How To Become a Lawyer
Brief History of the Legal Profession

The legal profession is one of the oldest, but it didn’t originate in the United States. In fact, records of the very first lawyers (that is, professionals who defended others when accused of a crime) seem to come from ancient Athens in the middle of the fourth century. These orators, as they were called, dispensed legal advice on friends but were not formally recognized for their work due to a rule that said they could not be paid to plead the case of another. Instead, they had to – in public anyway – keep up the ruse that they were merely concerned citizens helping out a friend at no charge.

This was the main obstacle standing in their way of forming and organizing professional associations and titles as we do today. When taking into account professionals who gathered a fee for their legal representation, you must look to the ancient Romans, who were allowed to collect a fee for their service. Orators then became advocates and were required to undergo formal training in order to practice their craft. Later, when the western Empire fell, so too did the legal profession of Western Europe as more men left to pursue the priesthood serving the Roman Catholic Church. With the blending of church and state in 1250, the legal profession began to make a comeback. Over the ensuing centuries, lawyers were called vastly different things, from solicitor and advocate to sergeant, barrister and attorney, with split loyalties between common law and civil law.

Fast forward to the 19th century in America and there was still no large, all-encompassing organization governing the conduct and moral code of lawyers – which had been called into question for centuries before. There had to be a way to ensure a strict code of adherence to standards, but how?

It wasn’t until August 21, 1878 that 76 lawyers from 20 states and the District of Columbia gathered in Saratoga Springs, New York, to create the American Bar Association – the first official cohesive organization designed to develop and foster the profession of law in this country. Today, boasting about 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities, the ABA is one of the largest voluntary professional organizations on the planet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 778,700 lawyers operating in this country alone in 2014, with a six percent projected job growth outlook by 2024.

What are the Different Types of Lawyers?

Just like doctors, lawyers specialize in certain types of law. There are broad categories (criminal vs. civil) as well as concentrations of expertise, from personal injury law to bankruptcy law. While one lawyer can offer overlapping services (DUI and personal injury, for example), generally, they stick within one of these main specialties. Let’s take a look at the most common types of lawyers:

CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER

Criminal defense lawyers represent clients who have been accused of a crime. There are varying magnitudes of crimes and each carries a different set of penalties and repercussions. They are:

  • Crimes against a person (assault and battery, rape, homicide)
  • Crimes against property (shoplifting, theft, arson, larceny, vandalism)

Generally, the court system offers more leniency on crimes against property than they do crimes against people (violent crimes) but both can carry stiff felony charges depending on the individual circumstances. Violent crimes, depending on the degree and the state bringing up the charges, can invoke the death penalty (depending on the state’s criminal statutes). May criminal lawyers belong to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which provides industry news, advocacy and legal education on everything from the death penalty and conspiracy reform to national security and sex offenses.

Civil Rights Attorney

A civil rights lawyer protects people and groups from being discriminated against when it comes to their basic civil rights, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Those rights include:

  • Freedoms of speech, religion, assembly
  • Right to petition the government and for procedural due process
  • Freedom from discrimination for protected classes (sex, race, and national origin)
  • Employment discrimination and voting rights
  • Fair housing and community development
DUI Lawyer

DUI stands for driving under the influence, and can encompass both drinking and using drugs while operating a motor vehicle. The penalty can be a significant fee or even jail time and will depend on how many times you’ve been arrested for drunk driving previously. When you are pulled over the officer will use a breathalyzer to measure you blood alcohol level (BAC). Your attorney may have some leeway in your defense if your BAC is between .08 and .11 (depending on the state); when the BAC is over .15, or when injury or death to another party is involved, the case is tougher to defend and the penalties are stiffer. Many lawyers belong to the DUI Defense Lawyers Association to register for seminars and conventions related to the advancement of DUI law knowledge.

Personal Injury Attorney

A personal lawyer represents clients who have been injured (either physically or psychologically) through no fault of their own and due to someone else’s negligence. Cases can include slip and fall accidents, work place injuries, defective products, auto accidents, dog bites and medical mishaps. Many citizens want to know where they can find a reputable lawyer and they can do so at the National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys. This is an organization that recognizes the top personal injury attorneys in the country through the prestigious honor of being in the “TOP 10.” Less than one percent of PI lawyers make it onto this list.

