If you're considering attending law school and don't yet know much about what the study of law entails, you are smart to begin looking into law study early.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is the agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as having the authority to accredit law schools. The accreditation process allows the ABA to set standards for law schools that assure that future lawyers are well-educated and prepared to serve the public well in their roles as attorneys and counselors at law. The ABA website's section on Legal Education contains a complete list of accredited law schools as well as additional information about legal education that you may find valuable.
In the United States, a legal education comes after undergraduate school and generally takes three years of full-time study, not including summers. Some schools offer part-time or evening programs that allow you to work while attending school. A few schools offer accelerated two-year programs that include study in the summer. Many schools offer joint degree programs that allow you to earn a law degree and a related graduate degree in less time than it would take you to earn each separately. Some examples of joint degrees are a joint J.D./M.B.A, a joint J.D./M.S.W., a joint J.D./M.Ed. Other joint degrees are available as well.
The costs of legal education are increasing annually. As you consider law school, you should consider what the ultimate costs will be, including tuition and fees, interest on loans, travel and living expenses, costs of books and other related expenses (like buying a computer and a business suit), and lost wages from jobs that you might otherwise be working in. The ABA does not allow law students to work more than twenty hours a week when they are enrolled in a full-time program, and experienced legal educators would tell you that most students in the first year cannot work that many hours and still devote the time necessary to perform well in school. Most law school websites can give you quick access to the costs of legal education at their school.
For a rare number of people, the study of law is for self-enrichment. Those people want a law degree because learning about law is interesting or might fill a personal desire to know more about law. For most prospective students, however, earning a law degree should ultimately lead to employment in an area of law that is meaningful to the student. To learn more about law-related jobs and average salaries, consult the pre-law advisor at your undergraduate school or explore the section on law-related careers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook put out by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
For those individuals who ultimately want to practice law or serve on the judiciary, a state bar license, separate from the J.D. earned in law school, is required. Each state has its own standards for licensure of lawyers. You can generally find licensure requirements for each state online on a government website for the State Bar. A contact list for the State Bar Admission Offices is available on the American Bar Association website. In most states, applicants for admission to the bar must hold a law degree and also demonstrate character and fitness to practice law through a written or interview process that includes a careful examination of the individual's past history. In addition, most states require that applicants pass a national Professional Responsibility Exam. Finally, most states require that applicants pass a two or three day exam testing their management of the kind of knowledge of the law that lawyers should know to practice competently. The National Conference of Bar Examiners writes the Multistate Bar Exam adopted by many states and has complete information online about earning admission to the bar which allows you to practice law.
As you consider law as a career and think about what law school might be right for you, find out as much as you can about the schools you are considering by exploring their websites, the materials they distribute to prospective students, attending functions sponsored by the school, and asking questions of individuals associated with the school as faculty, administrators, students, or alumni. Factors to consider when exploring a school include the entering admissions credentials of the student body, the student-teacher ratio, the quality of the faculty and the interests of faculty members, the availability of specialty courses of interest to you, the costs of education, job placement rates, bar passage rates, and the presence of a robust academic success program.