How Do You Become A Lawyer In Florida?
How to Become an Attorney in Florida
Attorneys, or lawyers, advocate on behalf of clients and provide advice in civil and criminal matters. As of 2013, newly-admitted attorneys in Florida were enjoying a ratio of law graduates to attorney jobs above the national average.To become an attorney in Florida, you must meet the state's requirements for licensure to practice law in the state.
Succeeding in College
Apply to college.To enroll in law school, you must possess a Bachelor's Degree from a college or university, which typically requires four years of full-time study. If you know you want to specialize in an area of a law, you can build a foundation for your future study by completing an undergraduate degree in a professional area related to that legal field, such as accounting for a tax attorney, or a science degree for a patent attorney.
- Some specialized legal fields require a certain undergraduate degree. For example, if you want to be a patent lawyer, the United States Trademark and Patent Office requires that you have a degree in an approved technical field.
- The American Bar Association (ABA) does not recommend any particular undergraduate majors or courses; however, statistics show that prelaw and criminal justice majors are less likely to be accepted to law schools than students who major in fields that require intensive reading and writing.
- Prestigious universities have a reputation for being competitive. Not attending a prestigious or expensive university is certainly not a bar to being accepted to law school, but a degree from a competitive university will impress admissions boards and future employers.
Consider a 3/3 program.Several universities in the United States offer 3/3 programs, which allow students to enter law school after only three years of undergraduate study.
Get real-world experience.You can build your legal experience early by completing an internship at a law firm or government office during your undergraduate years. This experience will teach you how to think like a lawyer and give you a preview of what to expect after law school.
Taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
Register for the test.The LSAT is offered four times a year, in June, September/October, December, and February. It is offered on Saturdays, but there are special sessions for those who observe a Saturday Sabbath.
- Register early. You must take the LSAT in September or October at the latest to qualify for fall admissions. If you take the June exam and are disappointed with your score, you will have enough time to take it again before applying for the fall.
Study for the test.The LSAT may be the most important factor in your law school application, so take it seriously. It tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.Test prep companies offer tutoring, but you can also study on your own.
- A top-notch study program should provide adequate time to study for the exam. For the summer examination, begin studying in January.
- Your local library or bookstore should have copies of old LSAT exams. Find the most recent to take as practice exams and then move backward through older exams.
Take the test.ABA-accredited law schools only accept students who complete the LSAT. The LSAT is designed to evaluate reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.Scores are indicative of the likelihood of an applicant's success in law school, and are an important factor in a law school's decision to admit an applicant.
Retake if your score is low.Applicants are allowed to take the exam more than once.Schools may choose to accept your higher score, or they may choose to average the two. If you take the LSAT twice but your score does not improve, you should reconsider before taking it a third time.
Gathering Application Materials
Register with the Credential Assembly Service (CAS).CAS is a service offered by the Law School Admission Council, which is the same organization that administers the LSAT. CAS is used by all law schools, and allows you to submit your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and evaluations to multiple schools all at once. The service requires a fee.
- Register early and make sure to send your transcripts to CAS in a timely manner. You can find more information on registration
Solicit letters of recommendation.Ask your professors if they will write a letter of recommendation for you. You can also ask for recommendations from present and past employers, as well as church or volunteer organizations.
Draft a personal statement.Law schools require that you write a short statement, typically on a topic of your choosing. The statement is usually only 500 words.
- Follow the directions in each school's application materials. If the school wants you to write on a specific topic, write on that topic. If you are given a word limit, stick to the limit.
Consider writing an addendum.An addendum can be a great way to explain something that looks bad in your application. A solid addendum will provide context for any information that might raise “red flags.”
- For example, an addendum might clarify why one LSAT score is much higher than another, or it might explain why your grades were low one semester. Remember to explain, not make excuses.
- A sample addendum might read: "I am writing to explain why my grades dropped the fall of my junior year. Late that summer, I fell sick with mononucleosis. Although I could have taken the fall semester off, I wanted to graduate in four years for financial reasons. Accordingly, my grades suffered as I fought my illness, but they improved once I physically recovered."
Consider costs.Law school tuition can run upwards of ,000 a year. Recent graduates often carry debt loads totaling over 0,000.Research the average annual salary for new attorneys in your geographic area, as well as the average starting salary for graduates of law schools you are considering.