Paralegals

While not technically lawyers, paralegals are professionals trained in legal matters and assist lawyers in preparing for cases. They are often going through law school themselves, and require hands-on training to complete their degree. Working with a law firm, they provide research, gather information, file paperwork and work side-by-side with the attorney, taking webinars and attending conferences to stay on top of their craft through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations.

Estate Lawyers

Estate law specialists specialize in estate planning, assisting clients in drafting legal documents like wills and trusts. This branch of the law is closely related to family law, which also involves arranging and organizing the transfer of assets from a person to their heirs. Members of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) work to establish and monitor the highest professional and educational standards through this national organization comprised of affiliated estate planning councils and professional estate planners.

Military Attorneys

Military lawyers work solely with military personnel. Each branch of the Armed Services features its own Judge Advocate General service, employing lawyers in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. These types of attorneys get involved with court martial cases, providing other advice as well, in regards to family law matters and divorce, for example.

Corporate Lawyers

Corporate lawyers make sure commercial transactions are legitimate and advise corporations on legal rights and they often have an extensive understanding of contract law, zoning rights, securities and corporate formations. They work with small and large companies of all kinds to ensure they comply with all regulations set by the government and private enterprise, honing their craft through seminars, workshops and conferences put on by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Divorce Attorneys

When a couple is looking to separate, they contact a divorce lawyer who specializes in dividing assets, settling spousal and child support issues, making child custody arrangements, filing motions and paperwork, and communicating with clients, psychologists, social workers and accountants. Members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers can obtain information on divorce and children’s issues, as well as access to the law library for a vast resource of articles.

Tax Lawyers

Tax attorneys handle many tax-related duties for both individuals and companies. Environmental Laywers that pay the annual fee can join the National Association of Property Tax Attorneys. Not only is the networking helpful in a professional organization, but it’s also another way to meet clients.

  • Tax codes and laws
  • IRS dispute negotiation
  • Business entity structuring and documenting
  • Business tax planning oversight to minimize tax burdens legally
  • Advice for clients on estate, tax, and financial planning
Environmental Lawyers

Environmental lawyers specialize in upholding regulations and acting as advocates for policies that regulate clean water and air, global warming, land use and other environmental areas of concern. They often work for energy corporations, telecommunications companies or farmers, guiding them in legal issues like regulatory compliance. The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide and the National Environmental Law Association are both go-to resources for environmental lawyers in this country.

Bankruptcy Lawyers

Companies and individuals who believe declaring bankruptcy is their last option often work with a bankruptcy lawyer skilled in this area of the law. These attorneys make sure that if you need to file a persona or corporate bankruptcy that you are in compliance with the law. There are six different chapters in which to file, with the most common among personal bankruptcy cases being chapters 7 and 13. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys provides information on how to advocate, educate and litigate, as well as legislative news and membership opportunities.

Looking to jump start a career in law? Becoming a lawyer requires a lot of dedication, perspiration (of the mental kind) and hard work! In general, it takes about seven years to become a lawyer: four years to get your undergraduate degree (bachelors) and three years beyond that to complete law school. Then, you have to pass the bar exam in order to get your license. You may be approaching a career in law from various points in your life. Whether you’re a high schooler contemplating a career in the legal field or you’re well established in your profession, but are seeking a change, you can study to become a lawyer by following these steps.

Have you always been interested in the law? Do you know how to argue your way out of anything? Perhaps you don’t know yet what you want to do with your life, but getting involved in the legal profession sounds like an interesting idea. While law school may sound like something far in the future to someone who is just trying to get through basic algebra and chemistry, it’s never too soon to start planning for your future.

