How to Become an Immigration Lawyer

Four Parts:Qualifying for Law SchoolEarning a Law DegreeObtaining Your Law LicenseBuilding Your Immigration Law Practice

As an immigration lawyer, you specialize in resolving immigration issues such as citizenship denials cases, obtaining visas, and appealing citizenship denials. You are also responsible for assisting clients with immigration paperwork, relocating businesses outside the country, and advising clients of the process of becoming U.S. permanent residents or citizens.

Part 1
Qualifying for Law School

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    Earn a 4-year undergraduate degree at a college or university. A bachelor's degree is required to enter law school.
    • Pick a major that you're interested in. There's no pre-law undergraduate major, so law schools don't require you to have a certain major to gain admission.
    • Take useful classes. The best classes to take will emphasize writing, reading, and critical thinking. Foreign language classes can also be helpful. In 2013, over 35% of US immigrants migrated from Spanish speaking countries. Large numbers of immigrants also came from Vietnam, China, the Philippines, India and Korea. Immigration to the US from Asian countries has continued to grow for several years and represents the largest group of immigrants to the US. If you could be fluent in one of these languages you may be able to create a niche for your legal practice.[1]
    • Get good grades. In addition to taking challenging courses you will need good grades to get into the school of your choice.
    • Build relationships with professors so they can give you a meaningful and positive recommendation.
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    Open a Law School Admission Council (LSAC) account online here and pay any associated fees. The account is how law schools receive most of the details for your law school application.
    • Send transcripts, letters of recommendations, and resumes to LSAC.
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    Register for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The LSAT is offered four times a year, in June, September/October, December, and February. The September/October exam is the final one to take to qualify for fall admission.
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    Prepare for the LSAT. The LSAT is perhaps the most important piece of your application. [2] It is scored from 120-180 and tests reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. Take it seriously.
    • Commercial prep courses can run to several thousand dollars. You typically meet in a small groups or in one-on-one tutoring.
    • You can also study on your own. Your library or local bookstore has copies of old exams. Take some practice exams and identify areas of weakness. Your library should also have study guides to help you improve.
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    Select law schools. There are over 200 accredited law schools in the United States. They vary considerably in reputation. The more highly-regarded the law school, the more impressive your credentials need to be to gain admittance.
    • To get into any law school, you should have around a 3.00 GPA and an LSAT score around 151 (which is the 50th percentile).
    • To get into a top 50 law school, you should have around a 3.5 GPA and an LSAT score around 157 (70th percentile).
    • To get into a top 10 law school, your GPA will need to be around 3.7 and your LSAT around 169 (97th percentile).
    • Go online and look at a law school admissions calculator, such as and
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    Pick a city that you will be willing to live in after graduation. Large immigrant populations cluster in cities. Attending a law school in a city will provide ready access to clinics and job opportunities serving the immigrant community.
    • You may want to consider attending a law school that has an immigration clinical program. Immigration clinical programs allow law students to get practical experience in immigration law before they graduate. Check to see if the schools you want to attend have a clinical law program.
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    Consider the costs of attending law school. Law school tuition has increased dramatically and can cost over $50,000 a year. Apply for financial aid and think about what your living expenses will be at your law school. Some cities are far more expensive than others.
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    Apply to law school and gain admission. The deadline for fall admission usually falls in February or March. [3] It is best to apply early before all the seats fill up. Aim to apply before Christmas.
    • Apply to multiple law schools: safeties, targets and reaches.

