Document last updated 3/18/2014.
I’m thinking about becoming a lawyer. What, exactly, do lawyers do?
Lawyers are trained to assist individuals or businesses to resolve their legal problems, to represent them before courts and government agencies, and to provide legal advice and services. They may, for example, defend someone who is accused of a crime, advise someone seeking a divorce, assist in drafting a will, or help a business collect overdue bills or research tax laws. Lawyers can also use their skills as representatives for corporations, nonprofit entities, and even governmental agencies. Much of the law involves negotiating, and nearly all of the law involves working with other people.
What kind of training would I need to become a lawyer in Ohio?
You would need to earn a bachelor’s degree and then graduate from an accredited law school. Law school courses cover contracts, real property, taxation, business organization, criminal law, domestic relations, and many other legal topics. After you have graduated from law school, you would become a candidate for admission to the Bar, and would have to give evidence of your good moral character. You would also need to pass the bar examination, a comprehensive test administered by the Supreme Court of Ohio. Once you become licensed to practice law in Ohio, you must complete 24 hours of accredited continuing legal education coursework every two years to keep your license, and there are special educational requirements for new lawyers.
Are there certain courses I’d have to take in college before applying to law school?
No. You are not required to take any particular course of study. Many law schools recommend the broadest possible undergraduate course of study, and courses that help you develop your ability to think in an organized way, to write and speak effectively, and to work well with others will benefit you. Courses as diverse as philosophy, political science, history, business and even science classes can help you understand some of the legal questions lawyers must address. Exposure to a broad course of study helps you make the connections that problem-solving and communicating with many types of people about a wide variety of issues require.
What should I know about law school?
To be accepted as a law student, you will need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Law schools generally consider your undergraduate class standing and your performance on the LSAT, although many schools will consider other factors such as work and community service, letters of recommendation and leadership experience or activities. You should plan to take the LSAT and apply to law school at least eight months before your targeted enrollment date.
If you are a full-time day student, you can generally expect to be in law school for three years. Some law schools also offer night programs for working students, but usually additional time is needed for completion. Many law schools will also have programs to help you find clerkships in law firms during your summers and possibly during the school year. Some non-profit legal aid agencies even let law students get hands-on, practical experience while still in law school.
Accredited Ohio law schools:
Capital University Law School - www.law.capital.edu
Case Western Reserve University School of Law - www.law.case.edu
Cleveland Marshall College of Law - www.law.csuohio.edu
Ohio Northern University College of Law - https://law.onu.edu
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law – http://moritzlaw.osu.edu
The University of Akron College of Law - www.uakron.edu/law
University of Cincinnati College of Law - www.law.uc.edu
University of Dayton School of Law - www.udayton.edu/law
The University of Toledo College of Law - www.utoledo.edu/law
What kinds of jobs might I be able to do if I become a lawyer?
There are many different career options for lawyers:
Private practice: You might “hang out your own shingle” as a sole practitioner, form a partnership with another lawyer or lawyers, or join a larger law firm. The size of a private firm varies greatly—from a one-person practice to a firm that employs hundreds of lawyers. You may have a general practice, which means you would handle a wide variety of legal matters, such as divorce, real estate, criminal law and estate planning. You also may decide to specialize in an area such as patent law, labor law, insurance law or tax law. Some sole practitioners or very small firms specialize in a particular practice area, but more often they have a more general practice. It is more likely for a lawyer in a large firm to become a specialist.
Television shows about law practices give the impression that lawyers spend a great deal of their time in a courtroom before a judge. In fact, most lawyers see very little, if any, courtroom action, and even litigators, whose job it is to handle court cases, settle them out of court most of the time. No matter what type of law you practice, most of your time as a lawyer involves writing, research, negotiation and conflict resolution. This is why your ability to communicate and compromise effectively are so important.
Government law: As a government lawyer on the local, state or federal level, you may represent a government agency in court, draft regulations or ordinances or advise a governing body about policy matters. You also may represent a city, county or state as a prosecutor or serve as a public defender, for example.
Corporate law: Many large businesses have their own lawyers (“in-house counsel”). These lawyers may handle a wide variety of legal issues such as labor and employment, contract, or intellectual property matters. If the legal department of a business is large, its attorneys may be specialists. In-house lawyers in large companies also spend a great deal of time working with other lawyers outside the company to see that the company’s affairs are being handled properly.
Public interest law: Lawyers who choose this field help to provide representation to those who are unrepresented or underrepresented in the legal process, such as the poor, who may not have access to courts or administrative agencies. Local legal aid societies are, perhaps, the most recognizable, but not the only organizations that serve the public interest. Other organizations may seek to advance a particular cause or achieve legal reform. Many law schools offer clinical programs that allow their third-year students to experience the practice of law by representing clients who cannot afford legal help.
Teaching: Lawyers may teach law and law-related courses (such as business law and law enforcement) at colleges and universities, or they may serve as law librarians, editors or administrators. You may even use your legal training as a teacher or a volunteer at a high school.
Military service: The armed services employ lawyers in their military legal offices. Military practices may provide a wide variety of legal experiences as well as travel opportunities. In some cases, the military may even help to pay the cost of law school in return for a tour of duty in the JAG Corps or similar organizations.
Judiciary: Lawyers who have been in practice for a specified period of time (generally six years in Ohio) may wish to serve the public as a judge of a municipal, county, state or federal court. Judges preside over criminal and civil court proceedings. Ohio judges are elected. Lawyers and clerks who are not judges may become involved in the court system by assisting judges with research, writing decisions and managing judges’ calendars.
Other fields: Some lawyers are licensed to practice law, but choose, either initially or later in their work lives, to go into fields such as advertising, politics, accounting, business, journalism, education or banking. Because ours is a nation of laws, nearly every field of human endeavor must comply with government regulations and concern itself with possible liabilities. Moreover, training in analytical writing, research and negotiation that the study of law provides is invaluable preparation for any career.
Can I work in a legal field if I’m not a lawyer?
Although Ohio law does not allow non-lawyers to give legal advice or provide court representation, there are some tasks that can be done by legal assistants or paralegals who are supervised by lawyers. Some people who wish to work in the legal arena may choose to be trained as paralegals, for example, and there are other law-related jobs, in such areas as law enforcement and criminal justice, judicial administration or public administration, that do not require you to be a lawyer.
© Ohio State Bar Association, March 2014
LawFacts Pamphlet Series
Ohio State Bar Association
PO Box 16562
Columbus, OH 43216-6562
(800) 282-6556 or (614) 487-2050
Funding from the Ohio State Bar Foundation
This is one of a series of LawFacts public information pamphlets. Others may be obtained through your attorney’s office, by writing the Ohio State Bar Association or through www.ohiobar.org.
Click here to purchase LawFacts Pamphlets.