Generally speaking, if you are considering law school and want to be a lawyer, you are required to get a law degree and then pass the bar examination in your state and become a licensed attorney. The traditional three year law school program is the most popular avenue most prospective lawyers choose. In the traditional three year program, the class sessions are similar to most colleges. There are two semesters spilt with a winter and summer break.
When you enter law school, you will be required to immediately adjust to the new environment and start learning the law very quickly. Most law professors do not wait until the first day of class to introduce the subject matter or give out syllabi, as in college. New law students are expected to be ready to answer questions about their first assignments at their first class meetings.
In law school, new students are required to attend classes in lecture halls with approximately 100 other students in their section. The professor in a law school class usually walks in and calls on a student to give a discussion of a legal case from the first assignment. The professor will probably use the “Socratic Method” of teaching which requires that students respond to questions about the cases in front of the class. It is rare that a law professor will conduct class in a lecture format. The law professor usually has a seating chart with all of the names of students in their class and uses this chart to call on students randomly to questions them about assigned cases from their textbook. Law school custom is for the professors and students to refer to each other formally, such as addressing a classmate as “Mr. Jones” or addressing a professor as “Professor Smith.”
Law students are required to abide by strict rules of academic honor and are held to a code of conduct which usually prohibits cheating or other forms of academic dishonesty. Law students in their first year of studies are required to quickly get accustomed to “law school culture.” This involves being able to deal with a very small law school community which is generally separate from the rest of the university community. Most law school students will find that the small size of the student body in law school allows them to know more about other students, professors, and law school affairs than what they were accustomed to in college. Law students are generally required to adapt to an environment where there is a law school “grapevine” that has information about what elective courses to take, what professors are the best, and what law firms to interview with.
Reading and trying to understand case law is the primary work that law students do and this should be a big factor for you when considering law school. (For exmaple, do you like this kind of work and are you skilled at reading comprehension?) Law students are required to study for classes each night and generally have to read about 30 pages from their textbook per night for each class. Law students are also required to write up “case briefs” which analyze cases from their textbooks and which can be used in class to help answer questions during class discussion of the previous night’s assignment. Law students must adapt to an intensely competitive academic atmosphere where some students will excel earlier than others with being able to comprehend new legal theories and difficult case law.
If you are considering law school but do not want to spend three years in school, you may be able to enroll in an accelerated law program. Usually accelerated programs will require a full time two year commitment.
For example, if you are considering law school at Northwestern University, (as well as some other law schools), an accelerated JD Program is offered where students can complete their law studies in two years. In Northwestern’s accelerated JD Program, students do all the work of a normal three-year JD program in two years, starting with a Web-based course in May before they arrive on campus. Students who enroll in the program are required to take a rigorous first-year law school course load which includes an extra class in Communication and Legal Reasoning.
Be advised that not all law schools offer an accelerated program. If you are interested in a program such as this, you must first contact the law school to confirm they offer this type of program. FURTHER, IT WOULD ALSO BE WISE TO MAKE SURE THAT THE STATE BAR WILL ALLOW YOU TO SIT FOR THEIR BAR EXAM IF YOU GRADUATED FROM AN ACCELERATED PROGRAM.
Some people who want to become lawyers and who do not have the financial means to go to law school may choose to study law through an attorney apprenticeship program. Currently, seven states recognize attorney apprenticeship programs for becoming a lawyer. These states are Washington, Wyoming, Vermont, California, New York, Main, and Virginia. The California State Bar Association offers an attorney apprenticeship program called the California Law Office Study Program. In this program, students are required to make their own course schedules and buy their own law study materials.
However, when considering law school via this route you have to be careful... the state requirements differ and this is probably not the best route to becoming a lawyer. If you are interested in this avenue, you must check with the state bar (in the state you want to practice) regarding what the apprenticeship requirements are and make sure you fully understand those requirements.
If you are considering law school online be forewarned! Not all states will allow a graduate of an online law school to sit for the bar exam. California is the primary state that does allow graduates of online law schools to sit for their bar exam, however, the requirements that have to be met are quite tricky. Overall, right now the online law school route is not the best avenue to choose to become a lawyer. The reasons for this are: i) few states allow online law school graduates to sit for their bar exam, ii) those that do have difficult requirements for online graduates to sit for the bar, and iii) employers still do not respect graduates from online law schools, so it will be even more difficult to locate employment.
After considering law school, whatever avenue you choose to meet the education requirements of becoming a lawyer, at that juncture you only know general legal principles. Most law schools do not teach state law. Because of this, students who graduate from law school must take and pass a state bar examination to show that they have knowledge about state law in the jurisdiction where they want to practice.
Most students take a bar exam preparation course which covers many subject matter areas of state law. Students who graduate from law school are required to take and pass a written bar examination and are also required to pass a character and fitness examination given by the state bar association.
If you took the traditional three year law school program and it was an ABA approved program, you will be allowed to sit for ANY state bar exam. If you chose any of the other routes, accelerated, online, apprenticeship, you better make sure that you are allowed to sit for the bar exam in the state where you want to practice. NOT ALL STATES ALLOW GRADUATES FROM THESE TYPES OF PROGRAMS TO SIT FOR THEIR BAR!
After a new lawyer has passed the bar examination and started practicing law, they are required to keep themselves informed about new laws and legal developments in their state. Currently, most states require lawyers to take Continuing Legal Education classes. These classes are offered by state bar associations to help lawyers keep up with recent developments in their area of law. Thus, the legal learning continues even after law school.
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