In almost every country with a legal system, becoming an attorney—paternity or otherwise—begins with attending law school and earning a law degree. In some countries, attorneys choose their practice areas early on, often before completing their studies. In the United States, all law school graduates are admitted to general practice once passing a state-administered bar exam. From there, they choose their practice areas based on personal interest, experience, and market availability. In order to become a paternity attorney in the United States, then, one needs only a bar admission and initiative.
The first step that one must take in order to become a paternity attorney is to be admitted to law school. Law school in the United States is a three-year postgraduate program. Admission requirements vary from school to school, but most require an undergraduate degree, generally from a four-year college or university. The competition for law school admission is steep. While no specific accomplishments can guarantee admission, strong grades in college and an impressive record of involvement in civic activities is a good place to start.
U.S. law students take a core set of classes no matter which year they are in school, and may supplement that core with electives based on individual interests or institutional requirements. Some schools offer students the ability to focus their studies in a certain area of law, but law students do not major in any subject the way that undergraduate students do. Paternity law is a branch of the family law subject area. It is not usually possible to specialize in paternity law specifically. A law student who wants to become a paternity attorney would be best served by taking all of the family law courses his school offers, and focusing on family law, if possible.
Law students usually spend at least one of their summers working in a law firm and gaining experience in a specific field of law. A prospective paternity attorney should try to find a summer position working within a family law firm that handles a lot of paternity cases. Paternity cases usually involve more than just paternity law—they often also involve divorce, child custody, and parenting competency issues. It is therefore rare to find a firm that handles nothing but paternity.
The next hurdle on the path to becoming a paternity attorney is the bar exam. Each U.S. state administers its own bar exam, which must be passed to progress from law graduate to lawyer or attorney. Then, to become a paternity attorney, one must find work practicing paternity law. There is not usually any special qualification that an attorney must have to become a paternity attorney other than that the bulk of his work centers on paternity law.
Most attorneys find their first work in law firms, but not all do. So long as one is licensed to practice law, one can work as a solo practitioner or open one’s own firm, and can be very choosy about the cases to accept. Paternity attorneys can attract paternity cases with advertising, through word of mouth, or by referral.
Attorneys who want to become paternity attorneys may find it beneficial to consult their state’s bar association for resources related to family and paternity law. Most state bars have family law sections, and membership can lead to valuable networking opportunities with successful lawyers in the community. Finding more experienced lawyers who can act as mentors and advisers is a great way to get information and a leg-up on building a successful paternity law practice.