What Does a Civil Rights Lawyer Do? (And How to Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 18, 2022 | Published January 3, 2022

Updated August 18, 2022

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Civil freedoms and judicial precedents that enlarged the rights and privileges of people often started as court trials that included civil rights lawyers. Civil rights lawyers strive to pursue claims to protect individuals from prejudice or intimidation and safeguard human rights. If you're interested in helping to improve individuals' access to justice, learning about the specifics of becoming a civil rights lawyer can help you determine whether this is a suitable career path for you.

In this article, we answer the question, "What does a civil lawyer do?", discuss how to become one, list relevant skills for the role, and explore some frequently asked questions about this profession.

What does a civil rights lawyer do?

Understanding the answer to the question, "What does a civil rights lawyer do?", is important because it can help you decide whether to pursue this career. These professionals specialize in matters involving injustice against members of a protected group. Civil rights lawyers handle matters involving individual freedoms, like the right to freedom of expression. They draft paperwork, represent clients in court, and mediate case resolutions. Their daily tasks may differ according to their location and the people they serve.

Civil rights lawyers may also get greater responsibilities as they acquire more expertise. They typically spend most of their time researching or addressing cases in court. Planning for a case may include researching relevant issues or judicial precedents, visiting clients in prison, going to court, and writing arguments or legal papers. Presenting a claim in court may entail interviewing witnesses, providing evidence, and describing the facts of the case to the judge and jury. They're usually passionate about their society and want to guarantee legal protection for all individuals in their community.

Read more: How Much Does a Paralegal Make?

How to become a civil rights lawyer

Civil rights lawyers devote years to training for a career in law because this role demands in-depth knowledge of the legal system. If you intend to pursue a career in civil rights law, you can consider the following steps:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

Earning a bachelor's degree or fulfilling 90 credit hours, typically over three years, is the first step in becoming a civil rights lawyer. You may consider pursuing a degree in government or a field involving human rights. You can concentrate on history, politics, public speaking, and government studies. Consider using this opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to community service or gain relevant skills through other opportunities.

Over the summer, you can also volunteer, join student societies that advocate for progressive change at your school, or serve as a research assistant at a local activist group or legal firm. Any of these activities can provide valuable experience for your profession. Each law school has its own set of prerequisites and criteria for the undergraduate education that applicants require before applying to law school. Most outline credit requirements, while some may require taking specific courses.

2. Pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

It's a requirement to pass the LSAT before eligibility for acceptance into any Law School Admission Council (LSAC) accredited law school. This standardized admission exam occurs four times every year. Your entrance to law school is dependent on your LSAT score, so you can consider using resources offered by your university, group study sessions, and free online materials to increase your chances of achieving an excellent score. The LSAT assesses three critical areas:

  • Reading comprehension: This section requires reading complex paragraphs that relate to the type of information you may discover in law school and the legal community. You then respond to questions and rely on your ability to make conclusions and inferences from the text.

  • Analytical reasoning: This section assesses your capacity for recognizing relationships and forming judgements.

  • Logical reasoning: This section requires you to analyze provided arguments and determine their merits and shortcomings.

3. Complete law school

Law school generally lasts three years, and you receive a juris doctor (JD) degree upon completion. Consider concentrating on courses in constitutional law, job discrimination, race and the legal system, disability, family law and civil liberties law if your school provides these electives during law school. Networking with your fellow law students can be helpful because they may become your coworkers or a contact that assists you in securing employment following graduation.

Canada has two distinct legal cultures. English common law, which applies in most provinces and territories, and French civil law, which is applicable in Quebec. If you plan to work as a lawyer in Quebec, it's a more efficient to graduate from a Quebec law school. If you wish to operate in an English common law area, choose one of the other province or territories' common-law schools. There are interprovincial and interterritorial mobility arrangements that permit professionals registered in one common-law area to practice in another.

Read more: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

4. Complete the bar admissions course and articling requirements in your province

The next step in pursuing a career as a civil rights lawyer is to finish your province's bar admission course successfully. This stage varies widely amongst provinces, although they may have a similar structure. For instance, Ontario requires candidates to pass the barrister and solicitor licensing exams. After completing that phase, you begin experiential mentoring through a Law Practice Program (LPP) or Articling Program. The Articling Program entails a 10-month engagement with a principal, or licensed solicitor, who can validate your progress. The Law Practice Program consists of a four-month training program and a four-month internship.

For example, in British Columbia, it's necessary to finish the Law Society Admission Program over 12 months, which involves:

  • At least nine months of articling at a law firm or other legal settings working full-time prior to applying to the Law Society Admission Program.

  • Participation in a 10-week Professional Legal Training Course (PLTC). This course examines legal method and practice and legal expertise, values, and practice management.

  • Successful completion of two qualification tests encompassing the PLTC Practice Material

5. Start working

Typically, civil rights lawyers begin their careers as legal associates. They may collaborate with more established professionals who guide and instruct them during the early stages of their legal careers. They may spend several years in the field before becoming partners in a law firm or establishing their own practice.

6. Continue your education

An additional advanced degree allows you to specialize in civil rights law, which can help you acquire a job as a civil rights lawyer or advance your professional development. Occasionally, schools provide programs for qualified lawyers specializing in a particular field of law. Students enrolled in civil rights law programs can acquire knowledge in areas such as immigration law and human rights law.

What skills does a civil rights lawyer require?

Civil rights lawyers require various skills, depending on their area of interest. For example, those seeking to establish a private firm may benefit from marketing, bookkeeping, and business abilities. These skills usually include:

  • Active listening

  • Networking

  • Analytical reasoning

  • Empathy

  • Negotiation

  • Communication

  • Research

  • Teamwork

  • Writing

  • Logical reasoning

Read more: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

FAQs about becoming a lawyer

The following are answers to some frequently asked questions about becoming a lawyer:

How much do lawyers earn?

The national average salary for a civil rights lawyer is $90,459 per year. Salaries may vary according to a lawyer's level of experience, the law firm they work for, and the region of the country. Cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary are the highest paying cities to work in as a lawyer.

How long does it take to become a lawyer?

After graduating from high school, it takes around seven years of full-time studies to become a lawyer. This program consists of four years of undergraduate studies followed by three years of law school. You may also decide to pursue a master's or doctorate to advance your career and become a more competitive job candidate.

Read more: Attorney vs. Lawyer: What's the Difference?

Can you attend a foreign law school?

If you choose to a attend foreign law school to become a lawyer, it's necessary to receive approval from the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). You can send your credentials and expertise in law to the NCA. The NCA can then assess what additional training is necessary to fulfill at an accredited law school before earning a license in your province. They may require you to pass certain exams to be eligible for licensure. If you qualify, you receive a Certificate of Qualification, which you may use to apply for admission to your regional law society.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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