- Many public law schools are less expensive than private schools, but some private schools may have more financial aid available. Carefully calculate the total cost, including average annual living expenses.
- If you are interested in attending a public law school in a different state, contact the Admissions office to ask about establishing residency. Residents of a state may qualify for lower tuition than non-residents.
- Understand that you will most likely not be able to work a regular job while attending law school full-time. Some programs require students to seek permission from the administration to work during the school year, especially during the first year.
Applying to Law Schools
Understand the difference between ABA-accredited and non-accredited law schools.Every law school in Florida is ABA-accredited, but some law schools in other jurisdictions are not. Florida does not permit graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools to sit for the bar exam, unless additional requirements are met.
- Graduates of non-ABA-accredited schools must apply to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners for permission to sit for the bar exam, and must have practiced law for at least ten years in another jurisdiction, be in good standing with that jurisdiction's state bar, and submit a compilation of work product demonstrating the ability to competently practice law.
- As of 2015, Florida has 12 law schools, with University of Florida Levin College of Law being the top-ranked school in the state according to U.S. News and World Report and StartClass.com.You can also attend an out-of-state law school and still take the Florida bar exam.
Examine bar passage rates and employment statistics.Since the purpose of going to law school is ultimately to work as a lawyer, look at how well schools have prepared their graduates for passing the bar and finding employment.
- Pay careful attention to employment numbers. The most relevant statistic is the number of graduates who are working full-time in legal occupations.
- Avoid schools with low bar passage rates. Your law degree loses most of its value if you can't pass the bar exam. Having to take the bar exam twice will also lengthen the time it takes to become a lawyer.
Apply to multiple law schools.Applying to more than one school increases your chances of being accepted. If you don't get into a school, then you will have to wait another year before sending more applications.
- Divide your applications into three pools: safeties, targets, and reaches. A safety is a school where your GPA and LSAT are above the median. A target school will have medians equivalent to your scores, with reaches being those schools where you are well below the reported medians.
- Send a few applications to reach schools, but focus most of your attention on targets and safeties.
Consider applying to a school in a community where you are willing to live.Since most law schools do not have a national reputation, they feed their graduates into the local legal economy. You should apply to a law school located in an area where you would be happy to set down roots.
Attending Law School
Plan your timeline carefully.A J.D. degree generally takes three years (more if you attend part-time) to complete. Your first year will be foundational coursework in bar-tested subjects. You will be able to add electives in your second and third years. Plan in advance what courses you want to take to make sure that you meet all graduation requirements.
- After earning your J.D., you may consider applying to an LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree program. This is an advanced law degree in a specialized area, and usually requires an additional year of study.
Join a study group.Law school is often stressful and isolating, and a study group is a great way to meet people. Study groups help with exam preparation, sharing notes and outlines, as well as just blowing off some steam.
Take exams seriously.Most schools grade on a strict curve, requiring you outperform your peers, rather than merely keep up with them, to get a top grade. Study hard and focus on putting forth your best effort.
Build a network.Most jobs are found by word-of-mouth and personal recommendation. Use your law school years to meet as many local attorneys as possible.
- Many law schools employ practicing attorneys as adjunct professors. Adjuncts are a great resource for learning more about the local legal market.
Seek internships and other practical experiences.There are many opportunities to gain practical experience during law school. Each can improve your resume with new skills and expand your professional network, and some may lead to job offers upon graduation. Some opportunities include:
- Internships and externships. Work for a government office or a private firm in exchange for money (internship) or course credit (externship).
- Clinics. School-sponsored clinics provide free or low-cost legal aid to the community.Work is performed by law students, under the supervision of law professors. Clinics may be repeatable for course credit.
- Judicial clerkships. Work for a judge doing research and writing.
- Practical courses. Some courses, such as mock trial, mediation, and motion practice, have a large practical participation component.
- Competitions. Represent your school in mock trial, moot court, or other competitions.
- Clubs and associations. Campus groups are usually organized around a specific community or academic area of interest. Participation in such organizations shows leadership and a strong commitment to a subject or topic.
- Law review. Writing for your school's law review journal requires strong writing skills, and gives you the opportunity to publish original work.
