How to Become an Adoption Lawyer

Six Parts:Qualifying for Law SchoolGathering Application MaterialsChoosing a Law SchoolEarning a Law DegreeObtaining Your Law LicenseFinding a Job as an Adoption Lawyer

Although some careers unfold by chance, lawyers who help clients with adoptions and general family law matters often have a strong desire to help others, especially as they weather either stressful or painful decisions. To become an adoption lawyer, you must attend and graduate law school before passing your state’s bar exam. Then, you can get your first legal job and work toward establishing yourself in the field of family law.

Part 1
Qualifying for Law School

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    Obtain a bachelor’s degree. In order to get into law school, you first need a bachelor’s degree (4 year degree) from an accredited college or university. It does not matter what kind of bachelor’s degree you get, but most pre-law students obtain bachelor’s degrees in political science, psychology, or sociology.
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    Take classes in social work and psychology. Although you can major in any subject you want, you might want to consider taking classes in psychology and social work. Psychology classes will help you with the significant family counseling you will engage in as an adoption lawyer.[1] Social work classes will also provide you with insight into the child welfare system.
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    Keep your grades up. Not everyone gets into law school. To increase your chances of getting in, keep your grades up. You want to graduate with at least a 3.0, but of course a 3.5 or 4.0 would be even better. Admissions committees view a high GPA as an indicator that you are a hard worker who is self-motivated. [2]
    • The higher your undergraduate GPA, the more selective you can be about what schools to apply to. Even if you do not care about the rank of the law school you attend, a higher GPA makes scholarships easier to get.
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    Build relationships with professors. When you apply to law school, you will need to submit letters of recommendation. Make the most of your four years in college by building relationships with professors who can write you strong recommendations.
    • A great way to build relationships with faculty is to work as a research or teaching assistant.
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    Seek out useful activities. In college, try to join debate clubs to improve your public speaking. As an adoption lawyer, you will need to act as an advocate for your clients and may even find yourself in court frequently.
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    Study for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The LSAT is by far the most important part of your application, and you will need a score around the 50 percentile in order to get into an accredited law school.
    • Because of the recent decline in law school applicants, law schools are giving away more scholarships than ever before. A high LSAT will help you qualify for free money from your law school of choice.[3]
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    Register for the test. The LSAT is offered four times a year, in June, September, December, and February. It is offered on Saturdays, but there are special sessions for those who observe a Saturday Sabbath.[4]
    • Create a free account at the Law School Admission Counsel’s (“LSAC”) website.
    • Find a test date and location. To do this, start on LSAC’s Law School Admission Counsel’s website Dates and Deadlines page.
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    Study for the test. The LSAT may be the most important factor in your law school application, so take it seriously. It tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.[5] Test prep companies offer tutoring, but you can also study on your own.
    • Your local library or bookstore should have copies of old LSAT exams. Find the most recent to take as practice exams.
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    Take the test. The LSAT has five multiple choice sections and one unscored essay. Four of the five multiple choice sections count toward your score. The fifth is experimental and does not count toward your score. Unfortunately, you will not know in advance which section is experimental.
    • Follow the rules for test day very carefully. If you fail to follow any of the test day rules, you may not be allowed to take the test. A complete set of test day rules can be found on the LSAC’s website on its Day of the test webpage.
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    Retake if your score is low. Applicants are allowed to take the exam more than once. Schools may choose to accept your higher score, or they may choose to average the two. If you take the LSAT twice but your score doesn’t improve, you should reconsider before taking it a third time.
    • On average, test takers are able to increase their score only 2-3 points on a re-take.[6]

Part 2
Gathering Application Materials

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    Register with the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). CAS is used by all law schools. You send them your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and evaluation; they create a packet and send it to the law school. The service requires a fee.[7]
    • Register early and make sure to get your transcripts to CAS in a timely manner.
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    Solicit letters of recommendation. Now is the time to draw on the relationships you have built up with faculty during your undergraduate career. Ask your professors if they can write you a strong letter of recommendation. Only follow through if that professor says “yes.”
    • If you didn’t build strong relationships with faculty, don’t despair. You can also ask for recommendations from present and past employers, as well as from people associated with church or volunteer organizations.
    • Some recommenders may need to be prompted to complete the letter. Send a friendly email reminder, or stop in to chat.
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    Draft a personal statement. Law schools require that you write a short statement, typically on a topic of your choosing. The statement is usually only 500 words.[8]
    • Follow the directions. If the school wants you to write on a specific topic, write on that topic. Also, if they give you a word limit, stick to the limit. Going over, by even a few words, can harm your chances of admission.
    • Feel free to write about your interest in adoption law. Note, however, that law schools do not offer majors, not even in family law. Consequently, don’t say you want to apply to a school to “major” in something. Instead, state why you think the school will help you fulfill your dream of practicing adoption law.
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    Think about writing an addendum. An addendum can be a great way to explain something that looks bad in your application. A solid addendum will provide context for any information that might raise “red flags.”[9]
    • An addendum might clarify why one LSAT score is much higher than another, or it might explain why your grades were low one semester. Remember to explain, not make excuses.

