Lawyers, also known as attorneys, are well-trained professionals that serve people as advocates and advisors, upholding a code of ethics as they offer counsel and defend their clients. They have advanced knowledge of law and trial procedures, and therefore represent people by arguing for their client and against those who oppose him or her. Because of the extensive knowledge and experience needed to accurately serve in a criminal or civil trial, lawyers must complete both an undergraduate degree and three years of law school. Most law schools have programs where students can gain practical experience during mock trials or clerkships in legal offices or law departments. Though not necessary, these help prepare law students for their future careers and the passing of the bar exam, which gives a lawyer a legal license to practice.
Licensing is done to make sure lawyers are trained adequately, so they won’t harm the public. Licensing provides a basic consumer protection function.
James G. LeipoldExecutive Director of the National Association for Law Placement
Getting Lawyer Licensure and Certification
Getting licensed is an extremely important step in becoming a lawyer. Without a license, one cannot legally practice law, and attempting to do so will have serious ramifications. "Licensing is done to make sure lawyers are trained adequately, so they won't harm the public," said James G. Leipold, the executive director for the National Association for Law Placement. "Licensing provides a basic consumer protection function."
Before getting licensed, students must graduate from a law school that holds either American Bar Association or State accreditations, to ensure that the school upholds good educational standards. Then, lawyers take the bar exam, which is the licensing exam that will allow them to practice. There is no nationwide bar exam, but all states except for Louisiana and Washington require the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), which is a six-hour exam. Some states also give a local exam or a Multistate Essay Examination in addition to the MBE.
"Every state has laws that require lawyers to be licensed," said Leipold. In some states, lawyers are required to take an additional test known as the Multistate Performance Test, which examines the practical skills of beginning lawyers. Though it is not necessary to have participated in a clerkship prior to taking this exam, doing so is very helpful, as that is how you pick up practical knowledge of the field.
Other qualifications for licensure vary based on state, but there is no defined amount of experience necessary for qualifying lawyers for the bar exam. Even so, aspiring lawyers should hone their reasoning and critical thinking skills, as well as their speaking skills. All of these are necessary traits for practicing lawyers.
Maintaining Lawyer Licensure and Certification
As a lawyer, it is important to stay on top of the current trends in law, as well as the ethics that affect the profession. As times change, so do the guidelines affecting the practice of law, and it is important that all active lawyers know the varying nuances of their profession in order to keep from running into trouble. Re-licensure is therefore extremely important; it is illegal to practice without renewing one's license.
Lawyers keep their licenses active by fulfilling continuing education requirements that vary by state. Many accredited law schools now offer the required courses online in order to fit in with a busy lawyer's schedule. "For many lawyers, online continuing education is an attractive alternative since it involves no time out of the office and may be scheduled so as not to interfere with normal law firm business," said Patrick A. Nester, the director of the Professional Development Division of the State Bar of Texas. "There is some evidence that properly formatted online training can even be more effective than face-to-face training."
In addition to remaining licensed, lawyers must also stay registered within their states. Registration keeps practicing lawyers in the statewide database. For many states, such as New York, lawyers must renew registration every two years.