher than the next-highest median annual salary of a little more than 20,000 for education administrators.
In May of 2017, the lowest median annual wage for lawyers was $57,430; their median annual salary (mid-career) was $119,250. The highest 10% earned about $208,000.
Law Fields of Study Median Salaries
- Corporate Law-Covers the range of legal aspects of the administration of a corporation—formation, dissolution, and all other aspects. The duties of a corporate lawyer include acquisitions, mergers, internal reorganization, disputes between individuals or corporations over liability, compliance with state and federal law, patents, and international accords.
- Bankruptcy Law-Assists clients with insolvency (debt) problems. Also helps with reorganization of debt. Bankruptcy lawyers use state and federal laws, which affect how bankruptcies are arranged. A bankruptcy lawyer is an expert in U.S. Bankruptcy Code (a sub-set of United States Code).
- Criminal Law-This specialty focuses on behaviors that are governed under criminal code (illegal acts). District attorneys and prosecutors try charges of illegal behavior; criminal defense attorneys represent clients who have been accused of crimes.
- Civil Rights Law-In this specialty, competing interests are delicately balanced between government and individuals who are members of special interest groups (race, ethnicity, gender, gender identification). Civil rights lawyers represent clients who say they have been discriminated against in one of several areas, such as housing, employment or education.
- Environmental Law-Environmental lawyers focus on state and federal statutes, regulations, treaties, and conventions under the domains of state, federal, or transnational law. Environmental lawyers represent advocacy organizations, government agencies, or individuals.
- Entertainment Law-This refers mainly to Intellectual Property Law but may also focus more strongly on rights and royalties concerning music, media in the arts, television, athletics, or cinema. Sports lawyers focus more on compliance with regulations for amateur or professional athletics, representing athletes under contract.
- Health Law-This deals with legislation concerning healthcare. Lawyers here represent clinics, patients, insurance companies, or individual health professionals. Lawyers employed by the federal government monitor the writing, implementation, and enforcement of policies.
- Family Law-This focuses on the legal relations between individuals who are family members. The lawyer may work in a small firm, specializing in either adoption, child welfare, or divorce. Child abuse, civil unions, domestic partnerships, child legitimacy, and marriages are the areas they focus on.
- Intellectual Property Law-This protects the rights and works of authors, artists, inventors, and businesses for their creations (intangible and tangible). IP lawyers specialize in one area, such as the arts or sciences. Include copyright and trademark lawyers here, who manage contracts, brand names, visual identity, and slogans. With technological advances, this field is changing daily.
- Immigration Law-Here, immigration lawyers work with clients as they work to become naturalized. Asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented individuals can also be helped by immigration lawyers.
Field of Study
|Field of Study||Associate’s Salaries||Bachelor’s Salaries||Master’s Salaries|
Law Salaries by Occupation
Depending on your law specialization, you may earn more than lawyers in other specialties, or you may earn less. Your tasks will be the same—you’ll advise your clients, select jurors for trials, represent your clients, gather evidence, and analyze and interpret laws.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in laws, you can still offer legal assistance. You’ll be working in a different profession of your choice, such as health or the environment. Because of your specialized knowledge of law, you will inform your clients about what they should do in different circumstances.
If you earned an associate degree as a legal assistant, you’ll earn a good living. As a legal secretary or legal assistant, you will work on the research and paperwork your supervising lawyer requires.
Description of Each Occupation
- Tax Law-In this field, you’ll be handling both domestic and international tax transactions. Keep up-to-date with frequent changes to tax codes locally, in your state and federally. This is a highly complex area of law, so you will have to keep up to date with tax code changes.
- Real Estate Law-As a real estate lawyer, you’ll concern yourself with the ownership of land and construction. Litigation and development make up much of your day’s work. You’ll also handle landlord disputes and tenant rights.
- Personal Injury Law-Here, you concern yourself with unintentional or intentional wrongdoing that affects victims physically and psychologically. Expect to be up to the minute on torts law; you may take cases involving wrongful death, medical malpractice, product liability, accidental collisions, or workplace injury.
- Military Law-In this narrow subspecialty, you’ll be extremely familiar with procedures covering legal matters for the armed forces, as well as codes. You’ll have to know the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) very well.
- Employment (Labor) Law-You’ll involve yourself in employer/worker laws and issues such as harassment or discrimination based on disability, gender, or age. You’ll also cover matters on wages and compensation. You may become involved in unions and collective bargaining.
- International Law-Based on what you were hired to do, you may work on public or private concerns. This may involve finance and multinational corporations’ trade divisions. Become extremely familiar with business concerns, along with corporate or intellectual property law.
Salary by Occupation
|Criminal Defense Lawyer||$63,800||$90,000||$103,000|
|Family Law Attorney||$58,700||$83,600||$97,500|
|Law Firm Partner||$118,400||$151,400||$210,900|
|Public Interest Lawyer||$53,200||$67,400||$113,000|
Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Law Bachelor’s Degree Online?
As with any response about how long something takes, the stock answer is, “It depends.” Most Juris Doctor programs require around 90 credits, with 80+ of them in law coursework. You’ll also take electives, which focus on intellectual property, employment discrimination, education law, contract drafting, and health and latter law. You’ll also be required to take Skills courses, such as legal analysis and writing.
Law school classes taken on a campus take about three years to complete. If you’re going to take yours online, you will have to follow a general schedule. However, your progress will depend on how aggressively you pursue your courses. Expect your program to take you four years from enrollment to graduation.
How Much Does a Law Bachelor’s Degree Cost?
You don’t have to go into major debt to earn your Juris Doctor. By looking for law school programs with tuition rates you can afford, you can keep your final costs down.