Part 3
Choosing a Law School

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    Think about where you want to practice. Only a handful of law schools have national reach. Instead, most law schools place their graduates in the local legal community. You should therefore pick a law school in an area where you want to practice.
    • You should always ask any prospective law school for its job placement statistics. Over the past few years, a sea change has occurred with respect to the way schools collect job placement data. Now schools must include much more detailed information about the employment rates of recent graduates.
    • Pay attention to the number of students who get “full-time jobs requiring a JD” after graduation. Other employment statistics will fold in people who are working part-time or who are working in a field that doesn’t require a law degree.
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    Consider costs. The cost of law school has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades. Students now routinely pay over $30,000 a year in tuition, which does not include additional costs for living expenses.[10] If you are not careful, you could graduate law school $200,000 in debt.
    • Some public law schools may be cheaper than private schools—but not always. The tuition for out-of-state law students is often comparable to the tuition of a private school.
    • If you want to move to a state and hope to qualify as an in-state resident, contact the law school’s admissions office for information.
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    Choose a law school. Choosing a law school for some will be quite easy. Those who plan to stay in the area where they currently reside may only have 1 or 2 options. For others, the choice might be more difficult. In addition to costs, applicants should consider:
    • Curriculum. The basic curriculum for first year students is pretty much the same at any law school, but after the first year, the classes available might be very different. Look for a curriculum that stresses family law issues, especially adoption.
    • Internship and clinical program availability. Most law schools have internships and other clinical opportunities for students to gain experience working as a lawyer. Look for a school with programs that interest you, and that may provide assistance to families who are adopting.
    • Library and other facilities. You will likely be spending a lot of time in the library while attending law school, so be sure that the library has quality resource materials and hours that will work with your schedule.
    • Accreditation. You want to be sure that the law school you choose to attend is accredited by the American Bar Association (“ABA”), as you might not be able to sit for the bar examination if your school is not. To check that the law school you wish to attend is accredited, check the ABA’s ABA Approved Law Schools page.
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    Use your GPA and LSAT score to find appropriate schools. These are the two most important factors in law school admissions, and schools will rely on them heavily. Because application fees can be expensive (sometimes close to $100), you will want to be selective about which schools you apply to. Look for schools where your GPA and LSAT fall near the school’s medians.
    • You can gauge your likelihood of gaining admission to specific schools by using the LSAC calculator. Enter your undergraduate GPA and LSAC score to see your chances.
    • If you have a 3.5 GPA and a 155 LSAT, then you have a 25% chance of getting into Arizona State, a 50% chance of getting into Michigan State, and a 75% chance of getting into the University of Miami.
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    Apply to multiple law schools. Applying to more than one school increases your chances of being accepted. If you don’t get into any school, then you will have to wait a year before applying.

Part 4
Earning a Law Degree

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    Take required courses. Law schools generally require 90 credits or so, spread out over 3 years. Your first year will consist mostly of basic courses: torts, contracts, property, civil procedure, criminal law, and constitutional law.
    • If you hope to work for a large family law firm in your city, then you will need to do as well in your first-year classes as possible. Large firms tend to pay the most and, accordingly, have the most people applicants. You should check with your career services for information on the GPA required to be competitive at a larger firm.
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    Join a study group. Law school is stressful and isolating, and a study group is a great way to meet people. Study groups help with exam preparation, sharing notes and outlines, as well as just blowing off some steam.
    • If you join a study group, stick with it. No one likes people who join a group only to drop out after a month.
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    Take exams seriously. Before you can become a lawyer, you have to pass law school. Your grades will also follow you around your entire career. Though the importance of grades decreases over time, poor grades could keep you locked out of jobs, at least initially. [11]
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    Take family law electives as soon as possible. Many law schools allow students to begin taking electives beginning with their second semester. You should take as many family law classes as possible.
    • You should also study related family law subjects, such as estates and trusts.
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    Look for internships. Second- and third-year law students often participate in internships for credit. If you want to gain experience with adoption law, then you should contact any adoption agency in your area.
    • Volunteer your time to pro bono legal clinics that handle adoptions. Real life experience can make the transition from school to work much easier, and provide you with the experience needed to land your first job.
    • You may also want to intern with a family law judge. Interns with a judge are often called “externships” and can be taken for credit.[12]
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    Pass the MPRE. The Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination is required to practice in all but three jurisdictions in the United States. The exam has 60 questions and tests your knowledge of legal ethics.[13] You will take the exam in your third year of law school.

