Have you decided to stop daydreaming about becoming a lawyer and begin working toward becoming one? That’s good news! But if you want to reach this ambition, you need to know the law school requirements and how to successfully achieve them.
Aspiring lawyers have to go through a variety of steps before they become qualified to practice law in the US. These steps include getting a graduate degree, meeting the minimum requirements to get into law school, passing the bar exam, and more.
All of this costs money and requires years of sacrifice and dedication. But no matter how taxing the journey may seem, you can certainly achieve it. And when you do become a licensed lawyer, we promise it’ll all be worth it.
To get you started, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of law school requirements. We’ll also talk about the top law schools in the US, the prerequisite courses for most law programs, and more.
Let’s start with the fundamental law school requirements that you need to begin a career practicing law.
Law School Requirements
Before we consider mandatory requirements, note that a Juris Doctor (JD) program can last up to four years, depending on the law school and if it is full or part-time.
A JD is the standard law degree you’ll receive after graduating from a US law school. If you are interested, after getting a JD, you can further your career by getting an advanced degree, such as an LLM or SJD. But this isn’t necessary, as all you need to get your bar license and legally practice law is a JD.
So, what are the requirements to get into law school to get a JD? Read on.
You need to have a bachelor’s degree before you can get into law school. But unlike other professional degrees, such as medicine, the courses you can choose to take for your bachelor’s degree are open. That is, you aren’t limited to studying specific courses before you can qualify for law school.
Having said this, however, recent data shows that undergrads more likely to get into law school are those who majored in liberal arts, such as history, rhetoric, economics, journalism, or philosophy. Top law schools are looking for students with solid critical-thinking, problem-solving, oratory, writing, research, and similar skills.
The same data shows that students who major in political science, pre-law, or criminal justice also have a good chance of getting admitted into law school—albeit to a lesser degree than those who major in traditional liberal arts.
Students who’ve earned their bachelor’s degree outside the US can also successfully apply to enter law school here. But the law school requirements for people in this category will depend on the law school they are targeting.
And it’s not just all about majoring in the right courses. To increase your chances of being accepted into the law school of your choice, you have to graduate with a good undergraduate grade point average (GPA). To get into a top 10 US law school, you’ll need at least a 3.50 GPA.
If your GPA is low, getting into a top-ranking law school becomes more difficult. But in certain scenarios, such issues can be circumvented – more on this later.
The vital thing to take away from all of this is: what you major in doesn’t matter as long as you graduate with a strong GPA. A high GPA increases your chances of getting into law school—so strive to take courses you excel at and thus have a higher chance of passing with flying colors.
As we’ve stated, what’s important are your grades and grade point average. The law school you are applying to will want to see proof of this in the form of your transcripts.
As part of your application process, you’ll need to submit your official transcripts from any relevant graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs you’ve completed.
The cost of getting your transcript will depend on the school from which you received the degree. The price will also vary if the transcript is an e-copy or paper copy. Note that this particular law school requirement applies regardless of if you graduated within the US or from a foreign university.
The primary admissions test for getting into a US law school is the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). It is a half-day test comprised of 175 multiple choice questions and is available four times a year across the US at various testing centers. There are even some centers outside the US for interested international students.
Your LSAT scores will be considered alongside your GPA to determine whether your application will be accepted.
The LSAT evaluates your reasoning and analytical capabilities, as well as your reading and writing skills. And believe it or not, you don’t need to have any experience or knowledge of the law to pass the test. Also, you can take the LSAT as many times as you need until you get an adequate score. Presently, the test costs about $500.
180 is the highest score you can get on the test, but 150 is the average score among LSAT takers. The top 15 law schools in the US are more partial to students that score above 170.
Previously, every law school required LSAT scores. These days, some institutions, like the University of Arizona College of Law and Harvard Law School, have started offering other options to their applicants. The most commonly accepted alternative to the LSAT is the Graduate Records Examination (GRE).
Some institutions, like Concord Law School, allow students to gain admission solely on the merit of their UGPA and what they score in Concord’s proprietary admissions test.
Letters of Recommendation
Another crucial law school requirement is a letter of recommendation from a reputable individual. The letter of recommendation isn’t as important as your UGPA or LSAT scores but can be quite helpful if it’s from a person of note that vouches for you.
