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How do I Become a Trial Attorney?

By Alexis W.
Updated May 17, 2024
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To become a trial attorney in the United States, you must graduate from an ABA approved law school. You also must pass the Bar Examination. Finally, to become a trial attorney, you must get experience in litigation.

Within the United States, all lawyers, including trial lawyers, are required to be licensed. Licensing rules are set by individual states, but there are many commonalities. The American Bar Association, or ABA, also sets standards and regulations that attorneys must follow.

The first step to become a trial attorney is to graduate from law school. Law school is a three year program if you attend full time. The ABA has certified and approved many law schools throughout the United States, and you must either attend one of these approved schools or take additional examinations.

Law school does not have special programs for trial attorneys. However, trial attorneys are litigators who speak in a court of law. Therefore, if you want to become a trial attorney, you should consider participating in Moot Court and taking courses in Civil Procedure and litigation while in law school.

Upon graduating from law school, you must take the Bar Exam before you become a trial attorney. The Bar Exam is administered to all perspective attorneys, and you are not allowed to practice in any field of law unless you have successfully passed this exam. Each state administers its own Bar Exam, but each of the exams test your familiarity with the constitution, criminal law, property law, and other key areas of the legal profession.

After successfully passing the bar exam, you are sworn in to practice law. At this time, you can begin actively working towards becoming a trial attorney. This means you will want to go to work for a law firm that does litigation.

Licensed attorneys are classified into two main types: transactional attorneys and litigators. Transactional attorneys do not go to trial. Instead, they prepare contracts, legal documents and do other legal work that does not involve appearing in court, such as incorporating companies.

Trial attorneys, or litigators as they are often called, participate in cases in which they may appear in court. As the vast majority of cases settle out of court, a trial attorney may not actually spend a lot of time in a court room. Still, he represents either plaintiffs or defendants in lawsuits or criminal cases, which may one day go before a judge or a jury.

A trial attorney must be familiar with court rules, or the rules of procedure. These rules are vast, and involve everything from the deadlines for filing motions to the appropriate font size to use on court documents. A trial lawyer also must be comfortable speaking in public and representing his client's interests.

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Discussion Comments

By Logicfest — On Apr 30, 2014

@Soulfox -- good overview, but keep in mind that both scenarios you've mentioned are almost never heard before a jury. Dealing with a judge who renders a verdict is much different than trying to convince a jury to return one that is favorable to a client.

By Soulfox — On Apr 29, 2014

The best way to become a successful trial attorney is similar to what musicians must do to get to Carnegie Hall -- practice, practice, practice. Young lawyers generally start up taking cases that are considerably minor in nature -- misdemeanor charges and those types of things. Still, defending clients against such charges as DWI, assault and battery and the like will sharpen an attorney's skill in the criminal trial realm. Those might not be huge cases, but attorneys who handle a few of them will get an education in discovery, presenting evidence, legal research and other areas that will be useful in more "serious" trials.

The same goes for civil cases. Lawyers wind up with a lot of divorce and custody issues, and the skills learned in those matters will help in civil matters.

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