Lawyers Career

Here is an extensive career guide that elaborates on the path for careers for lawyers, the job outlook, salaries, qualifications required and much more.

Updated by Rakshitha.N on 25th August 2020

What do they do: Lawyers usually examine their client’s case, advise clients with legal measures,  research on it, conduct tests, college evidence and present their findings in the court proceedings on behalf of their clients. 

Working environment: Lawyers usually work indoors in office settings with high social interaction with people. Also, they travel to courts, client locations, to research and other places. Spending 40 hours a week, they aim at meeting deadlines and maintaining accuracy with details.

How to become: To become a Lawyer, you must complete a Juris Doctor Law Degree after clearing the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Further to work in the state you must pass a state’s written bar examination.

Salary offered: The median salary offered to lawyers in 2020 is about $165,642 and can range from anywhere between $83,943 and $247,340 based on your specialization, experience, and several other factors. 

Career Outlook: The job growth of careers in law is facing a Positive growth of about 6 percent as projected by the BLS. 

Similar careers: Pursuing your career in law opens doors for exploring various career opportunities based on your interest to advance, your career outcomes, and also goals.

Top Lawyer Jobs

Trial Lawyers: Trial lawyers are one of the highest-paid legal professions and also one of the common career paths. Usually, the trial lawyers represent their clients in court cases and trials by presenting their findings through detailed research. Also, they aim at winning cases by arguing and winning their client's case to the judge or jury, the salary offered to this profession is about $121,733.

Intellectual Property Lawyers: The Intellectual property lawyers, so-called IP lawyers play a critical role in representing their clients in the court proceedings where the main aim is to argue and win the cases related to the protection of intellectual property. They also deal with the laws related to inventions, patents, trademarks, and creative works, such as music, books, and movies. The salary offered to this profession is about $131,728 annually.

Tax Attorneys: Tax attorneys are lawyers who specialize in the technical field of tax law where they are experts in handling the complex legal issues associated with your tax situation. They help clients in determining how much tax it needs to pay from profits made in different states in order to comply with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. Usually, dealing with high profile cases, and also the annual median wages could go up to $194,428. 

What do Lawyers Do?

Lawyers usually termed attorneys, perform tasks including both advocates and advisors. They indulge in taking up their client’s case regarding legal issues and disputes and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies during the court proceedings. They meet their clients, examine the case, research, and present their findings in front of the judge to argue about the case. 

As an advocate, they represent their clients' cases in a criminal or civil trial by supporting the case through suitable findings and presentation of evidence. 

As an advisor, they counsel their client about the case, legal rights and obligations and suggest actions to help win the case which may be related to business and personal matters. They also research on the various circumstances, judicial decisions and think in specific perspectives to win the case. 

The roles and responsibilities of lawyers typically include,

  • Effectively communicate with clients, colleagues, judges and other individuals involved in the case

  • Examine and analyze the condition of case

  • Research on the legal rules and regulations and also find evidence to support the case.

  • Represent individuals, businesses, government agencies private legal matters before the court 

  • Understand the rules and regulations applicable for various conditions and cases

  • Present the findings, written facts, client evidence and other information that supports the case by arguing on behalf of their clients

  •  Also deal with legal documents such as lawsuits, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds.

The roles may also differ based on your specialization and the work profile, they are,

  • Associate lawyers working in law firms perform legal work for individuals or businesses.

  • Criminal law attorneys or defense attorneys are referred so as they represent and defend the accused.

  • Prosecutors are lawyers who work for the government to file or charge a lawsuit against individuals or corporations due to violation of the law.

  • Government counsels work for the administrative bodies and executive or legislative branches of government where they write legal reviews, interpret laws, set up legal procedures.

  • Corporate counsels also termed as in-house counsels work for the legal procedures of corporations and issues concerned with patents, government regulations, contracts, property interests, taxes, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

  • Public-interest lawyers usually work for private, non-profit organizations to provide legal services for less fortunate people such as leases, job discrimination, and wage disputes.

  • Environmental lawyers work with the issues and regulations concerned with the environment which includes, waste disposal companies and others.

  • Family lawyers deal with personal issues of the family such as clients regarding divorce, child custody, and adoption proceedings.

  • Security lawyers perform duties overseeing the buying and selling of stocks, ensuring that all disclosure requirements are met, also, suggest corporations listing in the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO)

Working Conditions of Lawyers

Lawyers usually work indoors in office settings and also travel to various locations to meet clients in homes, hospitals, or prisons. Attend court proceedings by appearing before courts to represent clients. The working conditions include,

  • Have high levels of social contact with clients, colleagues, judges, and other individuals.

  • Communicate through telephone, e-mail, letters, memos, and in-person discussions.

  • Often speak in front of crowds and groups of people (court).

