The Florida Bar
So You Want To Be A Lawyer Pamphlet

Table of Contents

What Is Law?
The Lawyer’s Role
Choosing A Career
Areas Of Law
Lawyer’s Job Description
Pre-Law Education
Law Schools And Costs
Bar Admission Through The Florida Board Of Bar Examiners
The Florida Bar
Lawyer's Income
Other Law Related Careers

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Note: This pamphlet is available online only.

Today, more than ever before, the legal profession offers a unique opportunity for the dedicated individual to make a significant contribution to society. Opportunities exist in the legal profession for service that helps individuals and society. This pamphlet is intended to help those of you who are considering law as your career. It should give you a better idea of what to expect on your educational path and the career opportunities open to you once you obtain your law degree.

Assigning one universally accepted definition of law is impossible. Even experts’ interpretations and implications of the law are virtually infinite. However, the main functions of modern law include: maintaining peace; influencing and enforcing standards of conduct; maintaining the status quo; facilitating orderly change; providing for maximum individual self-assertion; promoting justice; and providing solutions to conflicts and problems.

The lawyer’s responsibility in our American society is twofold: serving as an officer of the court and as a public servant. The lawyer’s function is to provide legal assistance in resolving conflicts and ensuring access to justice.

As an officer of the court, the lawyer is charged with working within the framework of and upholding the American law, which is based on the United States Constitution and written laws.

As a public servant, the lawyer is a counselor who advises clients and who represents their positions in order to help them enforce their rights in accordance with the American law.
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Before choosing a career, you should evaluate your personal goals, strengths and abilities, and your areas of interest in the legal arena. A career in law requires intelligence, diligence and perseverance. It is no small task to earn a law degree, to pass the bar exam and to be admitted to the Bar, allowing you to practice law.

To complete law school requires dedication and stamina. You must be driven to work as many hours a week as are needed to complete your law school studies, typically a three-year degree program beyond your undergraduate studies. Later, as a lawyer, you may have to work nights and weekends on cases and function under extreme pressure and stringent deadlines with the professional grace and courtesy required of members of the Bar.

As for personal goals, while it is true that a law career may provide opportunities to earn a substantial income, often, the legal profession is geared toward providing a service. Whether it be to the general public, as in government positions, or in the private sector, a lawyer’s duty is to serve. While your individual career path may lead to a position of authority and influence, it is important to recognize and embrace a focus on practicing with professionalism and uplifting the reputation of the profession. Lawyers are in a unique position to help see that laws are upheld, that personal rights are protected and that our system of justice continues to equally serve and protect the citizens of this country. It is important to approach your legal career with reasonable expectations and identifiable goals as to what you want your legal career to be.

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More than half of all lawyers go into private practice, setting up a solo office or joining a law firm of two or more partners. Private practitioners usually handle a variety of cases, although they often earn a reputation for concentrating in a particular area. This reputation leads to client referrals. For example, a lawyer might gain a reputation as a divorce lawyer, handling enough cases in this area that they make up most or all of his or her practice.

Many lawyers are employed by departments and agencies of federal, state and municipal governments. Many work for private businesses, large corporations or industrial firms. Some lawyers become judges, politicians, mediators or teachers. Others apply their legal education in areas such as banking, insurance and real estate, where legal knowledge may be a part of the job activities.

Because the profession of law is so diverse and complicated, law school provides a general legal background, after which there are many options as to the specific area of law or career to be pursued.
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The lawyer’s role most familiar to the public is that of a trial lawyer. Trials are news items because they involve people in dramatic and crisis situations. However, many men and women who practice law seldom appear in the courtroom. Many lawyers never present before a jury or a presiding judge. A trial is costly and time-consuming, and it often benefits both parties to settle out of court.

Activities of those in the legal profession vary according to the individual lawyer’s personality and area of practice. A lawyer may spend one day in conference listening to a client’s problem. The next day may be spent in the library or at a computer terminal doing research to find prevailing laws and current case law specific to the issue. A lawyer may spend the morning in the court and the afternoon visiting the scene of a client’s accident. But almost every lawyer spends hours researching and writing legal pleadings, reports or documents.
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It is of utmost importance that you take the high-school courses required for admission to the college you wish to attend. See your school counselor to make sure you are maximizing your high-school education potential. Courses that develop your ability to read and write more precisely are important.

No law school requires a formal pre-law course of study for admission. While no specific courses are required, a strong liberal arts background is beneficial. Specific useful subjects include English, political science, economics, philosophy, logic, business management, a foreign language and other courses that enhance your reading, reasoning, writing and communication abilities. Language is the tool of the lawyer, whether it is in oral arguments in court or in letters, legal briefs and drafting pleadings. Therefore, any course that develops this skill is valuable.
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Law school costs vary greatly, from the modest tuition of state-supported schools to the much higher tuition of the private law schools. The average yearly tuition for 2013 was $23,879 for public schools and $41,985 for private schools, according to the American Bar Association. On top of tuition costs, you must add the cost of books, room and board.

Many law schools and other legal organizations provide scholarships for outstanding students and also sponsor student loan programs. Many students also help finance their legal education by part-time employment. You should obtain information as to specific programs from the law school you wish to attend. Women made up 47 percent of all law students in 2012-2013. Minorities made up 28 percent of all law students for the 2012-2013 school year.

