So you want to be a lawyer, huh? I can see why. Lawyers tend to be highly confident, seemingly wealthy people, and you see it as a road to an easy lifestyle. Or maybe you came across one recently and had a negative experience. Their sometimes abrasive demeanor makes them some of society’s least liked people, but in both cases the question remains. Do you have to be smart to be a lawyer?
To become an attorney, you need an extensive and intensive education. There are self taught lawyers who have passed the bar exam, but the majority did it the traditional way through schools. You need good grades in high school so you can get into a good college or university. Then once you are there, you need a good GPA and good credentials so you can be competitive when you apply for the limited spots reputable law schools have open. So the answer is yes, you do need to be smart to be a lawyer.
Sometimes in entertainment, lawyers can be portrayed as scummy. You might even get that impression yourself, and how can you not? Chances are, there are billboards all over your town for some guy with a cute tagline that offers to represent people if they get hurt. Or perhaps you heard that catchy jingle on the radio for the same person. We all see this and roll our eyes.
The overwhelming majority of attorneys are decent, everyday people. Competent lawyers do not come cheap, and they can be some of the most cut throat people we come across. You would not be insane to look at some of these people and think, “I could do that.” And maybe you can, but don’t underestimate the intelligence of attorneys. Here’s what they go through to get where they are.
First You Need the Bachelor’s Degree
A lot of people who become attorneys planned on becoming attorneys when or before they finished high school. Going to law school and passing the bar exam doesn’t tend to be a thing that just….happens. It usually takes years of planning to get to a point where you go to law school. Some lawyers have a family history of the profession, and some others see it as simply a good job.
It all starts in high school. An aspiring attorney needs to make sure that their grades and demeanor stay in top shape, because people will be looking. Those transcripts must be impressive enough to capture the attention of the colleges and universities that they apply to, and this includes grades and extracurricular activities. To have a chance to get to the next level, it takes more than doing the bare minimum in high school and college.
Once a future attorney gets to college, the pressure does not stop. The student can usually pick any major, but they usually declare as “pre law.” or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. This is not a requirement, but it is usually done with the hopes that their transcripts look that much more impressive when it’s time to apply to law school.
The grades and extracurricular activities that the student earns and goes after must stay impressive in order to have a chance at a reputable law school. Because lawyers can make big money, that makes it a highly competitive field of study. There are only so many spots to go around!
Then You Need to Get Accepted Into Law School
Your local community college does not, in fact, have a law school. At least I assume it doesn’t. Regardless, the name of the school on their law degrees absolutely matters. Who is more respected, a lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School, or your town USA school? Enough said.
That might sound harsh, but the point still stands. In the world of attorneys, the degree matters. As I stated above, law schools find themselves very popular destinations for many prospective attorneys, and the curriculum is intense. According to ThoughtCo.com, a law student can expect to read 50 to 75 pages of laws to stay up to speed. Sound easy? Of course it doesn’t.
Don’t think that it is over quick, either. Law school can be at least a 3 year endeavor, covering a wide range of topics. These include tort laws, which Cornell University says is an act or admission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.” Sounds like a blast, you have to be smart to read that sentence on it’s own!
And don’t forget about the other fun things you learn, such as criminal law, property law, and even Constitutional law. Oh, and there are also civil procedure classes, and legal writing classes as well. These are very complex subjects that take years and years to master.
The most prestigious law schools are prestigious for a reason. Even if the law is the law, and a state school can prepare a potential attorney for the bar the same as Harvard can, the name of the school on the diploma matters in the industry. The bigger the name of the school, the more opportunities you will most likely have after graduation, and the more money you can make while working. This makes law schools one of the most difficult educational paths to enter that we have, as the competition is fierce.
Then You Need to Pass the Bar Exam
The bar exam is not, in fact, a drinking game. If it was, my beer pong and flip cup skills would have made me a highly paid lawyer ten times over. Alas, the bar exam is what one needs to pass to be able to practice law in a particular state. And it isn’t easy, and it’s near impossible to complete.
The bar exam is usually a grueling, two day process. First, potential lawyers usually take the MBE, which is the Multistate Bar Exam. According to the ABA’s website, the MBE is a 200 question exam that takes up the entire first day, and covers all the types of laws mentioned in the prior point. That’s a lot to remember, right? Once that is done, the second day involves the writing of many essays that cover a whole range of topics.
You cannot skip the bar exam and be a lawyer. The bar exam is what makes a lawyer accredited, and without the license you get from passing, you cannot work. Each state has it’s own criteria for who can take the bar exam, and one state’s license does not grant permission to work in another state. This entire process is cutthroat, grueling and not for the faint of heart.
Finally, the Tedious Reality
The daily life of a lawyer is not really as fun as it might look. It involves a series of meeting clients, courtroom appearances, phone calls, and potentially even studying. Yep, studying out of college! A lot of a lawyer’s work can come down to what the outcome of prior similar cases. This means that the lawyer must either research those prior cases themselves, or delegate that work to a clerk or a paralegal.
This is not to mention that jobs are not just handed out after graduation. A lawyer needs to be smart enough to understand the basics of the business, such as networking.
If all of this here did not convince you that lawyers have to be smart people, then here’s what you do. Google a case. Any case, it doesn’t matter which one. Once you find one, read the judge’s ruling, and see if you can make sense of it without needing too much help. Chances are, you will need some help, because the jargon and references will be so far over your head you won’t believe it. Lawyers can read it all because they spent years studying it.
It is, in fact, possible to be a successful lawyer while being a bit on the dumb side. The ones that are tend to have a charisma about them, and that matters greatly in the world of the law. After all, the goal is to persuade somebody in the long run. Whether that’s a judge or it’s a jury, an incompetent attorney can still win cases by being good enough with people to convince them one way or another. However, these types of counsel are few and far between.
Being a lawyer is not an easy, always glamorous gig. It takes years of hard work and sacrifice to get to the point where they get that Mercedes and their last name in the Last Name & Last Name Law Offices marquee. Maybe you thought that being a lawyer didn’t take much intellect and you can do it too, and perhaps you would be correct, but the fact remains. Being a lawyer is grueling, tedious work that takes a high amount of intellect and diligence to be successful.
If you say lawyers are stupid, to that I say OBJECTION. Yes, lawyers are smart.