How to Become a Lawyer - Career Guide & Jobs

Career Path Guide

A very effective route for becoming a lawyer is to follow these general steps:


1. Earn an undergraduate degree and maintain a great GPA

2. Determine if this profession is suited to your personality traits and professional interests

3. Take the LSAT and get a competitive score

4. Earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an A.B.A. accredited law school and maintain a great GPA

5. Work as a student-at-law

6. Earn a junior lawyer position upon graduation

7. Advance into positions of greater responsibility and pay as you gain experience


Below, we've covered these steps in greater detail, as well as provided some information on what lawyers actually do, what their work environment is like, who employs them, and what career advancement options they might have.




What Formal Education Will I Need to Become a Lawyer?

Education Needed in Canada

In order to become a lawyer in Canada, you must complete various stages of education:


Stage 1: The first stage involves completing 2 to 4 years of an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree program. Virtually any field of study is relevant for becoming a lawyer, although some are more relevant to certain areas of law. For example, a degree in Business is highly relevant for a career as a corporate lawyer.


Stage 2: To be admitted to a law school, you must also write the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is an aptitude test administered four times a year at a number of Canadian campuses.


Stage 3: The third stage is completion of a 3-year Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from an accredited law school. Admission to law school is based on the Faculty of Law's assessment of your recent academic record, LSAT score and general qualifications.


Stage 4: In order to become a licensed lawyer, some provinces/territories may require you to work for one full year as a student-at-law. This is a form of apprenticeship wherein you would enter into an agreement with a licensed practitioner of the Bar to be provided with practical training in both barrister's and solicitor's work. You would likely be paid a modest salary for such work.


Stage 5: The final step invovevs successfully completing the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education program. This practical program covers several aspects of the law, and is typically offered several times per year.



Education Needed in the United States:

The education for becoming a lawyer in the United States usually involves completion of an undergraduate degree, a competitive score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and completion of a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).


Earning a Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry into law school. A degree in any field of study is acceptable in most cases, although some degrees are more applicable to specific areas of law. For example, a degree in environmental science is highly applicable to a future career as an environmental lawyer.


Writing the LSAT: Almost all law schools, particularly those approved by the ABA, require that you take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law schools typically determine your eligibility for entrance by taking into account your LSAT score, your undergraduate (or graduate) GPA, and general personal attributes.


Earning a Law Degree: A J.D. degree program includes courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. The final two years of law school will allow you to choose courses based on your area of interest. For example, if you're interested in becoming a family lawyer, you would want to focus your course load on family law during this time.





What Certification/Licensing Requirements Are There?

Licensing/Certification in Canada:

In Canada, you must be a registered member of your province’s Law Society to practice law in that province or call yourself a Lawyer. Registration typically requires:


• A Canadian common law degree

• 1 year of articling as a student-at-law, and

• Successful completion of the province’s Law Society Bar Admission Course (or similar - title may vary by province)


Please Note: As requirements can vary among provinces and territories, please consult the Law Society website of the province in which you want to practice for more information on licensing requirements.



Licensing/Certification in the United States:

To practice law in any state, you must be admitted to the state’s bar under rules established by the jurisdiction’s highest court. 


Although the requirements vary by individual states and jurisdictions, most require that you graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Please consult your local state bar for more information on licensing eligibility requirements.


Please Note: Some factors that may disqualify you from being admitted to the bar can include prior felony convictions, academic misconduct, or a history of substance abuse, among others.



What is a Lawyer?

Lawyers are licensed legal professionals that study and interpret points of law to advise clients of their rights and legal obligations, and represent client interests in legal transactions and proceedings. Lawyers may practice broadly in many areas of law or specialize in a single area. 



What Does a Lawyer Do?

Although their duties can vary widely, lawyers are generally responsible for the following:


• Interpreting laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses

• Representing clients in court or before government agencies

• Gathering evidence to formulate defense, or to initiate legal actions, by such means as interviewing clients and witnesses to ascertain the facts of a case

• Defending clients or prosecuting defendants by presenting evidence in court

• Presenting cases to judges and juries

• Negotiating settlements and mediating disputes

• Preparing legal briefs and opinions

• Establishing basis for legal proceedings by conferring with colleagues in specialized areas of law

• Preparing and drafting legal documents, such as wills, deeds, patent applications, mortgages, leases, and contracts

• Searching for and examining public legal records



Can I Become a Specialist in an Area of Law?

Lawyers often specialize in a particular area. The following are just a few examples of the different types of lawyers that specialize in specific legal areas (not an inclusive list):


• General practice lawyers

• Real estate lawyers

• Environmental lawyers

• Criminal lawyers (as defence or prosecution)

• Corporate lawyers

• Tax lawyers

• Immigration lawyers

• Personal injury lawyers

• Estate planning lawyers

• Bankruptcy lawyers

• Employment lawyers

• Intellectual property lawyers

• Family and divorce lawyers 

• Securities lawyers

• Litigation lawyers

• Mediators

• Law professors (teaching at a law school)





What is the Work Environment Like for Lawyers?

Like other aspects of this career, the work environment can vary quite widely for lawyers, typically depending on the size of their employer, the amount of responsibility they have, and whether they focus on advocacy or advising.