There are 206 American Bar Association-accredited law schools in the United States, 12 of them in Florida. Florida’s law schools are: Ave Maria School of Law, Naples; Barry University, Orlando; Florida A&M University College of Law, Orlando, Florida Coastal School of Law, Jacksonville; Florida International University College of Law, Miami; Florida State University College of Law, Tallahassee; Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad law Center, Fort Lauderdale; Stetson University College of Law, St. Petersburg; St. Thomas University School of Law, Miami; Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Riverview; University of Florida Levin College of Law, Gainesville; and University of Miami School of Law, Coral Gables.
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The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Florida. The Board consists of 12 members of The Florida Bar and three nonlawyer members of the general public. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners is responsible for making recommendations to the Supreme Court of Florida for each applicant seeking admission to The Florida Bar. The Board must ensure that each applicant meets the requirements with regard to character and fitness, education and technical competence before recommending an applicant for admission.

In making a determination as to your character and fitness to be an attorney, the Board conducts a thorough background investigation regarding your honesty, fairness and respect for the rights of others and for the laws of this country. The primary purposes of the character and fitness investigation are to protect the public and safeguard the judicial system.

The Board also administers the Florida Bar Examination, administered twice a year, in February and July. All law school graduates must pass this examination to obtain a license to practice law in Florida and be a member of The Florida Bar. Once you pass the bar examination and meet the character and fitness requirements established by the Supreme Court of Florida, you will be recommended to the Supreme Court for admission to the practice of law in this state.

Induction ceremonies for new lawyers are held twice annually, usually in May and October.

The Board recommends that you file a student registration application in the first year of law school. By registering with the Board as a law student, you will pay a lower fee and you will obtain a preliminary decision from the Board as to your character and fitness. Certified legal internships (CLIs) are available to law school students. In order to participate in these internships, you must obtain a preliminary decision regarding your character and fitness from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. This is an important reason to file a student registration in the first year of law school.

In addition to the character and fitness investigation and the bar examination, applicants seeking admission to The Florida Bar are required to receive a degree from an American Bar Association-accredited law school (or, if the degree is from a non-accredited law school, the applicant must have 10 years of practice in another state before being considered for admission).

For information on admission or to file an application for admission to The Florida Bar, visit the Board’s website at
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The Florida Bar is the third-largest unified Bar, meaning that all lawyers who practice in the state must be members of the Bar. There are more than 101,000 members of The Florida Bar.

As a member of the Bar, each lawyer is expected to devote some time to the improvement of the profession. Lawyers participate in the work of the Bar and uphold the established ethical standards and discipline procedures. The Bar helps protect the public from harm that could result in unqualified people practicing law.

Bar members are also encouraged to support the public interest by providing free or low-cost services to individuals or charitable organizations in need and by working with and financially supporting organizations that provide legal services to those in need. The Bar’s aspirational goal is for each attorney to provide 20 hours of free legal service per year, or to donate $350.00 to a legal aid organization.
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According to The Florida Bar’s 2014 Economics and Law Office Management Survey, the median salary for a starting attorney with no internship or clerking experience is $50,000. Salaries for starting attorneys with no prior clerking experience vary among the three regions of Florida. In the North Region, which includes Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola, the median salary for a beginning attorney is $40,000. The Central-Southwest Region, which includes the Orlando and Tampa areas, has a median salary of $50,000 for a beginning attorney. In the Southeast Region, which includes Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the median salary for a beginning attorney is $55,000.

As with all compensation, there is a strong correlation between years of experience and salary. The median salary in Florida is $70,000 for an attorney with three to five years of experience, $80,000 for six to eight years of experience and $150,000 as a partner in a firm. Larger firms generally offer greater initial salaries and more employee benefits than smaller firms. Salary amounts vary according to years of experience, age, type of practice, and firm size.
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A Florida Registered Paralegal is a person who has met the requirements as set forth in Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. While a Florida Registered Paralegal is not a member of the Florida Bar and may not provide legal advice or practice law, he or she is an integral part of legal practice. Paralegals often are in a unique position of being in communication with clients, attorneys, judicial assistants, court reporters, mediators and many other players in the legal arena. People skills are a must, and a strong educational background and interest in and affinity for the law can put a paralegal in a position to earn a very comfortable salary without attending law school.

The average starting salary for a paralegal in Florida is $30,000, according to the 2014 Economics and Law Office Management Survey; however, educated and experienced Florida Registered Paralegals can earn salaries in the private sector commensurate with some public sector attorney salaries.

For those who have an interest in the law but aren’t necessarily looking for a career as a lawyer or legal assistant, there are several other types of professional positions available in law firms. Job titles for such careers include director of administration, administrative manager, controller, office manager, personnel director, support services supervisor, accountant, bookkeeper, librarian, law school recruiting specialist, legal assistant coordinator, mediator and data processing supervisor.

Another interesting and important law-related profession is court reporting. Court reporters create word-for-word transcripts of trials, hearings, depositions and other legal proceedings. Without a transcript of proceedings, decisions cannot be challenged or reviewed on appeal. In 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual wage for court reporters was $48,160. An interest in the law and attention to detail are highly sought for this profession.
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As you pursue your course of study in law, remember that the road is a long and rough one. Money is always a consideration, but it should not be your primary goal. A lawyer’s job is to provide a much-needed service in the community today. The legal profession is exciting and challenging, as it deals with the vital areas of our lives.

As one judge put it, “Although more and more people are coming into the profession, we always have room for more good lawyers.” Being a lawyer is far from easy, but for the right people it can be one of the most rewarding professional experiences.

The material in this pamphlet represents general information. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions in this pamphlet may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.
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[Revised: 7/15]