A letter of recommendation can be written on your behalf by a college professor or some other reputable academic. The writer doesn’t have to have taught you, but they should at least know you well. The better they know you, the more they can add in the letter to your benefit.
The purpose of the letter is for the writer to endorse you based on your character and other qualities that they’ve seen or experienced first-hand. So, make sure to find someone who has glowing things to say about you, and whose enthusiasm about your personality can shine through in their letter.
You can also get a letter of recommendation from a current or former employer or colleague, or anyone else of professional note. You should not use your parents or anyone else that’s related to you.
Many of the ABA-accredited law schools in the US don’t just want to read what others have to say about you. They also want to hear what you have to say about yourself in the form of a Personal Statement.
Your personal statement will be submitted alongside your application. It’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your writing skills, personality, experience, and anything else you’ve got going for you. This is your chance to convince the admissions committee to accept you.
Depending on the law school, it may be specified that your statement answers specific questions, or it may be open-ended. Whatever the case may be, you have to show that you’d make a worthy addition to the law school.
Your personal statement should be error-free, engaging, and honest. If your academic qualifications aren’t the best, you can use this critical document to show that there’s more to you than your test scores.
Steps to Become a Lawyer
The journey to becoming a licensed lawyer in the US is quite straightforward. You go to school, get a degree, get your license, and begin your career. But below is a clearer, more detailed road map of how to become a lawyer
Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), students can gain admission to law school from almost any area of study. The important thing is that you graduate with a healthy undergraduate grade point average.
Pass the LSAT
After graduating from college, your next step is to sit for the Law School Admission Test and pass. The higher your LSAT score, the higher your chances of getting into the law school of your choice. Some law schools are willing to overlook a less than satisfactory UGPA in favor of a high LSAT score.
What is considered a high LSAT score will depend on the law school. For some law schools, 165 is sufficient. Others may only consider scores over 175.
The goal of the LSAT is to determine if you have the necessary skills to successfully learn and practice law. These skills include but aren’t limited to reading comprehension, analysis and critical thinking, and argumentation.
Pick Law Schools, Complete and Submit Applications
Picking a law school isn’t as easy as it sounds. Even if all your preferred law schools accept you into their programs, you still have to pick just one of them. Base your decision on distance, cost, scholarship opportunity, reputation, other personally relevant factors.
The important thing is to pick a school that’s most likely to help you effectively and affordably achieve your ambitions in the legal industry.
Most importantly, only pick a law school that’s accredited by the ABA. For more law school information to aid in your selection during the law school application process, check out the Law School Admission Council.
Get Your JD
Once you are in law school, the primary objective is to get your JD. Without it, you won’t be called to the bar. Since there are a variety of specialties within legal practice, it is crucial that you pick one that best aligns with your ambitions.
A full-time program can be completed in two or three years, depending on the law school you attend.
Pass the Bar Examination
After getting your JD, the next step is to pass the bar exam in the state that you’d like to practice. Each state’s bar exam is unique, and some are considered tougher than others. For instance, the bar exam in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota are believed to be far easier than those in California, Delaware, Virginia, and Nevada.
The bar exam is generally divided into two parts across two days. The first day is the Multistate Bar Examination, and the second day’s exam covers a variety of legal matters.
Begin on the Right Foot
Once called to the bar, you can begin your legal career by starting as an associate, launching your own law firm, or working with a company. Alternatively, you could go back to school and get a Master of Law (LLM) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D). It all depends on what your goals are and what sort of legal career you are envisioning for yourself.
Useful Courses for Getting into Law School
As you now know, most law schools are more interested in your grades than what you actually studied in college. But there are certain courses you can take to give you an upper hand in the admissions process.
For instance, claiming certain majors in college will better prepare you for the amount of dedication, research, and critical thinking many law school courses require. Admissions personnel know this and will thus be more inclined to admit you if they notice you’ve taken and passed such courses.
Because political science, pre-law or legal studies, and criminal justice focus on legal issues, they are suitable courses of study if you intend on attending law school.
Getting an English or Communications degree also works in your favor. That’s because these courses boost your oral and written communication skills, both of which are essential for lawyers, regardless of their specialty.
If you aspire to become a civil or criminal lawyer, studying psychology will definitely come in handy. It’ll help you understand philosophy, which is helpful for critical thinking and understanding human nature. Both are also crucial in honing your skills in rhetoric, negotiation, and verbal sparring.