Hours of Work: Lawyers typically work normal, weekday working hours, although they often spend many hours outside the normal working day (including evenings, weekends and holidays) drafting briefs, researching cases and generally keeping informed about new developments in the legal profession. 


Work Setting: Lawyers typically spend most of their time in offices. However, some travel to attend meetings with clients at various locations, such as homes, places of business, prisons, government buildings, or other locations, and some have to attend court occasionally or frequently. Their work can involve attending a lot of meetings or courtroom time some days, and other days might be spent doing research and preparing drafts in isolation.


Working Conditions: The work of lawyers can be very demanding and stressful, such as when dealing with a difficult case, having a backlog of work, or when facing a tight deadline. Junior-level lawyers often do drafting or research work in relative isolation, whereas senior-level lawyers often work closely with colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders.



Is This Profession Right for Me?

It’s not always about ‘if you can’; whether or not you ‘should’ is of equal, if not greater importance. If the following traits, interests and attributes describe you, then you might be very well-suited for a career as a lawyer:


• You have an excellent memory, and intellectual stamina

• You have tact and a professional demeanor

• You're interested in a career with excellent earning potential

• You have a high tolerance for confrontation and conflict

• You're willing to spend your workdays in business attire

• You’re prepared to assume the financial burden of law school

• You’ve determined that your interests truly lie in the daily practice of law

• You genuinely enjoy the idea of researching and understanding legal issues

• You have a genuine interest in learning about legal nuances and jurisdictional rules

• You're ready for the brunt of your work to be done in relative isolation during the first few years of your career

• You’re not just pursuing law school and a legal career to prove your capabilities to yourself and your peers

• You’re comfortable, or at least able to present information to others, which can include clients, juries, judges, arbitrators, opposing counsel, witnesses, boards, and colleagues


Success Tip: Try to work either a secretary or a paralegal in a law firm before you enter law school. This will give you valuable insight into what the lawyers do on a day-to-day basis, and help you get a feel for what work in this field is like before committing to law school.



How Much Do Lawyers Earn?

The amount you could earn as a lawyer depends on many factors, including:


• The type of law you practice

• The size and type of your employer (lawyers in ‘BigLaw’ firms tend to earn more)

• The amount of business, or ‘billable hours’ you can bring into the firm

• Your level of experience

• The amount of responsibility you are given

• The size of your client base and hourly rate (if self-employed)

• Whether or not you are a partner in your firm

• Whether or not your compensation package includes bonuses, benefits, etc. in addition to your base salary

• Many other factors


Salary for Lawyers in Alberta: According to the 2019 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the average salary level of Albertans working in the “Lawyer” occupational group is $140,438 per year.


Salary - British Columbia: According to WorkBC (Province of British Columbia), those working in the “Lawyers and Quebec notaries” occupational group earn an annual provincial median salary of $115,621.


Salary - United States: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the “Lawyers” occupational group is $120,910 per year (2018 figure).



Who Employs Lawyers?

Lawyers are employed by many different types of organizations, including:


• Non-profit legal-aid organizations

• Non-profit and charitable organizations as ‘in-house’ counsel or on a ‘pro-bono’ basis

• Not-for-profit organizations (such as sports leagues)

• Business and other for-profit operations as ‘in-house’ counsel

• Law firms of various size and areas of specialty

• Their own law firms (self-employment)

• Government (as prosecutors and public defenders)

• Government agencies (as counsel for administrative bodies of government and executive or legislative branches)



Current Job Postings in Your Area

Our job board below has a listing of "lawyer" postings in your area of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia.



What Career Advancement Opportunities Exist for Lawyers?

There are plenty of career advancement opportunities for lawyers that show dedication and competence in their work, and the ability to bring in business for the firm (in some cases). Examples of such opportunities can include:


• Working with clients directly, and earning better pay and increased responsibilities

• Becoming a senior partner in a law firm

• Being appointed to the Bench or to an administrative tribunals

• If working in government, advancing to a position as a department head or diplomat

• Becoming an executive for the company they've been in-house counsel for

• Moving into a different career field, such as in arbitration, mediation, real estate, business or politics



What are Similar Occupations?

Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as “lawyer”:


Animal Rights Coordinator

• Corporate Lawyer


• Environmental Lawyer

• Judge

• Law Clerk

• Legal Assistant

• Paralegal



What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Lawyers? 

The “Relevant University Majors” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to becoming a lawyer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our "Any Field of Study Scholarships” page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you qualify for, even if it's just because you meet 1 of the criteria, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



References for This Career Guide

The following resources were used to gather information for this career path guide:


• Occupations & Educational Programs: “Lawyer.” (n.d.). Government of Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved February 17, 2020.

• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Lawyers.” (n.d.). United States Government Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 17, 2020.

• Education & Career Planning: “How to Become a Lawyer.” (n.d.). Athabasca University website. Retrieved May 23, 2017.

• Explore Careers: “Lawyers and Quebec notaries.” (January 3, 2019). WorkBC website - Province of British Columbia. Retrieved February 17, 2020.

• Become a Lawyer: “Lawyer Licensing Process.” (n.d.). The Law Society of Upper Canada website. Retrieved May 23, 2017.

• Legal Jobs: “How Long Does It Takes to Become a Lawyer?.” Michael Marz (n.d.). The Houston Chronicle website. Retrieved May 23, 2017.



Relevant University Majors

We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming a lawyer. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!


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