What is an Attorney?
Most of us, at some point, will need the services of an attorney. Attorneys seem to be ubiquitous in our society with almost everyone having some idea of what an attorney is or what an attorney does. However, many people may not know what it takes to become an attorney. Understanding the process to become an attorney may help us better understand the legal profession and in turn allow us to make a more informed decision when we need to retain an attorney’s services. The following is a brief summary of the process to become an attorney.
The first step on the path to becoming an attorney is to obtain a four-year undergraduate degree. An undergraduate degree is a minimum requirement to attend law school. Many people who plan to go to law school will obtain an undergraduate degree in history, political science or English. These areas of study are thought to provide a good foundation for law school. However, applicants are accepted to law school with a wide variety of areas of study. From personal experience, law schools will accept an applicant with a B.S. in Dairy Science. Law schools like to have diversity in their student populations. An uncommon degree or atypical degree, like Dairy Science, can make the applicant more attractive by adding diversity to the law school.
There is an exception to the four-year degree requirement. Some law schools may allow someone who has completed 3 years of undergraduate work to complete their fourth year of an undergraduate degree by completing their first year of law school. This is known as the 3+3 program.
Earning a law degree is the next step. It typically takes three years to complete a law degree although some law schools offer a part-time program that takes four years to complete. In the first year or two, students are required to take core law classes such as contracts, constitutional law and criminal law. In the last year of law school, law students take elective courses that match with their interests. The degree awarded upon completing law school is a Juris Doctor (JD). It is possible to go beyond a JD and receive a master’s degree in law (LLM). LLMs are in a focused area of the law such as taxation or agricultural law.
In the last year of law school, students will begin the process of requesting permission to join the state bar. The Ohio Supreme Court oversees the admission of new attorneys. A part of the application process is a character fitness interview. The applicant will meet with two attorneys, usually in their county of residence. The two interviewing attorneys will evaluate whether the applicant has suitable qualities to be an attorney. The evaluation includes a review of prior criminal charges or citations, an analysis of financial stability and an assessment of a demeanor and temperament suitable to practice law. The character fitness review seeks to ensure that new attorneys have the requisite background and character to serve clients.
The next step is to pass a professional conduct exam. Each law student must take an exam that focuses on issues such as conflicts of interest and attorney/client privilege. The professional conduct exam in Ohio is a multiple-choice exam.
After receiving a law degree, passing the character fitness review and successfully completing the professional conduct exam, the law student takes the bar exam. This notorious exam is two days long. Part of the test is multiple choice and part is a written test. The bar exam must be passed before becoming an attorney in Ohio. The exam is taken in person and is available in February and July of every year. The passage rate for the July, 2022 bar exam was 72% for all takers and 80% for first time takers. To put this in perspective, 20% of the people who spent three years in law school and passed all the other requirements were not permitted to be attorneys because they did not pass the bar exam. The bar exam can be taken as many times as needed to pass. Failing a bar exam does not mean the person can never be an attorney, it just means they need to take the bar exam until passed. Upon passing the bar exam, new attorneys are sworn in by a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Becoming an attorney is a long process taking at least seven years of school in total. Law schools ensure each new attorney has achieved certain academic standards and the Ohio Supreme Court confirms that every new attorney has some level of competence in the law and has the character fitness to assist clients in their legal endeavors. The next time you hire an attorney, you can be assured that the attorney has met the academic requirements of a law school and the competency and character fitness requirements of the Ohio Supreme Court.