Steps to Becoming a Public Defender
- Earn an Undergraduate Degree
- Take the LSAT
- Earn a Law Degree
- Pass the Bar Exam
- Take the MPRE Exam
Public defenders are attorneys paid by the government to represent clients who have been charged with crimes but cannot afford legal representation. They’re also referred to as court-appointed attorneys. Becoming a public defender requires a lot of education, training and the ability to provide good legal representation to individuals who the attorney believes may be guilty. Here are the 5 major steps it takes to become a public defender/attorney.
1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree
It takes at least seven years to become an attorney, and earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step towards that goal. Most law schools require applicants to have baccalaureate degrees, which takes four years to complete. There is no specific major required, although some aspiring law students major in government, history or economics because they provide an overview of the workings of the criminal justice system. As a baccalaureate student, courses in economics, mathematics, public speaking, history government and English are common.
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2. Take the LSAT
After earning the bachelor’s degree, the student must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Prior to enrolling in law school, the applicants are required to submit transcripts and scores from the LSAT. This exam is to determine the student’s skill level in analytical reasoning, reading, and critical thinking. Students who intend to enroll school often take the LSAT during their junior year in the bachelor’s degree program. Entry into law school is very competitive, so applicants are advised to prepare for the LSAT because high scores can make the difference between getting admitted into law school.
3. Earn a Law Degree
The next step is earning a law degree, which takes three years of law school. In most states, the candidate is required to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a school that’s accredited by the American Bar Association. The first year students complete courses in constitutional law, tort, property, and contracts. The final two years include internships, clinical experiences and elective courses like corporate law, labor and taxes, and others.
Students who want to work as public defenders often specialize in areas like criminal law. This concentration has courses in federal criminal law, jury instructions, evident and capital punishment. The student also learns about criminal litigation practices. Aspiring public defenders also apply for internships in public defender’s offices to gain hands-on experience working with other public defenders.
4. Pass the Bar Exam
Once the student has earned the J.D. degree, he or she must be admitted to the bar association. In order to gain admission, the candidate must pass the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), according to the American Bar Association. This two-day test, which focuses on torts, constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, evidence, and torts, typically consists of a variety of essay and multiple-choice questions. Applicants are also advised to prepare as much as possible for the bar exams. Many companies offer bar exam preparatory courses to get the student familiar with what to expect on the actual test.
5. Take the MPRE Exam
The final step aspiring public defenders must take is to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). This is required in all but four states. This test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and takes two hours and five minutes to complete. This exam is offered three times per year and is separate from the MBE. Once candidates have passed this they are ready to seek work as public defenders.
According to an April 2018 wage report by PayScale, public defenders earned a median salary of $57,954. Despite the fact that public defenders often have to do their best to defend criminals they know are guilty, this can be a rewarding career because they’re also helping provide legal representation to those who could not otherwise afford it.