Earning a Law Degree can be a great career path. It’s an honorable profession, full of challenges and it typically pays well. Therefore, this may be a career and academic path that you find interesting and want to pursue. Many students may set out to go to college to become lawyers and yet they don’t know exactly what that entails.
I hear students say they are going to study pre-law in college and that’s what they are going to get their bachelor’s degree in. However, in the US, “pre-law” isn’t a major or something you can get a bachelor’s degree in. There are no prerequisite classes for a law degree. Going to school to become a Lawyer requires completing a bachelor’s degree and continuing on to graduate school to get a Juris Doctor (JD).
What Is The Difference Between An Attorney And A Lawyer
Before we dive into what degrees are best for applying to law school, I would like to distinguish the difference between an attorney and a lawyer. Many times these two are used interchangeably and there is a difference. All attorneys are lawyers but not all lawyers are attorneys.
Every student who graduates from law school is a lawyer. An attorney is a lawyer who has passed the state bar exam in the state they are practicing law. That means they can legally represent clients and practice law in court. So the difference is, a lawyer has graduated from law school and can give legal advice but they can not practice in the courtroom because they have not passed the bar exam, only an attorney can.
What Is A Juris Doctorate Degree
A Juris Doctorate degree often referred to as a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Doctor of Jurisprudence, is the standard degree obtained to be a practicing lawyer in the United States. To enroll in a J.D. program, you must have completed and obtained a bachelor’s degree, but you do not need a master’s degree. Going to law school would mean attending a Juris Doctorate program to learn the foundations of law. A J.D. program is typically 3 years and upon completion, the student would be qualified to take the bar exam. I will explain the bar examination more later on in the article.
What Are The Best Bachelor’s Degrees For Getting A J.D.
We have already established that a bachelor’s degree is a requirement for a Juris Doctor program, but what is the best bachelor’s degree? This is a question I get a lot. There is no specific bachelor’s degree that is required to be accepted into a Juris Doctorate program. However, there are certain majors that can best prepare you for a rigorous law degree.
If you know what type of lawyer you want to be, such as a Criminal Lawyer, Family Lawyer, or Financial/Corporate Lawyer. You can choose a bachelor’s degree which supports the type of lawyer you want to be. For example, a criminal lawyer would benefit from a Criminal Justice major while a family lawyer would benefit from a Psychology major.
Below are the 8 best undergraduate majors if you are considering continuing your education to a J.D. degree.
1. Political Science
Political Science is one of the most popular degrees for students who have an interest in law school. The reason it is so popular is that it studies the judicial system, government, and political behavior. Political Science students will be able to start learning the nation’s legal systems and understanding how laws are created. This major will set students up to be suitable law school candidates.
I recommend English as a great major for aspiring lawyers, even though I put it on my list of The Worst College Majors. An English major is typically going to be writing and reading intensive and requires research. Therefore, an English major can be extremely beneficial to strengthen your reading, writing, and researching skills while in your undergraduate program. An English major may help you succeed in a graduate program and prepare you to be a successful lawyer.
Communications is another solid option. There is a lot you can do with a communications degree and it’s absolutely worth it if you choose the right career. Graduates who have majored in communications have a wide range of desirable and interesting careers to pursue. For the full list see What Can You Do With A Communications Degree.
For aspiring lawyers, Communications is a good option because it includes reading, writing, researching, and public speaking. These are all areas that are important for students to strengthen to become successful lawyers. Lawyers can greatly benefit from strong public speaking skills so it’s important to start building these skills sooner rather than later.
4. Criminal Justice
Criminal justice majors study the corrections system, court proceedings, and other parts of the legal system. This is a great major for students interested in pursuing a career in criminal law.
Psychology is one of the most popular majors for undergraduates. A psychology major studies the human mind and behavior. Topics may include personalities, relationships, culture, emotions, and mental health. This is another major that includes reading, writing, and quantitative analysis.
Additionally, psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and their environments. Psychology is a great major for students interested in becoming family lawyers or divorce lawyers but can apply to any type of lawyer.
If you’re interested in the other careers you can pursue with a psychology degree, see What Can You Do With A Psychology Degree?
Economics is a great degree for tax law or financial lawyers. The major requires quantitative and qualitative analysis. Students in this major will learn how money works which will help them understand tax laws and federal regulations. Another related major would include business administration which has similar foundations as economics and also requires quantitative and qualitative analysis.
Philosophy is a great pre-law major because like psychology it includes reading, writing, and analysis. The fundamental concepts studied by a philosophy major include logic and reasoning, knowledge, existence, and many more. These fundamental concepts can strengthen a student’s skills and allow them to be good lawyers.
History is a common undergraduate degree for lawyers. Many estate planning lawyers who handle wills and trusts and asset protection have bachelor’s degrees in History. Almost 25% of history majors go into law school. A history degree exposes you to US laws, the Constitution, amendments, and the history of the country. All of this helps a law student understand how laws are made and how to abide by them.
What Is The Bar Exam
To practice as a lawyer you must pass the bar examination in the state you intend to practice. Many lawyers take the bar exam in several states after they finish law school to reserve the right to work in those states while the information is still fresh. There are only 4 states in the US that do not require the completion of law school to take the bar exam. Those states include California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Additionally, Wisconsin is the only state that does not require completion of the bar examination, instead, if you are a graduate of an accredited law school, you can practice law.
The Exception Of California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington
California is a unique state. It is the only state that does not have an undergraduate degree requirement and does not require any prior law classes to take the bar exam. All 4 of these states have different but similar programs for becoming a lawyer. California expects you to find a lawyer to sponsor you through an apprenticeship, this is often called “reading the law”.
As a legal apprentice, you will learn the basics of law and after several years and jumping through some hoops, you will be qualified to take the bar exam. In California, you are required to spend at least 4 years at a law office. And it’s important to note that the 4 years only count if you notify the state’s bar of your intent to “read the law” before starting as a legal apprentice.
In Vermont, the “reading the law” route is known as a Law Office Study Program. For all states, it’s important to note that even if you pass the bar exam, the time it will take to be qualified to take the exam may be longer than going through a Juris Doctorate program. Additionally, you may have a difficult time if you want to practice as an attorney later on in a different state that requires law school.
How To Get Into Law School
While each state has slightly different requirements they do have a few things that are universal. To get into law school, you’ll need to have a good GPA and excellent references from your professors.
State-by-State Bar Exam Requirements
Every jurisdiction in the United States sets its own conditions for bar membership. This includes the format of their bar exam, the application deadlines, and the costs for applying for and taking the exam. Because each state varies it is important that every person applying to take the bar exam understands the rules for the state where they will take the exam. American University, Washington College of Law has a list of each state’s bar exam policies and procedures.