You can improve your chances of getting into the law school of your choice if you start now, according to the Houston Chronicle. Focus on these areas:

High School Course Work for Aspiring Attorneys

A well-rounded education, even at the high school level, is imperative to looking good to prospective law schools. While the basic courses are required like math and English, there are other electives you can take:

  • Communications
  • Persuasive writing
  • Organized research
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • History
  • Psychology

In fact, any classes that examine human behavior or help you communicate and persuade others are perfect. Don’t neglect the basic classes like science and math, which can boost your analytical skills. Other tips include:

  • Get into advanced placement and honors classes where you excel in various areas of study.
  • Take as many college prep courses as you can, and read ALL THE TIME. Doesn’t have to always be books on law – anything that furthers your knowledge of how the world works.
  • Keep up a high GPA to look attractive to colleges and law schools.

Extracurricular Activities for High Schoolers Interested in Law

Colleges and law schools don’t just look at how smart a prospective student is. They want to see evidence of a well-rounded life outside school. That’s why a healthy dose of extracurricular activities that play up your strengths is key. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Join clubs like the debate club, drama club and forensics club.
  • Volunteer to speak to groups at your school or others, such as area elementary schools to speak about subjects that are important to you in an effort to boost your public speaking skills and get confident in front of a crowd.
  • Take summer camps that focus on enhancing skills that would be useful as a lawyer, such as mock debates and courtroom competitions.

Many law firms are happy to hire high schoolers as interns, particularly in the summer. Even if all you do is get coffee for the lawyers, run errands, make copies or drop off documents form office to office, you’re getting vital experience working within a law firm atmosphere. At the same time, you’re networking with like-minded professionals who may give you a job when you enter college and law school—and perhaps when you’re ready for a full-time job as a legal professional.

The U.S. Department of Justice offers paid and unpaid internships to high school students to help them obtain legal careers with the federal government. The Pathways Programs features three major subprograms: the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program (RGP), and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program.

In your search for a college and law school that gels with your skills and budget, you can find a school within your desired state to guide you in your search.

Finding a Second Career as a Lawyer Later in Life

Those who have already begun on a career path in a different area of study, perhaps in their 20s or 30s and beyond, can still achieve a career in law. Not everyone starts out knowing they want to be a lawyer. Many start out in a vastly different career, perhaps engineering, journalism, criminal justice, real estate, or social work. Making the decision to pursue law as a career can come later in life. Even if you are in your 40′s or 50′s you can study for the LSAT, go back to school and become a lawyer as a second career.

Fortunately, there are numerous job retraining opportunities that allow you to switch careers and get started doing something you really love.

The Employment and Training Administration offers information on job and training opportunities for a variety of careers including law, worker re-employment portals, grant applications tips, and jobs for veterans.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you’re halfway there. Speak with the admissions professionals at the law school you’re considering to find out if you’re missing any critical classes or credits. You may need to fill in the gaps with courses like public speaking, philosophy and logic. Look for any transferable skills you could bring to a career in law and apply those. For instance, if you majored or minored in environmental science, you may consider becoming an environmental lawyer. Or perhaps you’re currently a social worker but want to extend your reach to help others as a family attorney.

Undergraduate Degree Programs for Attorneys

Future lawyers need to put in the research to identify the proper classes and schools that will help them achieve their goal of becoming an attorney. Most colleges don’t have strict undergraduate requirements for degree programs that law schools want, but there are certain areas of study that can help you get a step ahead of the game. The best degree programs for undergraduates include:

  • B.A. in History
  • B.S. in Accounting and/or Finance
  • B.S. in Business Administration
  • B.A. in International Relations
  • B.A. in Linguistics
  • B.A. in Philosophy
  • B.A. in Political Science
  • B.S. in Computer Science
  • B.S. in Engineering

Law students have a few options available to them when it comes to obtaining undergraduate degrees in preparation for law school – most notably a bachelor’s of arts degree or bachelor’s of science degree, with or without pre-law emphasis. Most law schools do want to see some related field of study or major in the students they accept, such as business law, economics or jurisprudence. Many colleges offer courses on the pre-law track for those students who want to eventually apply to law school. They may also offer career prep programs, legal workshops, pre-law student organizations or preparation for the LSATs.

Many students opt for a school that offers a flexible course of study that can mesh with many different majors; others opt for a legal studies minor that encompasses classes that focus on politics and government, for example. Most schools offer a wide spectrum of classes that would be helpful in law school, from quantitative reasoning and problem solving to independent research and time management.