Pass the MPRE during law school.The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is required to practice in all but three jurisdictions in the United States. The exam consists of 60 multiple-choice questions that tests the applicant's knowledge of the rules for professional conduct in the practice of lawYou will take the exam in your third year of law school.
- You are allowed to take the MPRE during law school, which allows you to get this requirement out of the way. Then you won't have to worry about it while studying for the bar exam, and your admission to the bar will not be put on hold while you take the MPRE.
- Since you have already taken the LSAT, you should know how to prepare for this standardized exam. Gather practice materials, set a schedule, and approach the exam seriously. Give yourself enough time to fully prepare.
Gaining Admission to the Florida Bar
Pass the Florida bar exam.The exam tests whether a candidate is qualified to practice law in the state.It is administered in February and July, and lasts for two days.The first day consists of three hours of essay questions and three hours of multiple-choice, testing knowledge of general law and Florida law. The second day is the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a six-hour, 200 multiple-choice question test of general law.
- Register for a commercial bar preparation course, such as Barbri, Kaplan, Themis, and others.These courses typically supply books, instruction, interactive online content, and individual grading of your writing. Commercial bar prep courses are the norm, and will be strongly recommended by your professors.
- Realistically, you will need to study full-time from the time you graduate in early June through the beginning of the test at the end of July. If your school offers additional bar preparation services, take advantage of them in addition to a commercial prep course.
- Many bar takers don't pass on the first try. Don't be discouraged; you can try again.
- Applicants who have been disbarred must wait five years to apply for readmission to the Florida Bar, and must pay an additional application fee of 0. Applicants with a felony conviction must wait until their civil rights are restored before applying to the Florida Bar.
Satisfy moral character and fitness requirements.Each state bar investigates the moral character and fitness of bar applicants, and will inquire into relevant criminal issues, untreated substance abuse or mental illness, untruthfulness, and financial irresponsibility.
Pass the MPRE.If you did not take and pass the MPRE during law school, study and take the test now. A passing score is required for admission to the Florida bar.
Start looking early.Job opportunities can come from people you meet in law school. Use the network of classmates, professors, and attorneys you met during law school to get recommendations for places to apply.
Sign up for On-Campus Interviewing.Law firms will register to interview students on campus.This typically happens the summer before your third year, but firms can come any time during the year. Even if you don't think you have strong credentials, it doesn't hurt to introduce yourself to potential employers.
- Be sure to bring copies of your resume, transcripts, and writing samples, as well as the names of references. Being prepared creates a great first impression.
Search online.Firms of all sizes post job opportunities online with services like Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, Symplicity, and even Craigslist. Check daily and have a resume and writing sample prepared to send electronically on a moment's notice.
- If the job posting requires a cover letter, customize your letter as much as possible instead of sending a form cover letter.
Set up informational interviews.After taking the bar exam, you should identify attorneys whose practices you would like to learn more about. Draft a letter (not an email) and introduce yourself. Be sure to mention who gave you their name.
- In the letter, explicitly state that you are not asking for a job. You will get a better response this way.
- Develop a list of questions and take notes. Be engaged.
- Ask the attorney if she knows anyone else you can talk to, and be sure to send a thank you note afterwards.
Attend bar association events.Bar association membership and individual events may cost money, but these networking opportunities could reap big rewards. Be sure to have a business card available. You can find up-to-date information on events at FloridaBar.org.
Consider relocating.In 2015, ValuePenguin.com published its evaluating the average salary, availability of jobs, and cost of living in each. Miami placed at #4, followed by Orlando, North Port, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Tallahassee, Naples, and Jacksonville. Hot practice areas include immigration, international trade, and divorce.
Volunteer.Even though you are a qualified attorney, you might still need to volunteer in order to keep your skills sharp and to build a resume. Volunteer opportunities may be posted online, but you can also mail a resume or pick up a phone and call.
- Working for free can pay off big time. You may be considered for the next opening that becomes available.
Make your own opportunities.Remember, even if you are having trouble finding a job, you are still a licensed attorney. You can take cases on your own, or collaborate with other attorneys. You may be able to pay your bills with a few traffic ticket clients each month. Before long, you may be ready to open your own practice.
Video: How-To Become An Attorney In Florida
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