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Do I Need to Go to Law School to be a Lawyer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer is a bit more complicated. The requirements to be a lawyer vary widely between individual and national governments and states. If you are interested in becoming a lawyer, barrister, or advocate, you should look up the laws that specifically apply in your region. In most areas, a national or regional organization oversees the practice of law, and representatives can provide you with the information that you need.

In general, you must pass a bar examination to work as a lawyer. The bar exam contains a written portion dealing with legal specifics, to ensure that the candidate knows the law. It also has a section about personal and legal ethics, and in many areas, it includes a background check to determine whether or not the candidate is morally fit to practice law. The bar exam is not open to everyone, however, and every regional bar association has specific requirement from candidates who want to sit the exam.

In most locations, someone can become eligible for the bar either by attending law school or by interning in the chambers of a judge or at a law office. This is not the case in all regions, but in most areas it is offered as an option. Especially for someone who is interested in becoming a judge, an internship may be a great way to prepare for the bar, as it provides practical education. If you want to be a lawyer, both law school and an internship are good ways to learn about the practice of law, and you may want to combine both in your legal education.

In many parts of the world, a law school is considered to be a form of graduate school, which means that law students already have an undergraduate degree. Law students are encouraged to get an undergraduate degree in any of a variety of subjects to enrich their minds and make their practice of law better. Some potential lawyers pursue an undergraduate degree in a subject relevant to the field of law that they want to practice. For example, a lawyer who intends to deal with the field of medicine might earn a pre-med degree, and a lawyer who wants to focus on environmental issues might major in environmental science.

After successful application and acceptance into a law school, the student will study for three to four years before being considered eligible for the bar. In most regions, the bar association also accredits law schools, so if you want to be a lawyer, make sure that you will be able to sit the bar after attending the school of your choice. Graduates of unaccredited schools cannot sit for the exam.

If you chose to pursue an internship, it is best to find a legal professional to work with for the entire four years required. A law firm is a great place to study to be a lawyer, as you can see the legal system in action. The firm may also offer you employment after you are admitted to practice law, which is a distinct advantage.

The scope of your license to practice law also varies, depending on where you certified. In the United States, for example, many states have reciprocal agreements with each other, allowing a lawyer from one state to practice law in another. In other instances, a lawyer is restricted to practice in his or her home state. International lawyers must pursue additional certifications and be admitted to the bar in at least one nation. As a courtesy, some nations allow lawyers from other countries to take their bar exams without fulfilling an educational or internship requirement, since the lawyer's foreign education and work experience are considered comparable.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Nov 14, 2012

That's actually kind of cool that "anyone" can be a lawyer, without having to go to law school. I always assumed that you had to have a degree in order to get into the bar exam (I did know that you needed a certain amount of practical experience). A law degree can be extremely expensive and it seemed to create a sort of upper class where only rich people could become lawyers and they then remain rich.

The idea that anyone could conceivably become a lawyer who wants to be a lawyer, with a bit of study and hard work, really appeals to me.

By pleonasm — On Nov 13, 2012

@Sunny27 - I really think that it depends on where you are planning to practice. If you are planning to stay in the same small area, and/or practice law on a particular subject (like copyright law, for example) then interning might be the better way to go. Learning directly from the people who are actually working in the area that you want to work is often the best policy.

If, however, you want to work in a city and you want to be on the same terms as the average lawyer out there, you definitely need to get a degree, and the most competitive one you can manage, too.

The requirements to be a lawyer in a smaller town aren't going to be very extensive, since there won't be all that much diversity in your work. So, you don't need the broad platform you get in law school.

By anon292139 — On Sep 18, 2012

Well, you have met one now. It seems to me that being tutored for four years with a good judge and a good law firm provides more than enough to get you through the exam. I think we are more pragmatic, more practical and can see both sides clearer then those who have gone to law school. Real life experiences in real time is always an eye opener and connects the dots between the law and learning the law.

By anon185359 — On Jun 11, 2011

I live in Vermont, never graduated from college, never set foot in a law school, clerked for four years with a variety of lawyers and judges, passed the bar exam and have practiced for 30 plus years. It's not the easiest way to do it, but certainly is cheaper and I think produces lawyers who are far more practical.

By anon122321 — On Oct 27, 2010

That is actually one of the true parts of "Catch Me if You Can." The real person that CMiYC is based on forged the documents that made him eligible to take the exam, but just read a few law books and then passed it.

He was quite an extremely intelligent person, but I'm sure many people could pass with four years of internship at a practicing firm.

By suntan12 — On Jul 09, 2010

Sunny27- I agree with you. Becoming an attorney requires so much knowledge that I think that law school is the only path to passing the bar exam. While law school won’t give you all of the information you need, it does provide a significant foundation in which to build on. Briefing cases and learning about previous rulings really help the law student develop knowledge to propose potential debates. These are necessary skills for litigation and trial work.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 09, 2010

Great article- But I disagree on one point. I can not see how a person can successfully pass the bar exam without going to law school, so I would think that it is a requirement.

Law school, in fact is so comprehensive and intense that students are advised not to work the first year of law school. Law school requires three full years of training in preparation of the bar exam. I personally would not feel comfortable taking the bar exam without going to law school first. If a person can successfully pass the bar exam without going to law school, then great, but I have never met such a person.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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