What You Need To Know About Law School

Two students in business attire sit at a desk. They deliberate together over a yellow legal pad.
Two UC Davis Law School students participate in a Mock Trial exercise at King Hall. (Jose Perez)

Do you enjoy learning about history and politics? Do you have a passion for serving underrepresented groups and fighting for social justice? Are you an ace at arguing, in-person or on paper? If you answered yes to any of these questions, law might be the field for you.

Before you can enter into law, though, you’ll have to think about law school. The idea of continuing your education beyond undergrad may be daunting, but don’t fret. Read on for a crash course on what law school is, how to get in, what law school is like and what you can do with a law degree.

Law school basics

A student wearing a commencement robe and tie displays a green stole embroidered with the words "Environmental Law Class of 2022 UC Davis School of Law."
A 2022 graduate of UC Davis School of Law at King Hall shows off their Environmental Law Concentration stole at the commencement ceremony. (Karen Higgins/UC Davis)

What is law school?

If you want to be a lawyer, you’ll need to go to law school. A law school is a graduate-level educational institution where you can earn a professional degree in legal studies.

Can you be a lawyer without going to law school?

Although it is possible to become a licensed attorney in California without a law degree, the vast majority of lawyers go to law school.

What is a J.D.?

The basic degree you will earn by completing law school is a J.D. degree. J.D. stands for Juris Doctor and prepares you to enter the legal profession.

How long is law school?

If you attend law school full-time, it usually takes three years to complete your J.D. Of course, you will need to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree first, so the minimum education length for becoming a lawyer is about seven years. That’s a big time commitment!

Should I go to law school?

Anyone who is set on becoming a lawyer should attend law school. Since it’s such a large time and money commitment, though, you should make sure it’s the career you want before starting.

If you’re unsure about whether it’s for you, talk with an experienced advisor like those at the UC Davis Pre-Law Advising Office. You should also consider talking to current lawyers or law students, visiting a law school or finding a law-related internship.

What is law school like?

Two students sit at a desk in a library, smiling and looking down at the textbook open between them.
Students in the International Law Program at UC Davis School of Law study in Mabie Law Library at King Hall. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Law school is a challenging academic experience meant to build analytical reasoning and argument skills along with knowledge of case law. You will spend much of your time studying case law, honing writing skills and participating in mock legal exercises like moot court.

The first year of law school is fairly standard across programs. You will develop a foundation in constitutional law, criminal procedure, civil procedure, contract law, tort law and more. The remaining years allow for more customization, with students choosing legal specializations and participating in clinics or internships. By the time you complete law school, you’ll have plenty of knowledge, skills and experience under your belt.

Many law schools allow students to specialize in certain areas of law and earn certificates in that area. UC Davis School of Law offers eight areas of concentration, including business law, environmental law and health care law. Each of these areas includes a specific course of study and allows you to earn a special certificate.

To learn more about what law school is like, explore LSAC’s guide.

How to get into law school

A student in a blue commencement gown and regalia, including a stole with the words "First Generation" walks across the stage at the UC Davis School of Law commencement ceremony.
A first generation law student walks across the stage at UC Davis School of Law's 2023 commencement ceremony. (Jose Perez/UC Davis)

The list of requirements for law school is short. At minimum, you need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. There is no required undergraduate major — law schools will and have accepted applicants from a wide variety of majors. Some of the most common undergraduate majors for law students include political science, economics, philosophy and history.

Whatever your major, you’ll want to keep your GPA up. Law schools are competitive graduate-level programs, which means you need to perform well in undergrad for law school admissions boards to feel confident in your ability to succeed.

For a step-by-step breakdown of the law school application process, read our article “How Do I Apply to Law School?.”

What can I do with a law degree?

A student in business attire stands at a podium, speaking into a microphone, while onlookers listen.
A student presents oral arguments to the panel of justices at UC Davis School of Law's 2018 Moot Court Competition. (Jose Perez)

The most common end goal for law students is becoming a licensed attorney. Attorneys work all over the country, at companies large and small and in many different fields. As an attorney, you might work at a large firm or a small practice, for the government, for a legal aid organization or as an in-house lawyer for a corporation.

Attorneys also have a wide range of options when it comes to what type of law to practice. Although your first image might be a criminal defense attorney, you can also consider careers in environmental law, tax law, intellectual property law and immigration law. The options are endless!

Beyond the world of lawyers, people with law degrees may also go into politics, journalism, academia or financial planning. There’s something for any interest you might have.

Now that you’ve learned the basics about law school, hopefully you have a better idea of whether it’s something you want to pursue. Before setting off to apply: 

  • Talk to your family, friends and academic advisors about law school 
  • Learn more about different types of law you’d like to pursue
  • Research law schools that specialize in the areas that interest you

There’s a wide world of law out there — jump in and explore!

Check out our law school

How to apply to law school

R.J. Praker (she/her) is a third year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science with minors in professional writing and Russian. She currently works as a writing intern for UC Davis' Office of Strategic Communications and an academic peer advisor for the Department of Political Science. She also serves as chief copy editor at the Davis Political Review. R.J. is from Placerville, California and loves to hike in the Sierra Nevada with her family’s dogs.

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