How Do I Become a Lawyer?

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In a nutshell, to become a lawyer you must graduate law school, complete a kind of year-long apprenticeship called articles, and be called to the bar.

Getting into law school[edit]

There are two things you need to get into law school: post-secondary schooling and the LSAT.

Previous schooling[edit]

Academically, you need an undergraduate university degree. It doesn't matter whether the focus of your undergrad was on mathematics, music, or media studies. You just need to have a degree. Some law schools will also accept students with a minimum of two years of an undergraduate program; however, this will depend on the university you're applying to, how many applicants they have and, of course, your marks.

The LSAT[edit]

LSAT stands for Law School Admission Test. All North American law schools require that you write this test before you apply for admission. The LSAT is run by a private testing company, not by any particular school, and tests are offered on a quarterly basis in cities across the continent. On a test weekend, the test is written by thousands of people across Canada and the US. Your score is not a percentage, but a weighted score. In other words, the result you get is a statement of how you ranked compared to other test-takers. If you ranked in the 50th percentile, for example, you did as well as half the people that wrote the test. If you ranked in the 80th percentile, you did better than 80% of the people that wrote the test.

At this point you're probably wondering what the LSAT is. Put simply, the LSAT tests your vocabulary, language skills, and inductive and deductive reasoning. There are fill-in-the-blank questions, questions testing your understanding of a brief essay, and logical reasoning tests. There's also an unscored essay section.

Companies like Kaplan sell study guides and past LSAT exams that you can test yourself on; you can also find study guides, video tutorials, and LSAT discussion forums online. Some people choose to invest in working with a tutor or attending an LSAT prep course before they take the exam. Alternatively, for a cost-effective option, Khan Academy offers a comprehensive and free set of modules to help you succeed, which you can access on the Khan Academy website.

The LSAT, your grades and law school admissions[edit]

Do your undergraduate marks count? Yes. However, some universities look at a combination of your marks and your life experience, while others look at just your marks. The sort of marks you'll need depends very much on the university you're applying to. Some law schools are in high demand and, as a result, their mark expectations are higher; other law schools are not as sought after and have lesser grade expectations. In general, you should have an undergraduate average of no less than, say, 75% before you even think of applying to law school.

Of course, your LSAT ranking is important too. Some universities look at your undergraduate grades and your LSAT score independently, and factor in your life experience. Some, like UBC, apply the numbers strictly and look only at a mathematical combination of the two. Given the competitive nature of law school admissions, it's advisable to consult individual law school websites for the most current and specific criteria.

Law school[edit]

Law school in Canada is three years long. If you've graduated, you get an LL.B., a "Bachelor of Laws," or a J.D., a "Juris Doctor" or doctor of laws. The first year is generally the toughest, since that's when you realize that law school is entirely unlike the learning format in undergrad. In law school, the first-year curriculum is standardized. Everyone takes the same set of courses, ranging from Criminal Law to Property Law. You choose your own courses in your second and third year, so use your first year to get a sense of what areas of the law interest you. Law schools are generally fairly uptight about how they process their students. In your undergrad you probably asked for or knew someone who asked for academic exemptions and leaves of absence. In law school you are expected to be career-focused and have your mental and personal house in order before you start, and as a result, this sort of academic leeway is rarely given.

Is law school fun? Not always. Is it as hard as you've heard? No, not at all. Once you've figured out how law school works, it'll be smooth sailing for you, as long as you know how to apply yourself and have halfway decent work habits. Remember, the study of a thing is a lot different than the practice of a thing.

One last point about law school. Give your first year a good go. Try your best, but don't be devastated by the difference between your undergrad marks and your law school marks. Do your best to apply what you learned in first year to your studies in second year. Your second year marks are critical, for the reasons that follow. In general, you can relax a bit in your third year.


Articling is the second-last hurdle you have to pass before you become a lawyer. Articles are a kind of year-long apprenticeship, just the way masons, fabric dyers, and carpenters apprenticed to master crafters in the middle ages. The point of articles is to give you a hands-on introduction to the practice of law under the tutelage of a senior lawyer, your principal. As an articled student, you are insured by your principal and are permitted to practise law in a certain limited capacity. You are also subject to certain restrictions and requirements of the provincial law society and its rules of conduct and practice.

The law school doesn't hand out articles, however. You have to find them yourself. Articling is a job; an articled student is an employee of their principal, and you've got to apply for the position.

The vast majority of law students apply for articles at the end of their second year of law school, after the marks have been released. The articles will start almost immediately after third year ends, so people usually spend the summer after second year searching for employment.

However, some students will aim to secure summer articles with a law firm or apply to a clinical program with a legal clinic for the summer after second year, in preparation for their articling search in third year. Summer articles allow law school students to get an introduction to the type of work that articling students and lawyers do in certain practice areas. It can be a helpful stepping stone to articles, as you will obtain hands-on experience that can inform your decision on what kind of articling position you are looking for. Students who are interested in working with a law firm or legal clinic between their second and third years usually start their search early in their second year, as many law firms will attend career fairs at this time to indicate their intention of taking on summer students. This also provides them with the time to research the law firms they want to summer at, and prepare for the intensive on-campus interviews (OCI) used by large law firms to recruit students.

Ultimately, your second year marks are critical to your ability to obtain articles. For the same reason, your third year marks are less important, since you have, hopefully, already found articles. However, this isn’t to say that you can party for your entire third year, as your law school transcript can be a deal-breaker for some future employers early in your career. Additionally, having more flexibility in your third year means that you can attend the student clubs and networking events that you may not have had time for in your first year.

No matter what, you must have articled before you can become a lawyer. As a result, it is critical that you find an articling position if you want to practise law.

PLTC: The bar admission course[edit]

All provincial law societies require law school graduates to complete both their articles and a bar admission course before allowing them to practise law. In British Columbia, the bar admission course is a three-month course called PLTC, the Professional Legal Training Course, and it's completed during your articling year. Sometimes your principal will pay for the cost of the course. Sometimes you'll have to pay the course tuition yourself.

PLTC is an academic introduction to the basics of practising law in the real world, from client interview techniques to professional ethics to common trust account errors. Throughout the course, you will need to attend mandatory classes and complete and pass several assignments. At the end, you will need to complete and pass both the barrister and solicitor exams. If you fail one of the assignments or exams, you can rewrite that component at the next PLTC session. However, you only have a limited number of opportunities to rewrite a failed component, and your call date may need to be postponed if you are taking PLTC at the end of your articles and need a rewrite.

Admission to the bar[edit]

When you've completed PLTC and your articles are complete or almost complete, your principal will have to furnish the law society with a sworn declaration stating that you are ready and competent to practise as a lawyer. You must ensure the law society gets your principal's declaration or you will not be called to the bar, which is a term for the formal ceremony admitting you as a lawyer. PLTC will forward your marks to the law society for you.


Here's what you need to do to become a lawyer in the order you need to do it:

  1. complete all or most of one undergraduate university degree,
  2. write the LSAT,
  3. send your undergraduate transcripts plus your LSAT test scores to the law schools you'd like to go to,
  4. complete first year law school without having a breakdown or dropping out,
  5. once you've finished second year, look for and obtain your articles,
  6. complete third year without doing too much damage to your liver,
  7. start your articles and, at some point during that year, complete PLTC,
  8. apply for admission to the bar with your articling report (PLTC will forward your grades to the law society on its own), and
  9. be called and sworn in to the bar; the Law Society of BC will provide you with a schedule of call ceremonies.

Good luck!

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Yun Chen, September 25, 2023.

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