Studying law... in the United States
It’s Thursday, which means another post in the series 'Studying law… in'. This time Jackie will introduce you into legal education in… the United States.
I am Jackie and I am a current 1L (a first-year student) at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Here is some information about studying law in the US:
In order to be accepted into law school in the US, one must hold a Bachelor’s Degree and have an LSAT score. The Bachelor’s degree is a 4-year degree that is obtained after secondary/high school. This degree can be in any area of study. This allows for those wishing to specialize in specific areas of law like sports law, patent law, or environmental law to gain knowledge about their preferred area of law.
Probably the most stressful aspect of applying to law school is the LSAT - this is the school entrance exam that generally requires a lot of studying. It covers reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning and is on a scale of 120-180. Each school has its own range of scores it accepts, but most people will aim for the highest score they can to increase their chances of acceptance and scholarship awards. The law degree, or Juris Doctor, is an additional 3 years of schooling. That’s a total of at least 7 years of higher education!
While in school, there are basic classes that all law students take: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Torts, Property, Criminal law, Constitutional law, and Legal Writing/Research. These classes are very important because they are the major topics covered in the bar exam (more on that later). The degree consists of 90 credit hours, which each class ranges from 1-4 credits each. Most law courses have only one grade - the final exam, so it is extremely important to be diligent in studies.
After graduation, you’re not quite a lawyer yet...In order to practice law, a law school graduate must pass the state bar exam. These exams vary from state to state, so whichever state you practice in, you must have passed the specific bar exam. Most graduates study for this exam for several months. The bar exam covers topics from your first year in law school, plus some additional topics that are studied throughout 3 years of school. It is very stressful! Once you pass the bar, you’re officially an attorney!
International students often choose to attend law school in the US to earn an LLM. This is a shorter program of one year that allows internationally practicing attorneys to apply to take the bar exam in order to practice law in the US.
Now for the fun stuff!
Usually during summers, and sometimes during the school year, law students complete internships in order to gain practical legal experience. These are very important for not only learning and perfecting the practice of law but for networking purposes.
There are also opportunities for students to study abroad. Schools also have many student organizations and certificate programs which can help students develop special skills, like client counseling, advocacy, family law, and criminal law. Some students choose to focus on their studies and internships, while others are involved in multiple student organizations.
There are 200 law schools in the United States, so they really vary in size, focus area, and location. I chose a smaller school in a small city because I felt like I would be able to have a more personal experience than if I attended a larger school. Professors and department assistants at my school know most students by name! The staff at my school are incredibly dedicated to assisting students, either with school work, finding jobs, helping with housing or during emergencies. Washburn University is located in Topeka, Kansas, which is in the middle of the country. Topeka is the capital city of Kansas, so it is the hub of the government - a great place for anyone who wants to work in government law!
A downside of law school in the US:
Law school can be very expensive. Law schools range from $14,000 - $60,000+ per year, just for tuition. While there are opportunities for students to be offered scholarships that cover all or partial tuition, students often need to pay for housing. Many students opt to live in their own apartments, which can cost quite a lot of money. Other students may be able to live with family or roommates to help defray the cost of living. Many students choose to not work while they are in school in order to focus on classes and student organizations. I have a full scholarship, meaning all of my class costs and fees are covered by the school. However, calculating my rent, bills, and food, I pay about $10,000 per year out of my own pocket. Luckily, I was employed prior to law school and was able to save money, but most students would have to take out student loans.
My bachelor’s degree is in Criminal Justice and I also have a Master’s degree. Most students will enter law school the year immediately after graduation from college, however, some of us enter the workforce first. I worked full-time for the government for 7 years before law school. I stay busy with studies, and can often be found in the library at school. I am also a member of the Pro Bono Society and the Tax and Estate Planning Association.”
I’m hoping that you enjoyed Jackie’s text as I did. Studying in the US is a dream of many international students. Just keep in mind that it is quite expensive. From myself I can add that I have studied LLM at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC. It is a one-year program with special cooperation with the Jagiellonian University based in Cracow, Poland. After you obtain your LLM diploma, you can sit bar exam in California. In respect of other ABAs (American Bar Associations) you have to check their websites because when I studied my LLM California was the only BA that was giving international students such opportunity. I’m just sending you to Jackie, she’s fully updated on that subject!
Have a great day and stay safe!