  • Oversee the work done by workers, paralegals, clerks, and other lawyers.

  • May work as a part of a team or handle cases Individually.

  • Make the right decisions to make a big impact on the case

  • No room for errors as this could result in delays or unfair rulings.

  • The working environment is competitive and you must work quickly to meet the deadlines.

  • Can face mental stress while dealing with complex cases.

  • Work in a fixed schedule of more than 50 hours a week.

As the working atmosphere is competitive, it is important to know the details of the largest employers of lawyers while pursuing the career path. They are,

  • Legal services: 48%

  • Self-employed workers: 20%

  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals: 7%

  • The state government, excluding education and hospitals: 6%

  • Federal government: 5%

How to Become a Lawyer?

Lawyers need to acquire an undergraduate degree which takes 4 years followed by pursuing a law degree at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a common standardized test required to enter law school. Most states require candidates to acquire a Juris Doctor Law Degree, pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), and Bar Exam to advance their career exponentially. To become a lawyer, there are certain clear-cut steps you need to follow in order to become qualified and meet the requirements. 

To meet the education requirement, it takes about 7 years and one year to prepare for the exam and gain experience, so it takes about 8 years to become a lawyer. 

Educational requirements for Lawyers

Becoming a lawyer has a definite career path where you must complete an undergraduate degree followed by an advanced law degree such as Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree based on the state requirements.

An undergraduate degree could be a bachelor’s degree which is a 4 years program. Completing this program gives you the eligibility to enter law schools. The coursework includes English, public speaking, government, history, economics, and mathematics. Also, it is necessary to maintain your GPA above 3.0 to get higher chances of acceptance. If you are willing to take up a bachelor's degree, it is best to choose a program in math or a technical science stream such as computer science, electrical engineering, chemistry, or biology.

Upon completing your undergraduate degree, you must clear the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) which is a standardized test approved by the ABA. The test evaluates one’s verbal reasoning skills and acquired reading skills. We suggest that the best time to take up the exam is in October or June.

Next is to complete a Law Degree at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The program takes about 3 years and the coursework during the first years includes the legal procedures, policies, legal analysis, and writing. And the 2-3 year includes electives such as public law, advocacy, business law, appellate law, or international law. Other advanced law degrees include, 

  • Master of Laws(LLM)

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Law (ph.D.)

  • Doctor of Jurisprudence (JDS)

  • Doctor of Juridical Science(SJD) / Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD)

  • Doctor of Comparative Law (DCL)

MPRE- Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination administered by NCBE acts as a prerequisite exam before attempting the BAR exam. The exam duration is about two-hour with 60 multiple-choice questions.

Bar Exam is the final requirement which is a high-level exam to evaluate your knowledge on application of law on various fact scenarios and challenges. The passing percentage for this exam is only about 40% and it is necessary for you to prepare well.

Prospective students can also choose Online Law Degrees which help in managing commitments, diverse coursework, affordable and other advantages. 

Licenses and Certifications for Lawyers

Lawyers become licensed upon clearing the BAR exam. The BAR exam is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners where you must meet the state requirements. Some requirements include, 

  • Compiling the law degree from a law school accredited by the ABA

  • Pass one or more written bar exams

  • Not have any academic misconduct and a history of substance abuse

  • Clear the BAr exam according to the state and jurisdiction

  • If you are willing to work in multiple states, then you clear BAR based on that state

  • To keep a license active, you must continue legal education at a certain period of time. 

Legal Specialisations:

In the competitive field of legal services, it is necessary to gain specialization to advance career and also to handle high profile cases. Also by gaining specialization and skills, you can also explore a number of Alternative Careers for Lawyers which helps in advancing your career positively. Some specializations are,

  • Business

  • Estate planning

  • Criminal law

  • Appeals

  • Contract law

  • Worker’s compensation

  • Disability/Social Security

  • Personal Injury

  • Family law

  • Adoption

  • Landlord/Tenant

  • Constitutional law

  • Tax law

  • Administrative law

  • Professional discipline

Experience for Lawyers

It is always important to gain experience in the field under experienced professionals before you start your professional work. Gaining experience through internships, on-the-job training and part-time jobs in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments are valuable. Some degree programs such as associate’s and bachelor’s programs offer opportunities to students to gain experience in smaller organizations. 

Stand Out Skills for Lawyers

With a wide range of academic skills, a lawyer must also possess some key skills to achieve a successful career. Here are some key skills listed below,

Analytical thinking: As a lawyer, you must carefully analyze the situations narrated by the clients and determine relevant facts and collect information, analyze the facts and evidence to be produced to the court to solve the client’s problem effectively. They must think logically at the situation on how the laws can be applied.

