Schooling to be a Lawyer: What’s Involved?

Whether you have just started your undergraduate studies in college, or you have already received a college degree, this article will help you understand what’s involved in the necessary schooling to be a lawyer. Becoming an attorney is a wonderful profession, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re wondering about the academic work you’ll need to complete to choose law as your vocation, please consider this valuable information.

The schooling to be a lawyer is difficult, demanding, and expensive; it is not something that you should enter into lightly. First, you need to complete an undergraduate degree at an accredited university.

1)    To be accepted into law school, your grade point average (GPA) should be approximately a 3.0, preferably higher depending upon what law school you are considering. During your undergraduate college studies, talk with an advisor about the law schools you’re interested in and find out the law school’s required GPA. For example, Harvard Law School requires a higher GPA that your state university’s school because of Harvard’s international prestige and undeniably prestigious faculty. (But whatever law school you graduate from, you will still be considered a lawyer and can accomplish great things.)

2)    The schooling to be a lawyer begins at the undergraduate level. If you’re certain that you want to go to law school, your academic advisor will help you select an undergraduate major with an emphasis on certain classes that may help you be successful in law school. These majors and/or classes include state and federal government studies, American history, political science, economics, English composition, math or statistical research, computer science, and others as they may apply. Most law schools accept any undergraduate degree as long as you have an acceptable GPA that proves your ability to succeed scholastically. Taking pre law classes can make it easier for you when you take the all-important Law School Admission Test and then actually attend law school classes.

If you don’t know someone who has been through law school successfully, you probably have questions about the nature of your schooling to be a lawyer and descriptions of the major required courses; these are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Every law school is different, of course, but in most schools you will begin with, among other classes, with two semesters of Contracts. Regardless of your eventual legal practice schedule, you must have a familiarity with what does and does not constitute a contract. In the law, a contract has several requirements: It must be legally enforceable, it must involve a meeting of the minds between the individuals involved, and it must contain a quid pro quo. This Latin term means that there must be an exchange of something for something else. For example, if you use your money to buy a car, this constitutes a legal contract since both parties profit in some way. In addition to what is or is not a legal contract, your schooling as a lawyer also includes the concept breach of contract and its remedies, such as monetary damages or court-ordered specific performance on the contract.

Evidence is another course in the schooling of a lawyer, (though law schools differ whether this is required for first year law students or second year law students). All court cases of any nature depend upon evidence for a fair outcome. This course will tell you what kind of documents, pictures, testimony, videos, etc. are admissible and allowed to be heard by the judge or jury. Critically important is your understanding of the “hearsay rule” and the many exceptions to this rule. An example of the hearsay rule is that you cannot testify about what another person told you; that person would need to testify himself about what he saw or heard. Yet there are as many exceptions to this rule as there are lawyers on Wall Street!

A Tort is a civil wrong done by one person or group that negatively affects another person or group. It differs from criminal wrongs because tort actions are not subject to confinement in jail or prison. The plaintiff is a person or group, not the state or the United States a distinct difference between civil and criminal law. For example, in the tort of medical malpractice, the plaintiff may be suing a physician for negligent or substandard care that caused the plaintiff damages. In your schooling to be a lawyer, you’ll find that there are many different types of tort actions and remedies that can be imposed by the trier of fact which is usually a jury, sometimes only a judge.

In Civil Procedure, you’ll learn how all non-criminal hearings and trials are conducted. Naturally, there are rules about what attorneys can do or say during such events. In your schooling to be a lawyer, this course will teach you how and when to file motions with the court, what kinds of pleadings to prepare in civil cases, what kind of pre-trial matters should be conducted, and the usual procedure observed during civil trials. An example of what you’ll learn in civil procedure is how to conduct direct examinations of your witnesses, how to cross-examine the witnesses from the other side, how to make opening and closing statements and what kind of courtroom decorum must be observed.

Property is the class you will take in your first year where you’ll learn about different ownership rights, and interests in property. Topics covered in this class generally include: the different types property, rule of capture, ownership of animals, rights of finders, bailment, adverse possession, encroachments, easements, the estate system, and future interests in property.

Legal Research and Writing, is probably the most important class you will take in your first year of law school. This is a class where you’ll learn how to actually conduct legal research and then draft legal memorandum (or reports). It is the only practical class you will take in your first year, and many employers will look at your grade in this class in considering whether or not to hire you for a summer position. The reason for this is because legal research and writing is the actual work that lawyers do, and a lot of the work that new lawyers do on a day-to-day basis.

Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure are two different core courses in your schooling to be a lawyer and most law schools require you take both classes at some point during law school.  Crime and criminal justice are huge parts of our judiciary structure, with the Constitution’s Bill of Rights forming the crux of our criminal laws, what constitutes a law violation, what makes a search, seizure or arrest legal, and how a criminal trial differs from a civil tort action trial. In criminal law, the plaintiff is the people of the state or the United States vs. the defendant. Violation of the law carries as punishment, jail or prison time. Evidence in a criminal trial, if obtained illegally, cannot be admitted for the jury’s consideration and will be excluded by the judge even if it points strongly to the guilt of the defendant. For example, if the police indiscriminately search your home and just happen to find your cocaine stash in your closet, this evidence is inadmissible against you because it was illegally obtained without a search warrant. These classes reflect the complexity of our justice system but also its basis in fairness and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

These are only a few of the law school classes you’ll take in your schooling to be a lawyer. Are you ready for the challenge?

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