If you hope to focus on certain law specialties, majoring or minoring in a course of study related to that specialty will give you an advantage.
For instance, majoring in finance, business or economics will help if you intend on specializing in corporate law. And if your goal is medical law, pre-med or biology will give you a unique head start. The same goes for those interested in tax and bankruptcy law who study accounting.
Choosing a Law School
Knowing the law school requirements are important. But this knowledge is wasted if you don’t know what law schools to apply to.
Same with every other educational institution, law schools differ in quality. Some are easier to get into, others are more difficult to graduate from, and some will all but guarantee success in the legal industry with their degrees.
Know which law schools have stricter admissions requirements or are open to people in your unique circumstances (low LSAT scores, foreign bachelor’s, financial, etc.). By doing so, you can identify which are more likely to accept your application.
At the moment, the highest-ranking law schools in the US are:
- Harvard University
- Yale University
- Stanford University
- University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
- Columbia University
- New York University (NYU)
- University of Chicago
- Georgetown University
- University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
- University of Michigan
Among the world’s top 300 ranking law schools, 50 of them are in the US, and 14 of them are in the top 50.
Getting into any of the above top-ranking US law schools require that you have an LSAT score of above 160 (the median LSAT score is closer to around 170) and a GPA above 3.50. Lower-ranked schools are less strict and accept LSAT scores of 150 and above.
Getting admitted into a top-ranked law school doesn’t necessarily mean you have to attend it. Higher-ranked schools cost more and maybe more of a financial burden than you can afford. So, unless you are on a full or partial scholarship, you might want to consider a lower-ranked but more budget-friendly law school.
Another consideration when choosing a law school is your chosen specialty. Each law school has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to specialties. As such, if you hope to specialize in a specific area of law, it’s best to go for a law school known for that particular specialty. For instance, Florida State University is recognized for its business, environmental, and international law programs, while NYU School of Law has a reputation for its international and tax law programs.
Also, if you are going to be working or will have other obligations while in law school, you are better off going for one that offers a part-time program. Part-time programs take longer than full-time programs to complete, but it might be a necessary sacrifice to fulfill your other responsibilities.
Getting into Law School if you Have a Low GPA
If your UGPA is lower than the specified law school requirements of your desired institution, it isn’t the end of your legal career. Top law schools may not be eager to admit people with a low GPA, but there are ways you can convince them to reconsider, including:
Acing your LSAT
Your GPA might be lacking, but you can still prove that you are a worthy candidate by scoring high on your LSAT. If your LSAT score is 170 or above, they may overlook your low GPA.
Give yourself ample time to prepare for the LSAT, use quality study materials, and take as many practice tests as you can find. Aside from increasing your chances of getting into law school, a high LSAT score also opens up more scholarship opportunities.
Get Solid Recommendations from Reputable Personalities
If you’ve got a low GPA, you don’t need just a glowing recommendation—you’ll need multiple, dazzling letters. Ask the most reputable men and women you can find, preferably ones you’ve worked or schooled with, to write you a recommendation letter. This should be a document that’ll make any law school honored to have you.
Polish your Application
Your personal statement and résumé can be the deciding factor that gets you into law school, even though other aspects of your application are lacking.
Add interesting and relevant things about yourself and your experiences into your personal statement that’ll make the admissions committee take notice and want to give you a shot.
Don’t Be Picky
You can’t afford to be picky if you have a low GPA. Instead of applying to a few top law schools, apply to every law school you can think of. Choose a healthy mix of the top, middle, and lower-ranked law schools.
By spreading your net this wide, your chances of snagging at least one admission letter are substantially improved.
Expand your resume
Take a few extra courses that’ll make you look good on your application. This works best if the courses are from recognized institutions and in line with the aspect of the law you hope to specialize in.
While acing these extra courses won’t boost your GPA, it will show that you are committed, hardworking, and can excel in an academic setting.
We hope that our guide on law school requirements helps to put you on the best path to fulfilling your ambition of becoming a lawyer.
Now that you know the various academic, application, and licensing steps involved, you can prepare appropriately and have realistic expectations of the legal profession.
If you are truly passionate about law, it will be easier to consider any obstacle as a small price to pay for doing something you love.