The University of New Hampshire, for example, encourages pre-law undergrad programs in history, politics and society, humanities and English, with courses like logic, public speaking, and propaganda and persuasion. The University of Arizona wants students to take basic courses in math, English and even philosophy, with examples of courses including critical reading, constructive synthesis, decision making, fact handling, research, task organization and oral communication.

When searching for an undergraduate program, future law students are advised to obtain a bachelor’s degree that is accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education. Looking ahead, keep in mind that law schools across the country accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) will want to see a minimum of a bachelor’s degree before even allowing you to apply.

Paralegal Degree and Certificate Programs

Not everyone wants to be lawyer. Some are excited by the law and how it works, yet want to pursue a career as a paralegal. Those looking to become paralegals should focus on undergrad degree programs like certificate programs, associate’s degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs by a nationally accredited paralegal college, as set by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) which grants accreditation to the NALA Certified Paralegal program. Courses helpful to paralegals include Intro to Law, Torts and Personal Injury, Contracts and Legal Ethics, but this will vary by school and program level. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers information on the certification and core competency exams paralegals must take in order to operate in their state.

Majors Favored by Law Schools

As mentioned above, some courses that law schools will look favorably upon include logic, philosophy, reasoning, public speaking and math. When it comes to declaring a major, though, there are some optimal choices that will make you shine in the eyes of your intended law school, here are some top picks:

  • Political science
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • History
  • Economics
  • English
  • STEM disciplines: Science, Tech, Engineering and Math

That being said, certain majors aren’t always given preferential treatment over others. Most professionals agree that the level of course difficulty has a lot to do with a student’s achievements. For example, a student who majored in poli sci or math and got top-notch grades but failed to challenge themselves with upper level classes will not stand out as much as, say, a literature or philosophy major (traditionally considered “soft” majors) who went way beyond what was expected and took high-level classes.

Law school recruiters are looking to create interesting and diverse classes for their student body and will take students from a wide range of majors. What they want to see is potential to succeed and ultimately excel within the law school environment. This means even though you may be a hard science major, you should also have some analytical or persuasive writing classes under your belt to display your core skills.

Keep in mind that majoring in pre-law won’t automatically give you any advantages. In fact, the 78,000 law school applicants in 2011-2012 who majored in pre-law were less likely to get into law school than other students who chose different majors, according to the Law School Admission Council as reported on US News and World Report. Compared with just 61 percent for pre-law students, philosophy (82%), economics (79%), and journalism (76%), majors were admitted to law school at higher rates. Criminal justice majors came in even lower, at 52 percent.

What is the LSAT Test? Things You Need to Know to be Prepared

The Law School Admission Test, commonly known as the LSAT, is a critical part of the law school admission process in this country. This standardized test, which takes about four hours to complete, can be taken four times throughout the year (June, October, December and February) in various locations across the country on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The student doesn’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree in order to take the test; however, most law schools will require a bachelor’s degree before considering a student for acceptance. Proof of your schooling is often required so be sure to have your undergrad school transcripts and GPA available when you show up at the testing center.

There are certain documents and supplies students should bring with them in order to gain admission to the test center on the day of the exam. Those items include:

  • LSAT Admission Ticket
  • Valid, Government-Issued Photo Identification
  • Recent, Passport-Type Photograph:
  • Three or four sharpened No. 2 or HB wooden pencils with erasers.

The LSAT test is the standard to which all law schools measure the proficiency and ability of prospective students. It measures acquired reading comprehension skills considered by law schools as just one of the many areas they look at when it comes to accepting a particular student into their school. Other factors that the test measures include analytical reasoning and logical reasoning.

The LSAT is comprised of five 35-minute multiple choice sections, along with an unscored writing sample at the end that offers further insight into the student’s writing and persuasion abilities. The goal is to test students on their likelihood of success within law school, such as reading comprehension, information organization, critical thinking and reasoning analysis.

