Deciding to Apply
How does one become a lawyer?
After graduating from college, one must attend three years of law school and then pass a bar exam in order to become a licensed practicing attorney. Law school graduates must take the bar exam in the state in which they seek to practice law. There is an exception in the state of Wisconsin: residents of Wisconsin who graduate from one of Wisconsin's law schools (University of Wisconsin-Madison or Marquette University) are automatically licensed in Wisconsin and do not need to take the Wisconsin bar exam.
What can I do with a J.D. (a law degree)?
Most law school graduates use their law degrees to practice law. They may pursue employment in the private sector, or in the legal offices of corporations, businesses, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. Lawyers advise their clients on legal issues, disputes, or business transactions. Their specializations may include corporate, securities, criminal, insurance, environmental, employment, family, health, intellectual property, real estate, tax, civil rights and others. At its heart, the practice of law involves analyzing problems and using critical thinking, writing, and oral skills to solve those problems.
Should I go to law school?
Just like Smokey the Bear says "Only you can prevent wildfires," only you can decide whether to attend law school. In order to make this decision, consider working, interning, or volunteering at a law office. Talk to lawyers and ask them about their professional lives; talk to current or recently graduated law students and ask them of their experiences. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you like to think of ways to solve other people's problems? Can you empathize with a client's situation, yet have the ability to objectively analyze the issues and their consequences in light of the existing law? Do you enjoy doing research and writing papers? Do you like thinking on your feet? Are you comfortable speaking in front of people? Do you enjoy being an advocate, and can you argue both sides of the questions with enthusiasm? Do you work well under the pressure of deadlines? Do you juggle multiple tasks well? Do you thrive in conflict situations?
How will I know if I shouldn't go to law school?
Again, only you can answer this question. Ask yourself: What do I want to be when I grow up? If your career goals require a law degree, then you might want to consider attending law school. There are many reasons to not attend law school, but if you find yourself considering it because you don't know what you want to do after graduation, you feel pressured to pursue post-graduate education, you want to make lots of money, you don't know what you'd do with a law degree, or going to law school seems like a popular thing to do, then law school may not be right for you.
How much does it cost to attend law school?
The cost of law school varies, and tuition alone (excluding housing, food, books, and other personal expenses) can easily reach $150,000. Scholarships are limited, and most students rely on student loans.
Should I go straight to law school or take a year off?
Again, only you can make this decision. Law schools do not look more favorably upon applicants who seek to go straight to law school. On the one hand, an applicant with no professional experience may well be admitted to a prestigious law program but may not, ultimately, gain as much from law school as if s/he had waited. On the other hand, professional experience does not guarantee admission for an applicant with a mediocre undergraduate record or a poor Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score. Waiting to apply to law school does not hurt an applicant's chances of admission (assuming the time away is used gainfully), and quality time away can bolster an otherwise lackluster application and may add another facet to a student's experience in law school itself.