Part 2
Earning a Law Degree

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    Take required first-year courses. Typical first year courses are contracts, torts, Constitutional law, property, and legal writing. Earn good grades, as your grades are important to future employers.
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    Fill in any language deficiencies. For example, if you weren’t able to learn Spanish as an undergrad, take the time to master the language while in law school. You might not get course credit, but the skill will be invaluable.
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    Take immigration law electives. Law students fill up their final two years of law school with electives. You can begin taking immigration law classes then.
    • Participate in internships at immigration agencies or firms during the school year. You can often earn credit!
    • If your school has an immigration law clinic, sign up and start getting hands-on experience. You will work under the direction of a helpful faculty supervisor.
    • Work for an immigration attorney during your summers. Law students have two summers to work. Building contacts while in law school will help with your job search after graduation. While some immigration attorneys work for large firms, most work in small practices. Therefore, you will want to conduct informational interviews with local practitioners to learn about the field in your city and determine whether or not there are jobs or internships available for law students.
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    Join college and professional organizations such as the American Immigration Lawyer Association (AILA). Professional organizations are a great way to meet practitioners in the field.
    • Attend an annual conference to rub shoulders with establish immigration attorneys.
    • The continuing legal education courses offered by professional organizations are a great way to supplement your law school education. If your school doesn't offer classes in immigration law, then you can attend panels and discussion sponsored through the AILA.
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    Graduate from law school with your Juris Doctor (JD) degree.

Part 3
Obtaining Your Law License

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    Find what state you want to work in. Each state qualifies its own attorneys. Find the state you want to work in and register for admittance to their bar.
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    Fill out the character and fitness questionnaire. This survey asks detailed questions about your academic, work, and financial history. Complete honesty is mandatory.
    • If you have any concerns, such as a prior criminal conviction or an accusation of plagiarism, you should secure the assistance of an attorney to help guide you through the bar admissions process. People have been denied admittance for these reasons.
    • If the character and fitness committee calls you in for an interview, you should prepare for the interview with a lawyer.
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    Register for the bar exam. States typically offer the bar exam twice a year: once in February and once in the summer. There are two parts: a written essay exam and a multiple choice test. Score requirements vary.
    • Some state bars are more difficult to pass. California, for example, has a passage rate of about 48 percent. [4]
    • Illinois, by contrast, admitted about 80 percent of its applicants in 2014. [5]
    • Popular prep courses can help you study for both the essay and multiple choice sections. They run for several months and cost several thousand dollars.
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    Pass the state bar examination and get sworn in. Swearing in usually happens a month or so after the bar exam results have been released.

Part 4
Building Your Immigration Law Practice

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    Seek employment opportunities. You can apply to work at the immigration law firm or immigration agency you interned at during law school. Renew your contacts. Ideally, you should have regularly kept in touch.
    • Schedule informational interviews as a way to establish new connections.
    • You can find a job online, through networking or through classified advertisements. Also, your law school career center should have leads or tips for finding work.
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    Start your own firm. Once you are admitted to a state bar, you are qualified to hang out a shingle and work for yourself.
    • To open a firm, you will need to incorporate, either as a limited liability company (LLC) or as a professional corporation (PC). Forms are available from the Secretary of State's office.
    • You typically need to register with your state Supreme Court.
    • Get your name out there! Building a website is a great way to raise awareness of your firm. Be sure to make it multi-lingual.
    • Keep in touch with former employers. If they have a conflict which prevent them from working on a case, they may refer it to you.
    • If you start your own firm, you must be able to support yourself financially for a year or two with either limited or no income. While your practice may take off quickly, it may also be a year or two before you can take home a salary.
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    Think about practicing in a different field for a while. Immigration issues crop up in a variety of fields, for example in employment law or in family law. Gaining experience in these other areas can be a way to pay your bills while waiting for immigration matters to come your way.
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    Continue to build skills. In addition to language skills, successful immigration lawyers excel at listening, public speaking, and debating. They must also have detailed knowledge of the immigration code.


  • Although law schools are typically looking for students who have excellent undergraduate grades, high LSAT scores and work experience, each school places different weight on these factors. Thus, you may gain admission even if you don't have stellar grades or a high LSAT score.
  • Law schools also place a lot of weight on the amount of volunteer work you do before, during and after you are working on your undergraduate degree.

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Categories: Legal Careers