At one school, you pay $519 per credit hour for a Juris Doctor; $495 per credit hour for an Executive Juris Doctor. Overall, you’ll pay less than $11,000 per academic year, for four years. For your final amount, this would be $47,520.
Does the School Have the Major You’re Considering?
Once you know what you’re going to major in and that you’ll be going to law school, you need to identify which schools you’re most interested in. If you have already completed assessment and aptitude tests, you know your choice is right.
It would be heartbreaking to find a college, enroll, and pick your classes. . . only to find that the school doesn’t have pre-law, let alone law courses. With this in mind, contact the admissions offices of each college you are interested in. Ask every school if it has the major you want that will prepare you for law school.
How Many Students Graduate “On Time,” in Four Years?
For economic reasons only, this question is vital. It costs money to take four, five, or six years of college classes. In your fifth and sixth years, it takes even more money.
Today’s freshmen now have a less than 50% chance of graduating within four years. More than two dozen universities reported this statistic in their graduation data.
Take more than 12 credits per semester. By doing so, you speed up your graduation date. Work only part-time during the school year. Take summer session classes to get ahead (and spend less money on those summer classes). Don’t change majors more than once, if at all. Always seek your advisor’s recommendations.
What Kind of Accreditation Does the Program Hold? How is it Regarded in the Field?
Once you answer the question about school majors, ask the schools you’re interested in about their accreditations.
For law schools, the American Bar Association provides accreditation to law schools that meet its rigorous requirements. If you plan to take the bar, you must attend a school that is accredited by this organization.
Accreditation means that the program and school are legitimate and have gained the certification of accreditation agencies. This means that accredited schools you’re interested in have high-quality programs and faculty. You will learn material for your future profession that will help you to make a good future living.
Next, check to see that the accreditation is well-regarded. It should be regional, which means the standards are higher and more strict. You’ll be required to take more liberal arts coursework. National accreditations for online programs cover the whole country. This accreditation may cover distance or online courses.
Software, Technology and Skills Needed
You will need to be proficient in your use of technology. You’ll have to research, not only law books, but legal websites, such as Westlaw, to find material for case arguments for your assignments.
More and more, companies, including law firms, are putting their records into the cloud. Thus, you need to understand cloud technology and how to use it.
Before you begin law school, you need to have several skills, such as:
- Recognition of ethical dilemmas
Mark T. Banner Scholarship
Deadline: December 7
This scholarship falls under the Richard Linn American Inn of Court’s philanthropic efforts. The Richard Linn American Inn of Court’s commitment to assisting law students who will be specializing in Intellectual Property Law looks for individuals with high personal ethics, professionalism, and civility.
The Cooley Diversity Fellowship
Amount: Up to $30,000
Deadline: January 4
Diversity Fellowships are offered to first-year law students who have committed to working toward diversity in their communities. Cooley LLP offers paid Summer Associate positions to recipients after their first and second years.
Oneida Higher Education
Deadline: October 15 – November 1
The Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin Higher Education Grant awards up to $20,000 each academic year. The grant is intended to allow “supplemental” educational funds. From the 3 available scholarships, awards are given to Native Americans, Alaskans, or Hawaiians, with one specifying that you be a member of a federally recognized tribe to apply.
Arthur John Keeffe Scholarship
This award is given to students who will be attending Columbus School of Law. Students must have an interest in, and a commitment to, corporation-related careers.
Professional Law Organizations
Formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA), this association is the foremost in the nation for lawyers who represent plaintiffs. ATLA works to promote a fair, effective justice system, providing support for lawyers.
This association (AILA) advocates for a fair, just immigration policy and law. AILA also advances the high quality of immigration and nationality law, working to enhance the professional development of its members.
NAELA focuses on elder law, which works to provide services to the elderly and aging population within the United States. NAELA also promotes “special needs law,” which stresses legal services to adults with disabilities, as well as their caregivers. NAELA lobbies for laws and policies to improve the lives of people with special needs and senior citizens.
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation to you means that your university and law program have taken the significant steps needed to acquire a designation that spells out the high quality and excellence of their curriculum and faculty. The U.S. Department of Education formally recognizes accredited educational institutions, which makes it easier for you to obtain the financial aid you need.
The American Bar Association (ABA) accredits the law programs and schools of universities across the U.S. This recognition shows that law programs have attained high academic standards and allows you to enter to sit for the bar exam.
Online vs. On-Campus vs. Hybrid
Online educational programs and on-campus educational programs both offer the same service, but they do so in ways that affect how you receive the material and interact with your professors and fellow students.
Traditional education means you go to the university and physically attend classes. You interact with your professors in the classroom and you discuss parts of the material with fellow students.
With online education, you need more self-motivation and discipline to pass your classes. That’s harder to keep up when you’re alone in your home, gazing at a computer screen.
“Hybrid” programs are a blend of face-to-face and online learning. You will participate in residential, on-campus classes once or twice during the term. The remainder of the time you will take your classes, read the material, and hand in assignments and quizzes electronically.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help and Assistance?
As you near the end of your time in law school, you’ll begin thinking about finding a job. Some law schools will provide a career services office that will help you focus on your career plans. Each career services office is different in what it provides. Expect networking opportunities, career counseling, and program opportunities or job fairs so that you’ll be able to meet future law firm employers.
Why You Need to Consider How the Rating and Accreditation can Affect Your Salary ?
Rankings are subjective, offering points to only a few categories. The best way to determine if a law school program is good for you is to go visit and tour each school you are interested in.
However, accreditation is one of the most important considerations for you to weigh. Even more, if an employer is interested in you, they may offer you a lower salary because of the lack of accreditation—which they find when they investigate the school program you completed.
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