Part 5
Obtaining Your Law License

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    Apply for admittance. Each state administers its own bar exam, so check with the bar of the state where you wish to practice.[14] They will provide you with a list of the necessary steps to take.
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    Register for the bar exam. Nearly every state requires that you pass a written exam. The exam typically includes an essay portion as well as a multiple choice test.[15]
    • The bar exam is typically offered twice a year—once during the summer (June or July) and once the winter (usually February). If you have to take the bar exam over, you have to pay each time.
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    Prepare for the bar exam. Prep courses abound. They typically last several months and prepare you for both the essay and multiple choice portions of the bar exam. Costs can run up to several thousand dollars. [16]
    • If costs are a concern, then you can seek out old study guides published by bar prep companies. Many people sell old guides on eBay and other online retailers.
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    Fill out the background survey. In addition to passing the bar exam, you also need to pass a character and fitness review.[17] This requires filling out a detailed survey on your background.
    • Common problems with character and fitness include criminal convictions, financial irresponsibility (such as bankruptcy), and accusations of plagiarism. These may not completely block you from admission, but be prepared to discuss them with the character and fitness committee.
    • Always be honest when filling out the background survey. Often the attempt to hide something is worse than the offense in the first place.
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    Take the bar examination. The bar exam is typically held over the course of 2 days. The first day consists of a multiple-choice exam covering topics such as contracts, constitutional law, criminal law, evidence, and torts.[18] The second day, consisting of essays, is often state-specific.[19]
    • Expect to wait several months to receive your score. In Illinois, for example, those who take the exam in July will not receive their results until the first two weeks of October.[20]

Part 6
Finding a Job as an Adoption Lawyer

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    Start the job search early. Many jobs will come from people you meet in law school. Try to establish a relationship with any adjunct faculty who teach family law courses. Unlike full-time faculty, adjuncts often are practicing attorneys who teach in the evenings or part-time. They know practitioners in the field and can give you leads on who is hiring.
    • A great way to get a job is to clerk during your summers. Clerking may not pay much, but you will meet practicing lawyers who will remember you when you graduate. Always remember to keep in touch with your summer employers after you return to school in the fall.
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    Sign up for On Campus Interviewing. Law firms will register to interview students on campus for summer associate positions. Typically this happens the summer before your second year, but firms can come any time during the year.[21]
    • Even if you don't think you have strong credentials, it doesn't hurt to introduce yourself to potential employers. They might remember you years down the road, when you are ready to lateral to a better job.
    • Be sure to bring copies of your resume, transcripts, and writing samples, as well as the names of references. Being prepared creates a great first impression.
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    Search online. Small firms will not spend the money to buy a newspaper ad, but they will post a job notice on the web. You should check daily and have a resume (as well as writing sample) prepared to send electronically on a moment's notice.
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    Set up informational interviews. After taking the bar exam, you should identify attorneys whose practices you would like to learn more about. Draft a letter (not an email) and introduce yourself. Be sure to mention who gave you their name.
    • In the letter, explicitly state that you are not asking for a job. You will get a better response this way.
    • Develop a list of questions (at least 5) and take notes. Be engaged.[22]
    • Ask the attorney if she knows anyone else you can talk to, and be sure to send a thank you note afterwards.
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    Attend bar events. Although it costs money to join your state's bar organization, money spent could reap big rewards as you make new contacts and introduce yourself to people. Be sure to have a business card available and speak confidently.
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    Volunteer. Even though you are a qualified attorney, you might still need to volunteer in order to keep your skills sharp and to build a resume. Volunteer opportunities may be posted online, but you can also mail a resume or pick up a phone and call.
    • Working for free can pay off big time. If the firm or organization suddenly has an opening, you may be hired quickly.
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    Do family law pro bono work. Even if you can’t find a job in a firm that specializes in family law, you can always do pro bono adoption or family law work. You will need your employer’s approval, but you could quickly gain experience in the field.
    • To find potential pro bono opportunities, contact any local adoption agency.
    • Once you have sufficient experience, you can then apply to lateral to a family law firm or go out on your own and start a solo practice.
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    Get certified. Once you have been practicing law for several years, you can then seek board certification as an adoption lawyer, provided your state allows for it. Florida is leading the way in offering adoption law as a specialized field for certification. [23]
    • If your state does not offer a certificate in adoption law, then check if they offer one in family law.
    • Be sure to advertise your state-approved certificates on your webpage. Doing so will let potential clients know that you have special expertise in adoption law.
    • You may also want to join the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.[24]


  • Carefully read the American Bar Association’s article posted online, “Things Every Lawyer Handling an Adoption Should Know.” It will help you quickly get up to speed on many of the topics covered above.


  • Law school is expensive, and you should understand the details of loan forgiveness and repayment programs before registering and taking on debt.
  • Since many law school graduates are struggling to find good jobs and pay off their law school jobs, you may need to take an initial job in a field other than family law. Consider putting your strong knowledge of contracts and other legal subjects to use by working for a state agency or a community service group that directly serves children and their families.

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