Each state has different requirements for this test. There are several test centers available throughout the year within each state. You can apply online for a fee of $175 according to the 2015-2016 fee schedule, and sign up for the state test center location closest to you. While individual states and law schools have different scoring criteria with different weights, on average most students score about 150 on a 120 to 180 scale. However, the top 20 law schools in the United States (including Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and Harvard) are looking for scores well over 160 to be considered for acceptance. For schools at the very top (namely Harvard and Yale) nearly perfect scores are expected. According to US News and World Report, the median score at these schools for full-time students in 2014 was 173.

For prospective law school students who aren’t necessarily looking to get into a Top 20 school, the parameters aren’t as stringent. A solid LSAT score that most law schools would accept is 150, placing the student in the 50th percentile. Generally, a score of 160 is sought after by many students, which gives them some breathing room. As you can see from this comparison chart, average LSAT high scores for 150 of the nation’s law schools ranges from 175 to 156. The average low scores range from 169 to 151. Once you break out of the top 10 law schools in the country, you’ll see the average high scores begin to drop under 170.

There are quite a few schools across the country that accept lower-range LSAT scores. For example, Southern University and North Carolina University have accepted LSAT scores between 143 and 150, while Thomas M. Cooley Law School has accepted scores between 145 and 154. University of Detroit Mercy has accepted scores between 146 and 154.

However, LSAT scores aren’t the only factor law schools take into consideration for acceptance. Other factors that law schools look at, along with LSAT scores, include:

  • Undergrad GPA
  • References
  • Application essays

Essays and references can be extremely subjective, which is why many law schools rely more heavily on a combination of the GPA and LSAT test results. These grades more accurately reflect the student’s ability to thrive in a law school setting. Most law schools in the top 150 want an average high GPA of 3.3. However, those expectations get stricter in the top 20 schools. For example, Seton Hall University (at #49) wants at least a 3.5; but Harvard (#1) wants a 3.9.

The American Bar Association changed an old ruling in 2006 that dictated students send their average LSAT scores to law school admissions departments with a new rule calling for the highest LSAT score. That being said, it’s important to note students can only take the LSAT three times within two years. Just because the test is offered four times in a year does not mean students can take it multiple times in a row.

Some law schools, like the Massachusetts School of Law, don’t require LSAT scores to be considered for admission, but the majority of schools do. Students are advised to look closely at the school they are considering to determine the LSAT requirements.

State requirements for taking the LSAT may be different, which is why it’s important to check on your individual state for pertinent information and testing locations. The Princeton Review offers free LSAT practice tests, events and tutoring opportunities for those needing extra help.

What is it like to Attend Law School?

Attending law school, like med schools and tech schools, is not cheap. The Washington Post says the average tuition for three years of law school is approximately $90,000. If you are willing to put in time to research scholarships, you may be able to help cover some of the costs of your J.D. and help make your dream of becoming an attorney a reality.

Law School Scholarships

Fortunately, many scholarships exist that can help students offset these high costs. For example, the American Bar Association offers a Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund that grants 20 incoming law students with $15,000 of financial assistance over three years to encourage diversity. In addition, the Federal Circuit Bar Association has awarded more than $400,000 in scholarships since 2001; applicants must attend an American Bar Association-accredited law school to qualify.

Students looking for scholarships must be diligent in seeking each one out and applying. There are numerous 2016/2017 global scholarships as well as a variety of ethnic diversity scholarships to assist prospective students.

Before applying for or accepting a scholarship, future law school attendees are advised to carefully review the terms. US News and World Report suggests reading the fine print and asking questions like “Is the scholarship guaranteed for the full three years of law school?” and “Do I have to maintain a certain GPA in order to retain the scholarship from semester to semester?”

While there has been an overall dip in the number of law school applicants in recent years (just 55,700 students applied to law schools approved by the American Bar Association in 2014 alone), there are certain schools that always make the grade in terms of how many applications they receive annually. Business Insider ranks the following top 10 popular law schools:

  • Georgetown University — 7,793 applications
  • New York University — 6,193
  • Columbia University — 6,188
  • Harvard University — 5,943
  • University of Pennsylvania — 5,828
  • University of California, Berkeley — 5,669
  • George Washington University — 5,549
  • University of California, Los Angeles — 5,383
  • Duke University — 5,358
  • University of Virginia — 5,233

The average acceptance rate among these schools was just over 24 percent, with all 10 of the above admitting fewer than half of all students who applied. That rate plummets to fewer than 20 percent for top-ranked Ivy League schools like Harvard University.

