How long does it take to become a lawyer?
The short answer for how long does it take to become a lawyer is that in the United States it takes a minimum of three years. In order to practice law anywhere in the western world, one must pass an examination in the geographic jurisdiction that the proposed lawyer wants to practice law. This exam is called the bar exam and passage allows one entry into the bar association. In the US, the geographic jurisdictions vary by state. To even qualify to take the bar exam, a proposed lawyer needs to attend and graduate from law school.
Law school itself is three years for full time students. Many things about law school are competitive. Admission itself is competitive, and has been more intense in recent years. Clerkships and externships, the prestigious paid summer programs for law students, are based on grades and class rank. This creates a competitive school atmosphere and has led to true stories of students checking out law books from the library for the sole purpose of preventing other students from completing assignments. Competition continues after graduation, as the best jobs have a surfeit of applicants for a single position.
The real barrier for employment is admission to the bar association. It is impossible to practice law without admission, and admission can only be attained by passing the exam. The bar exam is a beast itself. It has been said that going to law school doesn’t teach you to become a lawyer; it teaches you to graduate from law school. Learning to become a lawyer, according to this adage, happens through on the job training after passing the bar. As passing this exam is such a huge barrier into employment, most law school grads take bar review courses to prepare them for the exam. Although the exam varies greatly by state, these courses are roughly three months long. Looking at the numbers alone, a bar review class doesn’t seem to help would-be lawyers achieve their goal of practicing the law. Recent data show that nearly fifty percent of all bar exam takers failed the exam. The late John F. Kennedy Jr. failed the text five times before passing it.
As the bar exam varies from state to state, how long it takes to become a lawyer will vary state to state. For example, it could take three years to become a lawyer in Pennsylvania, but fifteen years to become a lawyer in California. A lawyer in this case would’ve passed the bar right after law school in Pennsylvania, but taken twelve years after graduating law school to pass the bar in California.
This can get even more confusing if one wants to become a practitioner, a fancy word for lawyer, in Louisiana. There are two different types of law in the Western world: French Napoleonic Law and English Common Law. Because of Louisiana’s historical ties to France, they are the only state in the United States that practices Napoleonic Law. These two forms of law carry greatly. Napoleonic Law is characterized by specific statutes in the written law where court decisions and judges opinions have little weight in future court cases. Common Law consists of vague statutes where judges rulings have great importance in future hearings. These previous decisions in the Common Law structure are called Case Law. As these two systems of law are so different, like two different languages, it’s very different being a lawyer in Louisiana and the other forty-nine states.
Again, it takes a minimum of three years to become a lawyer in the United States.