How Can You Specialize a Law Degree?

Although lawyers are qualified to practice any area of law once they finish graduate law school and pass the bar exam, some may choose to specialize a law degree. Doing so allows them to develop expertise in a specific field, thus making them more effective in their chosen areas of law than attorneys in general practice areas. Different specialties have various requirements that play a significant role in the way legal cases are handled, and examples of specialized areas of law include criminal law, corporate law, personal injury, intellectual property and health care. Attorneys who specialize in a particular practice area earn the same annual income as other attorneys, which is an average of $118,160 per year as of May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree

In order to gain admittance into law school, students must first earn a bachelor’s degree. The specific major is not necessarily important, but it is critical that the student maintain a high grade point average. In general, law schools only accept applicants with the very best academic records. Upon graduation, students must take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) from the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The CAS then assembles a law school report and makes the report available to the schools to which the student is applying. The report contains the student’s scores on the LSAT, letters of recommendation, a grade point average analysis, his or her undergraduate transcripts and the personal essay required by law school admission departments.

Graduate From Law School

Attending law school full-time, most students may earn their graduate degrees in as little as three years. Law school courses generally include ethics, constitutional law, legal writing and research, torts, contract law, criminal and civil law and procedures and specialty law courses. Law students pursuing specialization should take courses that correspond to their desired practice area specialty.

Pass the Bar Examination

All states require graduates from law schools to take and pass their respective state’s bar examination before being able to legally practice as a lawyer. A lawyer must pass the bar exam in every state in which he or she intends to practice since each state has its own requirements.

Gain Experience and Get Certified

Many employers prefer to hire specialized attorneys with at least five years of experience. Lawyers may gain this experience by working within a small law firm that specializes in the same practices area on which the candidate wishes to focus. This arrangement allows for the experienced staff to serve as mentors for the aspiring specialty lawyer, while he or she gains experience to land a specialty position. Once they have experience in their specialty area, some lawyers may seek third-party certifications from programs accredited by the American Bar Association. Lawyers wishing to pursue certification must pass a written examination, compile reference letters, demonstrate substantial involvement in the specialty area, be willing to re-certify every five years and complete a minimum of 36 hours of specialty training.

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One of the best ways to obtain education in a specialty is to continue to take classes within that field. Most state bar associations offer continuing legal education (CLE) courses that help to keep the practicing specialized lawyer current and up-to-date with the latest developments in his or her area of specialty. Those looking to specialize a law degree can do so through undergraduate and graduate education as well as certification in their desired areas of practice.