Patience: Lawyer must be patient enough to receive the success and failures equally where the profession is a wheel of ups and downs. They must be patient to collect information and solve the issues of their clients easily.

Written and verbal communication: communication is key in this profession, they must record large amounts of information collected and effectively communicate with the clients, judge, and their colleagues. Some cases may totally depend on writing or speaking and hence they must be excellent and confident in their communication.

Technical skills: As a lawyer, you must be technically sound and up to date with the technologies and software to conduct research and store data as documentation. The software systems can be used to manage the files and bill clients which makes the job easier compared to paperwork.

Good listener: The legal professional must be a good listener to interact well with the clients, they must pay attention to detail and be a questionnaire to analyze and collect suitable data. They must effectively listen to the issues or the disputes to understand the situation and solve them accordingly.

Top University Programs for Lawyers

  • Yale University.

  • Stanford University.

  • Harvard University.

  • Columbia University.

  • University of Chicago.

  • New York University.

  • University of Pennsylvania (Carey)

  • University of Virginia.

Lawyers Salary

The average salary offered to Lawyers in the United States in 2020 is about $165,642 and can range from anywhere between $83,943 and $247,340 based on the position, specialization, certification, experience, skills, and various other factors.

Breaking down the salary offered,

  • 25th percentile: $83,943

  • 50th percentile (median): $165,642

  • 75th percentile: $247,340

To elaborate, the top industries that hire lawyers and the median wage paid by them are listed below,

  • Federal government: $144,300

  • Legal services: $123,620

  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals: 95,870

  • The state government, excluding education and hospitals: $89,090

Most lawyers work for various organizations and others practice their own skills and implement their knowledge by becoming self-employed. However, the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey wage data centers on the lawyers working in business establishments.

The median wages offered to lawyers based on their profile are,

  • Corporate Lawyer: $111,050

  • Family Lawyer: $68,776

  • Immigration Lawyer: $60,982

  • Patent Lawyer: $123,663

  • Trial lawyers: $121,733

  • Intellectual property lawyers: $131,728

  • Tax attorneys: $194,428

Job Growth of Lawyers

The job growth of lawyers as estimated by the Bureau of Labor statistics has a growth rate of about 6 percent during the period of 2018 to 2028 which is faster than the average growth of other jobs. Also, the survey data predicts that there will be a continued demand for legal work at various levels including individuals, businesses, and areas of government legal services.

Currently, there are 823,900 lawyers working across various fields, and considering the growth trend, the projected employment will be around 874,000 by the end of 2020. Which means, the 6 percent growth rate creates additional opportunities of about 50,100.

There are a number of factors that increases the demand for lawyers which include, need for legal services in most areas, the work is done by lawyers and superiors are cut down and lead to job creation of new roles called paralegals and legal assistants, outsourcing work to others at a lower cost, companies aiming at creating their in-house legal departments.

Creating an in-house legal department for big companies and organizations helps in cutting down the cost related to hiring outside counsel lawyers, legal work, and other works. This also creates increased demand for lawyers in a variety of settings such as financial and insurance firms, consulting firms, business, and healthcare providers

The need for legal services for the federal government will not exhaust due to the requirement of prosecuting or defending civil cases on behalf of the United States. 

Related Careers for Lawyers

Business Law:

The business law or consumer law that regulates the modern economy. Students pursuing the business law concentration study the business transactions and components of business with private and public law, civil law. The fields can be federal income taxation, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, financial accounting, capital markets, and corporate finance. 

The job opportunity can be as a bankruptcy lawyer, business lawyer, corporate lawyer.

Intellectual Property Law:

This field is a rapidly growing specialty where the intellectual property law is concerned with the trademarks, patents, and copyrights. It may also include the study of trademarks, patents, and copyrights. The job opportunities may include the Paralegals, Private practice lawyer, Property lawyer.

Criminal Law:

The law is related to the crime and the criminal defense lawyer is responsible to represent on behalf of their clients who are accused of committing the crime. This also includes the study of the theory of criminal law, the curriculum also introduces students to criminal procedures, evidence, national security law, white-collar crime, and trial practice. Jobs such as government lawyers, trial lawyers come under this law.

Environmental Law

The environmental law educates on the practices of the legal procedures that provide protection to the environment. It deals with the  Clean Water Act to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act that influences the saving of natural resources, forests, and water. This curriculum also includes the study of land use controls, agricultural law, international environmental law, mediation, and water rights law. Job opportunities include an environment lawyer.

Entertainment and Media Law:

Entertainment law refers to the law practices with music, films, and other fields in the creative industry. These law principles may also collaborate with the intellectual property law that deals with the contract, negotiation, mediation. You could also explore the fields within this concentration such as copyright law, motion picture distribution, digital media, television law, and trademark law.