A Students' Guide to a Legal Career


by Scott Grabel

Pursuing a legal career can be both rewarding and challenging. To succeed, many students begin preparing for their formal legal education in high school. By choosing college prep courses in subjects such as English and history, students gain valuable knowledge and skills that will often give them a head start. It's also important to consider the areas of law in which one may specialize. While some attorneys practice general law, others choose specialties such as estate, criminal, or family law. After becoming a lawyer, some people practice for a period of time and then decide to pursue a judicial career as well.

After deciding to study law, a student should begin thinking about an undergraduate degree. No single major is the best one for someone who wants to be a lawyer. Instead, it's best to consider your strengths and interests to determine the best major for you. Researching, writing, and oral communication will be crucial skills to have, so any major that incorporates these areas will be beneficial. Lawyers also need knowledge in a wide range of topics, such as history, political science, economics, and math. If you know that you have an interest in a specific area of law, your undergraduate major might tie into this area. For example, to specialize in business law, you might earn an undergraduate degree in finance or economics.

When it's time to apply to law school, follow a timetable to ensure success. Every institution has a unique admissions process, so research schools to learn about their application requirements. Applying to law school usually involves submitting a résumé, completing application forms, providing transcripts, and submitting a personal statement. Students must also take the law school admission test, known as the LSAT. This test contains five 35-minute sections with multiple-choice questions, and it measures student skills in reading and verbal reasoning. Law schools use LSAT scores as a factor for assessing applicants. Law schools also assess applicants' undergraduate grade point averages when considering applications.

Many different types of law exist, and attorneys often specialize their practices. For example, a lawyer specializing in transaction law will assist individuals or corporations with contracts and mergers. Other lawyers may specialize in litigation, which focuses on resolving legal disputes in court. Litigators are the attorneys who assist clients by investigating legal cases, negotiating with opposing counsel, and going to trial when necessary. Legal specializations can include law that focuses on a specific industry, such as the environment or entertainment. Lawyers may also specialize in civil or criminal law. A lawyer who chooses to pursue a private practice may perform general legal services to assist individuals or companies.

After engaging in a legal career, some attorneys decide to change course slightly to become a judge. Anyone considering a judicial career should prepare by paying close attention to their professional reputation. Peer approval is crucial for anyone pursuing a career as a judge. While many professionals pursuing a judicial office have litigation experience, this is not a requirement. Being a judge involves opening up your background to public scrutiny, whether by the general community in an election or by a local bar association with a judicial evaluation. After attaining a judicial office, cases that come before the bench may be important and high-profile. Any rulings made will also be analyzed and even scrutinized by the press or public.

Courses of Study

From Undergraduate to Law School

Types of Law

Becoming a Judge