Divorce lawyers serve a vital function in our justice system. Lawyers who specialize in Family Law assist clients with all issues related to family court, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, adoption, and guardianship.
So, how does one become a divorce lawyer? Rock Rocheleau, a divorce attorney with rightlawyers.com, feels it starts with a desire to help people. A divorce lawyer is a part lawyer and part therapist. Beyond that, becoming a divorce lawyer follows the same path regular attorneys follow; undergraduate degree, three years of law school, and taking a state bar exam.
1. Prepare for Your Legal Career
When you decide to go to law school and become a lawyer, you must understand that a law degree is a graduate degree, so you will have to obtain an undergraduate degree to be eligible. Many colleges with a law school have a streamlined or preferential admissions process for law school, so that may be good to know going in. Since family law is based primarily on state law and procedures, it might be practical to get your undergraduate degree and your Juris Doctor (law degree) in the state where you plan to practice.
When choosing your undergrad field of study, you don’t have to choose “pre-Law” or “criminal justice.” A broad liberal arts degree, including courses in history, psychology, art, literature, and political science, will help to provide you with analytical skills you will find helpful in law school. Rocheleau’s undergraduate degree was in social sciences.
To get into law school, you’ll have to take the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT), either before or during your senior year. Knowing your LSAT score can help limit the selection of potential law schools. “The LSAT is the hardest test I’ve ever taken,” said Mr. Rocheleau. “You can’t study for it. It’s not testing knowledge you can memorize. It’s testing whether you think like a lawyer”.
2. Go to Law School
While you are still earning your degree, start to apply to law school. The American Bar Association has accredited more than 200 law schools, so attending one of them will qualify you to take the bar exam in the state where you plan to practice.
Once you’re accepted, and you complete your undergrad degree, make sure you attend and complete your first year of law school. No matter which area of law you plan to practice, that first year features a prescribed set of classes that serve as the foundation of any legal education, including constitutional law, contracts, property, torts, civil procedure, legal research, and criminal law.
The second year of law school is when you start to focus your interests and hone your skills in a particular practice of law. The second and third year is when you can take elective courses. As someone interested in becoming a divorce lawyer, you can take classes in family law, women and the law, and children’s activities, among others.
That is also when you should take a course in law office management if you are considering a solo practice. You may be able to participate in law school clinics, where you can learn good people and interview skills. Rocheleau was able to earn credits by interning with the Las Vegas District Court. You work for a judge writing briefs, reviewing case law, and sitting in court with the judge. Registering for a mediation course can make you more attractive to law firms since an increasing number of family courts are referring contested divorces to mediation.
3. Register for the Bar Exam
Consider registering for the bar exam in the state where you plan to practice sometime between your first year and the beginning of your third year. However, you should only register if you are on track to complete your final semester and graduate on time. If you are taking the exam in the same state as your law school, follow the local procedures. Each state has its deadline, which can range from January to June of your final year.
Every state maintains a generous limit as to the number of times you can take the bar exam, although you have to pay the fee each time. Those fees can range from as little as $100 to well over $1,000. If you have already lined up a job with a law firm, you should know that many firms assist with the fees. Application to the bar is very complex and includes a background check, fingerprints, and extensive references.
4. Get Licensed to Practice Law
Take the bar exam, which is offered twice per year, in February and June. Choose the exam date closest to your graduation date. Depending on the state, the bar exam is a two- to three-day event that is very difficult and includes a combination of multiple-choice and essay questions. The final section of the Bar Exam is the Multi-State Performance Test (MPT), which tests for the practical application of legal theory. You are given a fact pattern and must draw up a strategy for prosecuting the case.
You may also choose to take the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), a half-day test taken separately for the bar. If you plan to practice in a state other than the one you’re in for law school, be aware that you can take the MPRE in the state where you attend law school, and it will transfer to the state where you plan to practice.
You will usually receive your bar exam results about 12 weeks after the bar exam, whether you choose to receive them online or by mail. They are also posted at your law school.
After you receive your exam results, you will take part in a formal swearing-in ceremony, or you may choose to be sworn in by any judge or other officials who can administer an oath.
At that point, you are officially an attorney. The options are to set up a solo practice or to go through the process of finding a job with an established firm.