What to study to become an attorney?

Once you have decided to become a lawyer the next question is what to study to become an attorney. Depending on the country where you want to practice law, the courses you may need to follow when you study to become an attorney may differ vastly.

In general if you want to become an attorney you need to first obtain a degree or diploma in law. Whereas in the majority of countries a Bachelor in Law may be required, the USA has the prerequisite of a post graduate qualification; that of Juris Doctor. It has replaced the LL.B formerly applicable to the USA.

A professional qualification course entails a combination of courses to prepare students in general for their careers in law and includes a wide variety of legal topics. The main idea is to provide students with a firm foundation from where they can specialize in the area of interest. As the courses differ vastly according to country and even state if you are residing in the USA, just a general overview can be given.

USA

If you want to advance in a specialized direction after having studied and LL.B or a Juris Doctor you can advance through the LL.M program where after the JSD comes. This is the equivalent of a Doctor?s degree in other sciences. Most of the USA schools have as prerequisite for entrance into the JSD program that you already have an LL.M. The LL.M entails a thesis and an oral defense of the thesis. This called Viva. The thesis should also be published.

In the USA, the LL.M degree is obtainable when already a lawyer. Few people study directly towards the LL.M degree as most are already holders of the Juris Doctor qualification. The Masters of Law thus comes after the Doctorate in the USA. Foreign lawyers or attorneys, who want to work in the USA, normally obtain the LL.M qualification to become an attorney in the USA law industry.

International

Most countries do not require an LL.M degree to qualify as a lawyer. LL.M is mostly limited to English speaking countries although many European countries now also recognize the need for additional qualifications.

There are several LL.M programs for instance Tax, Bankruptcy, Intellectual Property, IT, and International. Many of the LL.M programs are aimed at teaching attorneys from other countries the laws of the host country. It is also possible to attain the qualification through writing a thesis. The duration of the program is usually 12 months full time and 24 months if done part time. The program can be research based, only classroom and examination based, or a combination of both.

Australia

In Australia there are no special requirements for gaining entrance to the LL.M programs besides being a law graduate. Due to a shortage in work many of the students prefer to enter the LL.M programs after completion of their LL.B instead of searching for a job. The LL.M provides them with the competitive edge required for gaining an entrance level job as a lawyer.

The UK

The only requirement in the UK to fulfill if you want to become an attorney is a law degree. The LL.M program is open to any law students even those who have not yet qualified as a solicitor. Even students with a degree in another science can enter one of the LL.M programs at some of the UK universities such as the University of Edinburgh.

In the UK you can become a solicitor or a barrister after completion of a law degree approved by either the Law Society or the Bar Council. If the degree is approved by both bodies, it is called a qualifying degree which makes it possible for the student to become a lawyer without having to complete the academic stage as well. It is also possible to gain the qualifying degree by supplementing another undergraduate degree with a conversion course. The next stage to complete in the UK if you want to become an attorney is to attend the Bar Vocational Course if you want to become a Barrister. If you want to become a Solicitor then you have to complete the Legal Practice Course.

Bar examination

Although it is possible to practice law in many countries without having to pass a bar examination, it is normally a prerequisite in the USA. Some USA states however, even allow for a person to pass the bar examination without a law qualification. In several countries such as South Africa, you will need to go through an apprenticeship period called the articles in addition to a law degree. Those who do not finish their articles period can act as lawyers, but cannot litigate in a court of law unless they become prosecutors for the state.

Places of study

In the USA and Canada special law schools are attended where a bachelor?s degree is a prerequisite for entering. The curriculum varies greatly according to the country. Countries such as South Africa require apprenticeship while some of the Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Mexico only require a law qualification. Class sizes range from four students to four hundred. This solely depends on the institution where the degree is studied. The USA is one of the countries which limits class numbers.

From the above it is clear that you will need to study towards a law degree to become an attorney and then either attend an apprenticeship period in some countries, an additional vocational course in others, whilst the US requires the LL.M and bar examination or just bar examination in some the states.