Many law schools have diverse specialties and students can focus on in their studies, beyond simply criminal or civil. Here are some examples:

Doing your research early in life (even high school isn’t too soon to start looking) will show you which areas of law are in demand right now. Specialization into a niche like cyber law (one of the fast growing legal niches), for instance, will set you apart from the competition and ensure a better chance of getting and retaining a job.

Certain schools specialize in different areas of law practice. For example, Vermont Law School is known for its superior environmental law program, while UCLA is known for its entertainment law program. If forensics and criminal investigation is more your thing, consider Georgetown’s Cybersecurity Law Institute for the latest developments and best practices in cyber security.

Oftentimes, the best way to learn the craft of law is to immerse yourself in it. That’s where internships come in. The United States Department of Justice offers a paid Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) for law students who want to gain hands-on legal experience and exposure to the inner workings of the Department of Justice. The American Bar Association offers internships for U.S. law students interested in learning about international law with overseas law firms as part of its International Law Internships.

Taking the Bar Exam

Graduating from law school isn’t the final step in the journey to become a lawyer. You must first pass your state bar exam in order to officially practice law. Qualifications for bar admission are set by each individual state, not by the American Bar Association itself.

In general, two criteria must be met in order for a law school graduate to practice law:

First, they must show competence, which is usually evidenced by a J.D. degree from a law school that meets all requirements, along with a passing score on the state bar exam. This exam is a two-day test, with one day devoted to the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a standardized 200-item test that is comprised of six areas (Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts). The second day of the test requires composition of essays from a broad range of subject matters, check out the ABA for more resources and information. Many states also incorporate the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) and the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). A passing score on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is also required.

Second, bar examiners assess the character and fitness of applicants for a law license, which involves a background search before granting a professional credential. This is a requirement because the power a lawyer has, once licensed, is great, as is the potential harm one could inflict if those powers were abused. These two components of the bar exam are important factors in whether or not you will be granted a license. You must get a license to operate in each state in which you plan to practice law.

Because the bar exam you take is pursuant to the state in which you live and intend to practice, you’ll have to visit your specific state bar website to learn more information. Once on each bar examiner’s website, you will find the following information:

  • Bar exam pass lists
  • Upcoming exam dates and locations
  • Application deadlines and fees
  • Grading information
  • Important notices
  • Downloads
  • Study guides and links to prep course
  • FAQs

The bar exam is administered at various times throughout the year, the exact intervals of which will depend largely by state. Massachusetts, for example, offers its bar exam in February and July on two consecutive days. The cost to sit for the bar exam varies by state, but you can expect to pay on average $800, plus an added fee for the privilege of using your laptop. Applicants are also advised to factor in the cost of lodging, gas, and food while taking the bar exam – a particularly important consideration for those who don’t live within driving distance of the testing center.

While most states don’t have a limit as to how many times students can take the bar exam, these associated costs can certainly add up for those who need to take the test several times before passing.

Studying for the bar exam is a long and involved process. Fortunately, there are study aids available that help test takers succeed. These pre courses and study materials also cost a fee, so factor that into your overall bar exam costs. Once you pass the exam, you will be granted your license and are now ready to obtain employment.

Where Can You Find a Job as an Attorney?

Once law school students have received their diploma and passed the bar exam, they can apply for employment at law firms, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, city, county and federal government agencies. They can also choose to hang a shingle and go into business for themselves. When looking for a job it pays to follow the market. What types of lawyers are in demand right now? Do you know anyone in the legal profession that can give you guidance? Leave no stone unturned when looking for that perfect legal job, you’ve put the effort in already, make sure it pays off!

