Lawyers, also known as attorneys, shepherd people through the legal system. Lawyers will represent a client in a civil or criminal trial and advise a course of action. A lawyer may specialize in any area of the law, such as criminal defense, international, or tax law.
Lawyers have the potential to make a significant salary if they can work their way up to partner at a law firm. They may also work independently and own their own practice. Salaried lawyers are becoming more common as corporations increase their multi-national assets. Specialized lawyers will receive higher salaries.
A lawyer’s salary will vary depending uponon whether he or she is working for a law firm or independently. Lawyers employed by a law firm typically earn slightly more, due to the name recognition and brand power of the firm. Salaried lawyers employed by multi-national corporations (such as Apple, Intel, and Google) may receive the highest salaries and perks.
For lawyers looking to establish their own practice, small towns and suburban areas are likely to have the best opportunities. Lawyers working in urban areas may face intense competition for clients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all lawyers was $110,590. Lawyers in the middle 50% earned between $74,980 and $163,320. Lawyers may also receive overtime pay during tough cases and other benefits such as sick leave or vacation time. Salaried lawyers usually are provided with health and life insurance as well.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
A lawyer will typically need 4 years of undergraduate study, 3 years of law school, and the successful completion of a bar exam to practice. Federal agencies and courts may have additional requirements for lawyers looking to work for the federal government.
While there is not a recommended undergraduate major for lawyers, they should seek to be multi-disciplinary. Undergraduates should be proficient in public speaking and writing. If there is a law specialty they are interested in, coursework should be adjusted accordingly. For example, lawyers interested in tax law should take accounting and business courses.
Law school applicants will typically have to show high undergraduate grades, take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), show prior work experience, and sometimes undergo a personal interview. Law schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) require lawyers to pass the LSAT. Almost all law schools require certified transcripts to pass through the Law School Data Assembly Service, which will pass the transcripts and LSAT scores to law schools.
Following graduation, nearly all states require lawyers to continue annual education efforts. This ensures lawyers are up to date on legal news.
Job Description and Outlook
Lawyers will work primarily in the courtroom, legal libraries, and offices. They may have to travel to meet clients, attend meetings, and gather evidence. Most lawyers will have to make some appearances in court.
Salaried lawyers will likely have a regimented work day. Private practice lawyers and law firm lawyers may work irregular or changing hours depending upon their caseload.
For all lawyers, long hours will be normal. Of full-time lawyers, 33% worked 50 hours or more per week. This was especially true for private practice lawyers and law firm associates.
The BLS expects that the demand for lawyers will grow by 13% from 2008 to 2018. Salaried lawyer positions are expected to increase the most. This includes both federal government and private sector jobs. Recently graduated lawyers may have to be willing to relocate in order to find work.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Lawyers do not have certifications but are required to be licensed to practice law. Licensing is also known as admittance to the bar for lawyers. All states will require lawyers to pass a written bar examination. Nearly all states also require lawyers to pass a written ethics examination. The Multi-state Bar Examination (MBE) is typically used as part of the written bar examination. A separate examination on state-specific laws may also be given. The Multi-state Essay Examination (MEE) might be included in the testing process in some states. The MBE and MEE scores will be used differently by each state.
Although the MBE and MEE may be used to license lawyers in different states, a license to practice law in one state does not transfer. If a lawyer moves, they will need to apply for a license from their new state. The written examination may be waived at the discretion of the state’s law board, depending upon a lawyer’s work experience and demonstrated good character. This occurs very rarely, due to the complexity of state laws and the differences in laws from state to state.
A lawyer may need to renew their license after a set number of years. License renewal requirements may differ by state.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is the foremost authority for lawyers and attorneys. First founded in 1878, the ABA has defined the legal profession by setting accreditation and ethical standards for lawyers. For most states, an ABA-accredited school is required in order for lawyers to attempt the bar examination. More than 400,000 lawyers enjoy ABA membership.