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How to Become a Civil Rights Attorney


Civil rights attorneys focus on countering discrimination against individuals or groups. If you want to be a civil rights lawyer, you should be passionate about civil rights issues and really want to dedicate your life to defending people against discrimination and civil rights infringement. The process for becoming a civil rights attorney is similar to becoming any other type of lawyer, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for success in the field. We’ve put together answers to common questions you might have about becoming a civil rights attorney.


What does a civil rights attorney do?

  1. Legally protects people against discrimination and harassment. Specifically, against discrimination and harassment because of physical or mental disabilities, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin, age, or status as a member of the armed forces. Additionally, they fight to protect civil liberties like the right to privacy and the freedoms of speech and expression, thought and conscience, religion, the press, and movement.[1]
    • Civil rights attorneys are often passionate about a particular group or cause and specialize in this area of civil rights.
    • For example, you might choose to focus on African American civil rights or gender identity issues.

How many years of college are required?

  1. Typically, it takes 7 years of university to become a civil rights lawyer. It usually takes 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. After you complete a 4-year undergraduate program you have to go to law school for 3 years.[2]
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    • You might be able to complete your undergraduate program in less than 4 years if you take more than the required number of credits each semester.
    • Law school programs don’t allow you to set your own pace, but you might be able to find an accelerated program that takes less than 3 years.

What degree do you need to be a civil rights lawyer?

  1. A bachelor’s degree from any discipline. Law schools accept applicants with undergraduate degrees in any field. However, certain subjects like political science, history, criminal justice, and philosophy can make you more prepared for law school.[3]
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    • Choose courses in political science and history that cover civil rights issues to help you prepare for your future as a civil rights lawyer.
    • Courses that teach you problem solving, critical thinking, writing/editing, oral communication, research, and organization/management can also help prepare you for a career in law.[4]
  2. A Juris Doctor Law degree. This is the degree that you earn after successfully completing a law school program. After you earn your J.D. Law degree, you can take the BAR exam, which you must pass to become a practicing attorney.[5]
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    • While in law school, take courses in constitutional law, civil rights litigation, employment discrimination, race and the law, human rights law, education law, family law, and disability law to help prepare you for a career as civil rights attorney.
    • Joining legal clinics, participating in MOOT courts, and applying for internships with law firms or civil rights organizations while you’re in law school are great ways to gain hands-on experience before you graduate.[6]

Where can I study civil rights law?

  1. Many law schools offer courses in various aspects of civil rights law. Look for law schools that offer many courses about countering discrimination against people on the basis of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, or pregnancy. Choose a law school that makes sense for you in terms of cost and location.[7]
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    • Once you have an idea of a few law schools you might like to attend, look into them further to determine if they offer legal clinics in areas of civil rights laws. Attending a law school where you can get hands-on experience in the field can help you succeed even more upon graduation.[8]
    • Some law schools with renowned civil rights law programs include New York University College of Law, Yale University Law School, Columbia Law School, University of Virginia Law School, and University of Michigan Law School, to name a few.

Do civil rights lawyers go to court?

  1. Yes, the job description includes presenting cases to judges and juries. However, civil rights lawyers do a lot more than just go to court. You’re responsibilities may also include deciphering laws and rulings for people or businesses, negotiating settlements, formulating legal briefs, and investigating legal data.[9]
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    • Keep in mind that as a civil rights attorney you may be tasked with handling high-profile court cases. You should be ready for the possibility of being in the public eye in such a case.

Do civil rights lawyers make a lot of money?

  1. Civil rights attorneys typically make between $69,000 and $145,000 a year. This varies depending on whether your work in the private sector or in the non-profit sector, with non-profit civil rights attorneys earning less. Naturally, entry-level civil rights lawyers make less than more experienced lawyers.[10]
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    • There are many other fields of law in which you can make a similar amount of money, so you should get into civil rights lawyers because you care about the issues, not just for the money.

Where do civil rights attorneys work?

  1. Non-profit civil rights organizations. After you finish law school and pass the BAR exam, one option is to search for openings at local, national, or international civil rights nonprofits. Check the websites of various organizations for job openings for civil rights attorneys or reach out to different nonprofits and let them know you’re interested in working for them.[11]
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    • Some top non-profit civil rights organizations in the U.S. include the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
    • Amnesty International is one of the most well-known international civil rights nonprofits.
  2. Government agencies. There are various government agencies that are dedicated to civil rights. If you think you might like working for the government, research job openings on their websites and apply if you see any for civil rights attorney positions.[12]
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    • For example, in the U.S. government there are federal offices of civil rights in many departments including education, agriculture, justice, commerce, and homeland security, to name a few.
    • You can find a full list of U.S. federal agency civil rights offices here:
  3. Public interest law firms with civil rights practices. If you’re interested in working for a law firm in the private sector, look for firms that specialize in public interests including civil rights. The primary mission of these firms is to help underrepresented people and causes, rather than just to make money.[13]
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    • Though these types of firms are still for-profit law firms, the way they choose clients is more selective and they often offer flexible payment options and take on pro-bono cases.


Source: Wiki How