Legal Education

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Legal Education

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Law Education

Education to become a lawyer. Worldwide requisites

The educational prerequisites to becoming a lawyer vary greatly from country to country . In some countries, law is taught by a faculty of law, which is a department of a university’s general undergraduate college.[51] Law students in those countries pursue a Master or Bachelor of Laws degree. In some countries it is common or even required for students to earn another bachelor’s degree at the same time. Nor is the LL.B the sole obstacle; it is often followed by a series of advanced examinations, apprenticeships, and additional coursework at special government institutes.[52]

In other countries, particularly the United States, law is primarily taught at law schools. In the United States[53] and countries following the American model, (such as Canada[54] with the exception of the province of Quebec) law schools are graduate/professional schools where a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for admission. Most law schools are part of universities but a few are independent institutions. Law schools in the United States (and some in Canada and elsewhere) award graduating students a J.D. (Juris Doctor/Doctor of Jurisprudence) (as opposed to the Bachelor of Laws) as the practitioner’s law degree. However, like other professional doctorates (including the M.D.), the J.D. is not the exact equivalent of the Ph.D., since it does not require the submission of a full dissertation based on original research. Many schools also offer post-doctoral law degrees such as the LL.M (Legum Magister/Master of Laws), or the S.J.D. (Scientiae Juridicae Doctor/Doctor of the Science of Law) for students interested in advancing their knowledge and credentials in a specific area of law.

The methods and quality of legal education vary widely. Some countries require extensive clinical training in the form of apprenticeships or special clinical courses.[55] Others do not, like Venezuela.[56] A few countries prefer to teach through assigned readings of judicial opinions (the casebook method) followed by intense in-class cross-examination by the professor (the Socratic method).[57][58] Many others have only lectures on highly abstract legal doctrines, which forces young lawyers to figure out how to actually think and write like a lawyer at their first apprenticeship (or job).[59][60][61] Depending upon the country, a typical class size could range from five students in a seminar to five hundred in a giant lecture room. In the United States, law schools maintain small class sizes, and as such, grant admissions on a more limited and competitive basis.[62]

Some students have a preference for full-time law programs,[63] while others often work full- or part-time to pay the tuition and fees of their part-time law programs.[64][65]

Law schools in developing countries share several common problems, such as an overreliance on practicing judges and lawyers who treat teaching as a part-time hobby (and a concomitant scarcity of full-time law professors);[66][67] incompetent faculty with questionable credentials;[68] and Textbooks that lag behind the current state of the law by two or three decades.[69][70]

Earning the right to practice law

Main articles: Call to the bar and Admission to the bar

Some jurisdictions grant a “diploma privilege”to certain institutions, so that merely earning a degree or credential from those institutions is the primary qualification for practicing law.[71] Mexico allows anyone with a law degree to practice law.[72] However, in a large number of countries, a law student must pass a bar examination (or a series of such examinations) before receiving a license to practice.[71][73][74] In a handful of U.S. states, one may become an Attorney by simply passing the bar examination, without having to attend law school first (though very few people actually become lawyers that way).[75]

Some countries require a formal apprenticeship with an experienced practitioner, while others do not. For example, a few jurisdictions still allow an apprenticeship in place of any kind of formal legal education (though the number of persons who actually become lawyers that way is increasingly rare).[76]

Career structure

The career structure of lawyers varies widely from one country to the next.

