Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association

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Becoming an Attorney

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Many young people dream of becoming attorneys. Some are inspired by family, others by television. Regardless of the motivation behind wanting to pursue a career in law, there is some information that may prove helpful in considering this career path. It is always wise to consult the resources in your school’s guidance office. Additionally, your public library should have numerous books about the legal profession.

Once the decision has been made to become an attorney, it is important to remember that there are many different ways to reach this goal. Also check out our Legal Links page for student-appropriate links.

StepsHigh School –> College –> LSAT –> Law School –> Bar Exam –> Protecting Your Bar Admission

Step One: High School

In most areas ninth grade marks the beginning of the academic record that will be used for college admissions. Consult with your guidance counselor on how to establish the academic and extracurricular record that will make you a strong candidate for college admissions. 

Step Two: Undergraduate Degree

When selecting a major, it is strongly recommended that you consult with one of the guidance counselors at your college or university. The major you select as an undergraduate is far less important than how you perform academically. Most law schools look for students with strong writing and analytical skills. Additionally, the admission committees often look for students that have distinguished themselves both in and outside of the classroom. If one is interested in patent law, the patent bar requires a degree in one of the hard sciences like mechanical or electrical engineering.

Step Three: The LSAT

The next step is preparing to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). This is the exam you must take prior to entering law school. You may take the LSAT while you are still earning your undergraduate degree. Preparing for the LSAT is essential. This is not an exam you want to take cold. There are classes available to prepare for the exam. These classes are expensive. If you can afford to take them, you should do so, even if in the end all that they give you is peace of mind. If you cannot afford the classes, this does not mean that you will not do well on the exam. If you cannot take the classes, your best option is to get some books about the exam. These books will give you some idea of what to expect and often have model questions for you to follow. You may also have some friends that still have their old books from one of the LSAT classes. These may be helpful in that they give you some idea of what to expect and the kinds of questions asked. There is an application fee for taking the LSAT. In addition to the LSAT fee, you are required by most law schools to have a subscription to the LSDAS (Law School Data Assembly Service). The LSDAS is the group that forwards your LSAT scores to the law schools. The LSAT in comprised of five 35 minute multiple-choice sections and one essay. One of the four multiple-choice sections is experimental and will not be counted in your final score. The scores range from 120 to 180. 

Step Four: Law School

Law schools are all very different in size and atmosphere. You can visit the index of law schools to obtain additional information about a particular school. It is always a good idea to contact students at the various schools to learn what their experiences have been. Most law schools require a college degree for admission, however, you should always consult the law school directly to obtain its admission requirements. There are many things you will want to consider when selecting law schools. You may need to consider the location of the school, what areas of law the school specializes in, if the school offers a dual degree program, and where you would like to practice. The last consideration is particularly important because each state has its own bar exam. The state bar exams test on the laws of that particular state, going to school in that state will make you more familiar with that state’s laws rather than being introduced to them for the first time during a bar exam preparation class. 

Step Five: Bar Examinations

Like most states, to practice law, you must pass both the Professional Responsibility Exam and the Bar Exam. Before you may take either exam, you must have a degree from an accredited law school. The professional responsibility exam tests your knowledge of legal rules and ethics. The exam lasts one day. The two day bar exam tests your knowledge of state laws. Review classes are offered for both exams. Your law school diploma will not mean a thing, if you do not pass the bar exam (if you do wish to practice law, the bar exam is not an issue). Unlike the LSAT where taking the preparation course is optional, this is not the case with the bar exam. You are going to have to invest in a course if you are going to succeed. You can even take out another student loan to cover your expenses.

Step Six: Protecting Bar Admission

Most people only emphasize the Road to Becoming an Attorney. However, more important, is staying an Attorney. In order to become a licensed attorney, lawyers must undergo a rigorous Character & Fitness Test which determines your fitness to practice law. But your admission does not end the inquiry into your fitness to practice law, instead, it is an ongoing inquiry. Thus, things that happen subsequent to your admission to a bar can be grounds for disbarment. However, it is very easy to prevent this grave sanction by always and in all ways being on the right side of the law. Lawyers are officers of the court, and with this comes the duty of candor, forthrightness and honesty. All mandatory attorney licensing bodies have, and use, the power to disbar, suspend and or censure their members for unethical lawyer conduct. In fact, it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that all lawyers and judges must report unethical conduct of peers to the appropriate disciplinary agency. Failure to render such reports is a disservice to the public and the legal profession as whole.


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