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How to Become a Litigator

September 6, 2023
4 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 09/06/23

Are you interested in becoming a litigator? Read on to learn more about this profession, the skills needed to succeed, and its average salary.

Knowing what to do with your JD degree can be difficult. Of course, you know you want to be a lawyer but what kind? With several specialties to choose from, picking one to dedicate your career to can be overwhelming.

Fortunately, there are several common specialties that students tend to pursue because of the laws they involve and the salary they offer. One such popular legal specialty is litigation law. Students are exposed to litigation law in their first year of law school, where they learn about civil procedure and dispute resolution.

But, if you don’t want to wait till your 1L year to learn more about litigation, or simply want more information on this specialty, this guide has got you covered! In it, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about how to become a litigator.

What Does a Litigator Do?

Let’s start with the fundamentals by answering the question: “what do litigators do?”

Litigation attorneys’ main responsibility is to resolve disputes within the court system. These disputes can essentially involve cases from any legal specialty, but tort cases are most popular. These lawyers argue on behalf of their clients, in or outside of the courtroom, and perform the following tasks:

  • Meeting with the opposing party to identify issues or discuss the possibility of a settlement
  • Sending demand letters to opposing parties to prevent further legal action from being undertaken
  • Filing formal lawsuits
  • Exchanging documents between all parties involved
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Reviewing all documents relevant to the case to create an argument
  • Filing a motion for judgment at a pre-trial proceeding
  • Gathering evidence to make a case
  • Presenting the case to a judge or jury for trial
  • Creating persuasive opening and closing statements
  • Appealing court decisions

Litigation cases can take years to complete, depending on their complexity! The pre-trial stage and gathering of evidence tends to make up the bulk of these cases, meaning litigation lawyers typically spend more time outside of court than inside it! 

If you’re hoping to spend every day in the courtroom representing clients on new and exciting cases, this specialty may not be the right fit for you!

Steps to Becoming a Litigation Attorney

Now that you have a better understanding of what litigators do, we’ll move on to discussing how to become a litigation attorney and how long the process will take.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to join this profession:

Step One: Complete an Undergraduate Degree

The first, out of up to three, degrees you’ll have to obtain is an undergrad from an accredited university. Your performance in your undergrad will play a large role in any law school admission committee’s decision, so it's essential you maintain a high GPA.

There isn’t a specific major that will give you an advance in the selection process. You do not have to complete a pre-law major or one related to law. Choose a subject you’re interested in and take a diverse range of electives to expand your skill set.

Step Two: Join Valuable Extracurriculars

Law schools will assess you based on your academics, experiences, and accomplishments. To ensure you come across as a well-rounded candidate, you should aim to participate in at least a couple extracurriculars throughout your undergrad. Consider gaining work, volunteer, research, and recreational extracurricular experience.

These activities will ultimately be used to create your law school resume, a fundamental part of your application!

Step Three: Write the LSAT or GRE

Depending on the schools you’re applying to, you may have to write the LSAT or GRE. Choose whichever test will reflect your abilities best. Ensure you set your target score according to the median scores of previous successful students. 

Step Four: Choose the Right Law School

When choosing which law school to attend, you should focus on those that can provide you with valuable experience through clinics, externships, internships, and courses. The majority of schools do not have litigation programs in particular, but they have dispute resolution or trial advocacy programs, which are considered the same.

The majority of law schools require students to complete at least one course in litigation during their first year, but you should go beyond this and gain as much exposure and experience in the field as possible. 

Step Five: Write the MPRE

The MPRE is a licensing exam required by most states. This exam tests students on their professional and ethical standards to ascertain they understand the rules and conducts they must follow as lawyers. 

Students typically only need a few weeks to prepare for this exam, but should still create a study plan to ensure they do not procrastinate and can hold themselves accountable!

Step Six: Consider Further Education

To become a litigator, you’re only required to complete a JD degree. After completion of your law degree, you have the education necessary to enter the field as an independent attorney.

However, you have the option of gaining more advanced training by pursuing an LLM in Litigation Law, Dispute Resolution, or a similar degree. This degree will only take an extra year to complete but can offer you more job opportunities and higher pay. 

Step Seven: Pass the Bar Exams

The final step before you can officially become a litigation attorney is passing your bar exam. Your passing score will depend on the state you’re in. Ensure you spend an adequate amount of time preparing for this exam, as it will be far more extensive than the ones you completed before and during law school.

Skills Needed to Be a Litigator

"skills" written on a chalkboard

Litigators require the following skills to be effective attorneys:

  • Excellent time management: to avoid any further delays in cases that tend to take years to complete
  • Strong interpersonal skills: to negotiate on behalf of clients and interview witnesses
  • Attention to detail: to gather data and evidence to create a compelling case
  • Logical thinking: to provide the most helpful and favorable counsel to clients
  • Strong writing skills: to draft accurate negotiations, settlements, and other motions 

Aspiring litigation attorneys must also be patient with these types of cases. They often take a long time to resolve, and even when they’re resolved, they typically require appeals if they involve large sums of money.

Litigator Salary

The average salary for litigators falls between $124,509 to $141,422, depending on their location and expertise. Litigators are in high demand currently and will likely continue to have steady demand in the near future, as they can handle diverse disputes and have a high degree of employment flexibility.

Due to the wide-ranging nature of their work, litigators can work in various legal specialties, including personal injury law firms, corporate firms, employment law firms, and more. 

FAQs: How to Become a Litigator

For any remaining questions on how to become a litigator, read on to find your answers.

1. Is a Litigator the Same as a Lawyer?

A litigator is a type of lawyer. Litigators are attorneys that specialize in dispute resolution.

2. What Education Is Needed for a Litigator?

Litigators are required to complete an undergraduate degree and JD at the minimum, although several also pursue LLMS in Litigation or Dispute Resolution to enhance their training.

3. Is Litigation Hard to Get Into?

While there is a higher demand for litigation lawyers than other specialties, it will still be a competitive field to join. Large law firms typically aim to hire students that attended high-ranking law schools and were at the top of their classes. They will also expect you to have considerable experience and coursework in this legal area.

4. How Much Do Litigation Lawyers Make?

Litigation lawyers make an average of around $124,000-$142,000 a year.

5. How Long Does It Take to Become a Litigation Lawyer?

It will take at least seven years to join this profession: four years for an undergrad, three years for a JD, and an optional additional year for an LLM degree.

6. What Is the Best School for Litigation Law?

Currently, Ohio State University and Pepperdine University tie as the best law schools for Dispute Resolution.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to become a litigator and the extensive list of requirements and expectations involved in joining the profession, you should be able to decide if it's the right legal specialty for you!

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