Abraham Lincoln famously said that if you are absolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already.
And it’s no coincidence we’re quoting him in the article concerned with the educational requirements of becoming a lawyer. Namely, one of the world’s most celebrated legislators never went to law school. Instead, he was a self-taught lawyer who didn’t even own what we today refer to as the LLB (Bachelor of Laws degree).
Fast-forwarding to current times, most aspirants don’t know that this is still an option, even in jurisdictions where specialized professional degrees are listed as the first step in this line of a legal career.
However, the truth is that there are no easy shortcuts. Whatever route you take, becoming a lawyer takes time, commitment, and hard work. But, eventually, it will all be worth it. This respected occupation gathers some of the world’s highest earners while also providing you with a chance to make an impact on people’s lives.
Without any further ado, here’s how to get there.
The short answer to our title question is yes and no. You can become a lawyer with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree, but only in certain legal jurisdictions. Because each state makes its own rules about licensing legal professionals, no universal rule can be applied globally or even regionally.
Legum Baccalaureus is an undergraduate law degree in the UK and many other law jurisdictions worldwide. It’s often designed as a three or four years programme that offers theoretical preparation for law practice.
However widely implemented into the educational systems worldwide, the Bachelor of Laws degree is not uniformly perceived as a sole precondition for a lawyer’s licensure.
Whatsmore, if a specific Lawyer Association (Bar, Chamber) requests the candidate to have the undergraduate law degree only, it usually also lists a mandatory apprenticeship upon graduation or some other form of professional training before applying for admission.
That means that you can become a lawyer after completing bachelor studies, but only if you gain additional training.
For example, in Australia, you can become a lawyer with an LLB degree, but only after you’ve completed the Practical Legal Training (PLT), gained admittance to your local Law Society, and have completed 18 to 24 months of supervised practice at a law firm.
By contrast, the US system does not prescribe a specific bachelor programme to become a lawyer. Instead, their law studies are referred to as the “law school” and can only take place upon obtaining an undergraduate degree in any field.
In essence, law studies in the US are designed as professional doctorates. Thus, upon graduating, students obtain a title of JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence) and are eligible to apply for a practicing license immediately.
To wrap it up, even though it’s sometimes technically possible to practice law with a Bachelor of Laws degree, you need to know that the majority of jurisdictions supplement this precondition with other requirements. So all in all, you really can’t expect to become a lawyer without at least five years of full-time studying, either through theory or working practice.
If pursuing a legal career still sounds exciting but somewhat confusing, we’ll try to clarify the path by outlining its main steps. So, wherever you wish to practice law, expect these requirements along the way:
Our nuanced presentation of educational requirements future lawyers face depicts a global-scale view of the profession. However, it’s safe to say that a Bachelor of Laws or Doctor of Jurisprudence is considered the basic study of law, starting nearly every legal career out there.
As a general rule of thumb, most European countries will require a candidate to hold a Master of Laws (LLM) or complement their undergraduate studies with additional training. In some cases, these courses outside of the university are a way to gain specialized expertise.
For example, upon graduation, law students in the UK should decide whether they want to be solicitors or barristers and take the according training programmes – the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Professional Training Course, respectively.
On the other hand, the JD degree will almost certainly suffice as a precondition for entering the American Bar Association. This is because the professionalized training is already incorporated into the educational programme, and there’s no real need to supplement it in any way.
As you can see, the best degree you can obtain is the one your local Lawyer Society (called differently in different countries) requires to issue a practicing certificate.
Whatever a particular jurisdiction may call it – apprenticeship, clerkship, or practical training (even though these are not the same) – the essence of this supervised practice period is basically the same across the globe. As by a convention, young aspiring lawyers are expected to spend a certain time applying their theoretical knowledge to real-world cases under a mentor.
In other words, supervised practice is nothing more than a way to learn through experience.
The time spent learning under a mentor varies from one legal system to another, but it usually takes one to two years. Most candidates perform their supervised practice hours in a law firm or within an in-house legal department. Typically, their working day consists of drafting documents, researching, filing, and – of course – interacting with clients.
As a result of various efforts to increase access to higher education, some jurisdictions have decided to implement “trailblazing” apprenticeship programmes as more affordable pathways to full-time careers. Basically, they are a way to gain professional legal qualifications while working in paid employment and part-time studying.
The UK system, for instance, supports three forms of this kind: paralegal apprenticeship, chartered legal executive apprenticeship, and solicitor apprenticeship. Also, a few states in the US allow candidates to circumvent law school by studying under the supervision of an attorney or judge in practice known as “reading law.” Historically, this was the dominant way of learning law once (Abraham Lincoln himself took it), but it is a road very few decide to take today.
All in all, be sure to check your options in the legal system you wish to work at. The surest way to fulfill all the official requirements for becoming a lawyer is knowing exactly what those are and taking a deep research dive into the preconditioning nuances.
The last step in becoming a lawyer is obtaining a practicing licence. In most legal systems, you are allowed to be a law practitioner if you don’t hold a license, but you mustn’t call yourself a lawyer (attorney, solicitor, or barrister) until you’ve acquired a licence from an accredited society. That’s why the fastest route to a well-paid practice in law includes satisfying the criteria and preconditions of a body that governs the lawyer profession.
Naturally, each bar will prescribe its own specific requirements, but, in general, the most common are:
The bar examinations tend to have a “bad reputation” for being difficult, stressful, and rigorous. This is because they are supposed to represent the accurate measure of your expertise in law: the level of theoretical insight, the ability to apply it in real-life examples, and the readiness to obey the ethical codex of the profession.
In a word, bar exams are not easy because they assess whether you have what it takes to succeed in this profession. But, when seen this way, their rigor is a good thing for lawyers to be – if they pass, they’ll know for sure where they stand.
Because a lawyer’s paycheck tends to consist of many attractive digits, the competition in the field is often high.
To be precise, their median annual pay is $126,930 (US data). And it attracts students all over the world to pursue this line of work. But the road can be challenging at times, and it takes time.
If you want to become a lawyer, the best thing you can do is dissolve the career path into smaller steps and take it one at a time. For starters, be sure to choose proper education: recognized, accredited, and tailored to your needs. Only if you begin your journey the right way will you be able to complete it successfully.