Common law /civil law

In most Common law countries, especially those with fused professions, lawyers have many options over the course of their careers. Besides private practice, they can always aspire to becoming a prosecutor, government counsel, corporate in-house counsel, Administrative law judge, judge, arbitrator, law professor, or politician.[77] There are also many non-legal jobs which legal training is good preparation for, such as corporate executive, government administrator, investment banker, entrepreneur, or journalist.[78] In developing countries like India, a large majority of law students never actually practice, but simply use their law degree as a foundation for careers in other fields.[79]

In most civil law countries, lawyers generally structure their legal education around their chosen specialty; the boundaries between different types of lawyers are carefully defined and hard to cross. After one earns a law degree, career mobility may be severely constrained. For example, unlike their American counterparts,[80] it is difficult for German judges to leave the bench and become advocates in private practice.[81] Another interesting example is France, where for much of the 20th century, all magistrates were graduates of an elite professional school for judges. Although the French magistracy has begun experimenting with the Anglo-American model of appointing judges from accomplished advocates, the few advocates who have actually joined the bench this way are looked down upon by their colleagues who have taken the traditional route to magistracy.[82]

In a few civil law countries, such as Sweden,[83] the legal profession is not rigorously bifurcated and everyone within it can easily change roles and arenas.


In many countries, lawyers are general practitioners who will take almost any kind of case that walks in the door.[84] In others, there has been a tendency since the start of the 20th century for lawyers to specialize early in their careers.[85][86] In countries where specialization is prevalent, many lawyers specialize in representing one side in one particular area of the law; thus, it is common in the United States to hear of plaintiffs’ personal injury attorneys.[87]


Lawyers in private practice generally work in specialized businesses known as law firms,[88] with the exception of English barristers. The vast majority of law firms worldwide are small businesses that range in size from 1 to 10 lawyers.[89] The United States, with its large number of firms with more than 50 lawyers, is an exception.[90] The United Kingdom and Australia are also exceptions, as the UK, Australia and the U.S. are now home to several firms with more than 1,000 lawyers after a wave of mergers in the late 1990s.

Notably, barristers in England and Wales and some states in Australia do not work in “law firms”. Those who offer their services to the general public — as opposed to those working “in house”— are required to be self-employed.[91] Most work in groupings known as “sets”or “chambers”, where some administrative and marketing costs are shared. An important effect of this different organizational structure is that there is no conflict of interest where barristers in the same chambers work for opposing sides in a case, and in some specialised chambers this is commonplace.



Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, “Latin Legal Cultures in the Age of Globalization,”in Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin
America and Latin Europe, eds. Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, 1-19 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6.
Abel, England and Wales, 45-59; Rokumoto, 165; and Schuyt, 204.
Wayne L. Anderson and Marilyn J. Headrick, The Legal Profession: Is it for you? (Cincinnati: Thomson Executive Press, 1996), 52-53.
Anonymous, “Careers in the legal profession offer a variety of opportunities: While we may not think about it often, the legal system affects us every day,”The Telegram, 14 April 2004, D8.
Olgiati, 345.
Pérez-Perdomo, “Venezuelan Legal Profession,”384.
Robert H. Miller, Law School Confidential: A Complete Guide to the Law School Experience, By Students, for Students (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000), 25-27.
Anderson, 4-10.
Friedman and Pérez-Perdomo, 6; Blankenburg, 132; and Olgiati, 345.
Sergio Lopez-Ayllon and Hector Fix-Figaro, “‘Faraway, So Close!’ The Rule of law and Legal Change in Mexico: 1970-2000,”in Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe, eds. Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, 285-351 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 324.
Herbert Hausmaninger, “Austrian Legal Education,”43 S. Tex. L. Rev. 387, 388 and 400 (2002).
Miller, 42-60.
Abel, American Lawyers, 57; Miller, 25; and Murray, 337.
Falcão, 410.
J.S. Gandhi, “Past and Present: A Sociological Portrait of the Indian Legal Profession,”in Lawyers in Society: The Common Law World, vol. 1, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 369-382 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 375.
Lopez-Ayllon, 324.
Eliane Botelho Junqueira, “Brazil: The Road of Conflict Bound for Total Justice,”in Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe, eds. Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, 64-107 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 89.
Junqueira, 89.
Rogelio Pérez-Perdomo, “Venezuela, 1958-1999: The Legal System in an Impaired Democracy,”in Legal Culture in the Age of Globalization: Latin America and Latin Europe, eds. Lawrence M. Friedman and Rogelio Perez-Perdomo, 414-478 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 459. For example, a 1997 study found that not a single law school in Venezuela had bothered to integrate any part of the Convention on Children’s Rights into its curriculum, even though Venezuela had signed the treaty in 1990 and subsequently modified its domestic laws to bring them into compliance. Rather than embark on curriculum reform, Venezuelan law schools now offer special postgraduate courses so that recent graduates can bring their legal knowledge up-to-date with current law.
Lopez-Ayllon, 324.
a b Abel, American Lawyers, 62.
Lopez-Ayllon, 330.
Miller, 335-341.
Alan A. Paterson, “The Legal Profession in Scotland: An Endangered Species or a Problem Case for Market Theory?”in Lawyers in Society: The Common Law World, vol. 1, eds. Richard L. Abel and Philip S.C. Lewis, 76-122 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 89.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald, “The self-made lawyer: Not every Attorney goes to law school,”The Christian Science Monitor, 3 June 2003, 13.
Weisbrot, 266.
Abel, American Lawyers, 167-175; Abel, England and Wales, 214; Arthurs, 131; Gandhi, 374; and Weisbrot, 277.
Anderson, 124-131.
Gandhi, 374.
Although it is common for former American judges to return to private practice, it is highly controversial for them to suggest that they still retain any judicial powers (for example, by wearing judicial robes in advertisements). Brad McElhinny, “Workman criticized for using robe in ad: Group files State Bar complaint about the way former justice seeks clients,”Charleston Daily Mail, 3 February 2005, 1A.
Blankenburg, 133.
Boigeol, “The Rise of Lawyers,”202.
Bernard Michael Ortwein II, “The Swedish Legal System: An Introduction,”13 Ind. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 405, 440-445 (2003).
Olgiati, 353.
Abel, American Lawyers, 122.
Michael H. Trotter, Profit and the Practice of Law: What’s Happened to the Legal Profession (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 50.
Herbert M. Kritzer, “The fracturing legal profession: the case of plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers,”8 Int’l J. Legal Prof. 225, 228-231 (2001).
Anderson, 111-117.
Hazard, 39.
Junqueira, 92. According to this source, as of 2003, there were 901 law firms with more than 50 lawyers in the United States.
Gary Slapper and David Kelly, The English Legal System, 7th ed. (London: Cavendish Publishing Ltd., 2004), 550.

See Also

Legal education in the Philippines
Continuing Legal Education
Legal education in the United States
Legal education in the United Kingdom
Public legal education
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
Institute for Political and Legal Education

References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international

Mentioned in these Entries

Administrative law, Attorney, Common law, Education, Rule of law, Textbooks, country.

The Legal History of Legal Education

This section provides an overview of Legal Education

The Role of Lawyers, Courts and Legal Education

This section provides an overview of the role of lawyers, courts and legal education within the legal context of Integrating Domestic and international economic law (Cross-Cutting Challenges).


Legal Education

This entry provides an overview of the legal framework of legal education, with a description of the most significant features of legal education at international level.

Related Work and Conclusions


See Also

References (Papers)

  • Roundtable – Teaching Human Rights: Challenges And Best Practices, Shayna Plaut, Kristi Kenyon, Joel Pruce, William Simmons, Nov 2017
  • A Bibliography Of Faculty Scholarship, Law Library, Oct 2017
  • Vol. 53, No. 06 (September 25, 2017), Sep 2017
  • Legal Research Instruction And Law Librarianship In China: An Updated View Of Current Practices And A Comparison With The U.S. Legal Education System, Ning Han, Liying Yu, Anne Mostad-Jensen, Sep 2017
  • The Untold Story Of The Justice Gap: Integrating Poverty Law Into The Law School Curriculum, Vanita S. Snow, Sep 2017
  • Vol. 53, No. 03 (September 4, 2017), Sep 2017


See Also

  • Legal Biography
  • Legal Traditions
  • Historical Laws
  • History of Law

Further Reading

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