So who needs a lawyer? The answers are as diverse as the law specialties out there:

  • Individuals who have been brought up on criminal or civil charges
  • Individuals requiring assistance with wills, trusts and power of attorney
  • Local, state and national government offices, i.e., immigration offices, U.S. Attorneys Office
  • Creative entrepreneurs and designers who are seeking protection for trademarks and copyrights
  • Schools/universities
  • Owners of commercial space and real estate
  • Businesses, corporations and LLCs
  • Entertainers and others in the public eye
  • The elderly (estate planning, probate, guardianship, nursing home neglect)

Federal Jobs and Legal Careers

There are many resources that can help lawyers find a job within the federal government. For example, PSJD offers resources for support and job listing sites all in one place. The Department of Justice offers resources for those looking for jobs for U.S. attorneys, Office Justice programs, ATF, DEA, FBI, Tax Division, Bureau of Prisons, and more. USA Jobs is the federal government’s official job list.

Fun fact: Government and public lawyers comprise 1/8 of the legal profession, according to the ABA.

To help recent law school grads acclimate to the legal career of their choosing, the Department of Labor offers a Recent Graduates Program, which promotes developmental experiences in the Federal Government, particularly within civil service. Under the Pathways program, recent law school grads can search federal attorney job postings.

The potential growth for the legal profession is positive. The number of jobs in 2014 totaled nearly 779,000 in 2014, with a six percent job growth outlook by 2024, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Competition for jobs among new law school grads in particular will remain strong.

Industries with the highest level of employment include:

  • Legal services (378,730)
  • Local government (52,440)
  • State government (39,790)
  • Federal executive branch (34,220)
  • Management of companies and enterprises (16,940)

States with the highest level of employment in this occupation start off with New York (71,150), followed by California (70,590), Florida (43,540), Texas (40,290) and District of Columbia (31,420).

In terms of likelihood of getting a steady job after graduation, certain law schools rank higher than others for career prospects. According to the Princeton Review as reported by Forbes, Northwestern was #1 in 2015 for career prospects, with 94 percent of 284 total 2013 graduates being employed, with a median starting salary of $160,000 just nine months after graduation.

How Much can a Lawyer Expect to get Paid?

Many people decide to become lawyers for the attractive salary it offers. How much you get paid will depend largely on the area in which you live. Understandably, large metro areas afford higher salaries for their lawyers than small rural towns. The price you command depends on area of operation, level of experience and the area of law you ultimately end up practicing.

Overall, the median pay for lawyers in 2014 was $114,970 per year, or just over $55 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is based on nationwide data. When you break it out by state or area, the District of Columbia takes the top honor.

According to Occupational Employment Statistics by the BLS, Washington DC lawyers make the most annual mean pay at $168,740, followed by California ($158,000) and New York ($154,000). Delaware ($145,000) and Massachusetts ($144,000) round out the top five states with the highest wages. Lowest paying states include Maine, New Mexico, Idaho and Kentucky.

Looking at the United States metro areas, the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara CA area takes top billing with the average mean wage for lawyers hitting $201,240. Second is the San Francisco metro area at $171,910, followed by Los Angeles at $171,130, NY/NJ at $167,560, and Bridgeport/Stamford CT at $165,440.

According to US News and World Report, lawyers top the list in terms of pay and job satisfaction when it comes to social service jobs. Paralegals – the law school students who often clerk for law firms – made about half of what lawyers made in 2013, with an average salary of $51,170.

Salaries for lawyers are typically made up of base wage, commissions, bonuses and profit sharing. Some lawyers work billable hours and charge the client accordingly while others charge a contingency fee, which means they take no pay till settlement or verdict. Still others do pro bono work for select clients. Some work for themselves, while others work for large law firms. Others work within government or private enterprise.

Final Wrap Up – Becoming a Lawyer is a Rewarding Career Choice

Becoming a lawyer takes time, dedication, skill and money – all of which are possible with the help of a good law school, helpful scholarships and internships, a solid job search, and diligent research about the current legal career industry. A career in law is a noble pursuit predicated upon centuries of law professionals with one goal in mind: to help others. Those who embark on the quest to become a lawyer must have persistence and commitment to uphold the law. You will find a challenging and rewarding career as a legal professional, go forth and prosper!