To give sound, legal advice and help clients make the right decisions, a solid understanding of the law is critical. This requires a long and grueling legal education. Educational requirements vary across the United States.
Students who study law in the U.S. go to schools where they get a professional education in law, after first earning an undergraduate degree. Most states require a B.A. Degree (with any major, or in general studies), followed by a PhD in Law- specifically a Juris Doctor or Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.
Law schools admit a fraction of the graduates who apply. The curriculum takes:
- Three years to finish
- A multi-day bar examination consisting of 200 multiple choice questions
- Plus, an extensive writing assessment
But passing the exam and obtaining a license is not enough. Practicing attorneys are required to keep abreast of the latest decisions and legal procedures on an on-going basis. The objective is to keep up-to-date with legislation and court decisions, so as to use this information to the client’s advantage
Most law schools offer the traditional three-year program, but several offer an Accelerated JD program. Other degrees include:
- Master of Law (LL.M)
- Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D. or S.J.D.) - these are more international in scope
Though the theory and practice of law is rooted in ancient world history, laws have been codified, amended, added to, set new standards of justice, fair play and mercy in what are now referred to as the developed world. Typically, it’s laws recorded and practiced in Europe, that were taken to the New World and other colonized nations, by the Europeans and these became the foundations for the laws practiced in vast swathes of the world including Asia, Australia, India, Africa and Canada. And, of course, the United States of America, where the legal system was, and is, based on the British law.
Specialized fields of law
There are attorneys who specialize in certain fields of law. But, excepting for patent law (which is administered by the Office of Enrollment and Discipline of the US Patent and Trademark Office, for applicants to become registered as patent attorneys or patent agents), there are really no fixed boundaries. But a few states grant formal certifications acknowledging specializations.
Some areas of specializations (which has nothing to do with type of specialization) can be segmented into:
- Outside counsel versus in-house counsel
- Plaintiff versus defense attorneys - some lawyers do both plaintiff and defense work
- Transactional attorneys (negotiate, draft documents, advise clients, rarely going to court) versus litigators (advise clients in the context of legal disputes both in and out of court, including lawsuits, arbitrations and negotiated settlements)
- Trial attorneys (who argue the facts) versus appellate attorneys (who argue the law)
Though these are not formal descriptions, some states do not accept specialization in particular areas of law unless the lawyer has been certified by the state bar or state board of legal specialization.