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Working As An Attorney

  • Getting Information
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others
  • Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards
  • Communicating with Persons Outside Organization
  • Mostly Sitting

  • Make Decisions

  • Stressful

  • $130,000

    Average Salary

What Does An Attorney Do

Attorneys, also called lawyers, provide legal advice to clients in both criminal and civil cases. They research cases through interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence, and speaking with their clients to determine the proper strategies for defense.

How To Become An Attorney

All lawyers must have a law degree and must also typically pass a state’s written bar examination.

Education

Becoming a lawyer usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school—4 years of undergraduate study, followed by 3 years of law school. Most states and jurisdictions require lawyers to complete a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA accreditation signifies that the law school—particularly its curricula and faculty—meets certain standards.

A bachelor’s degree is required for entry into most law schools, and courses in English, public speaking, government, history, economics, and mathematics are useful.

Almost all law schools, particularly those approved by the ABA, require applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This test measures applicants’ aptitude for the study of law.

A J.D. degree program includes courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. Law students may choose specialized courses in areas such as tax, labor, and corporate law.

Licenses

Prospective lawyers take licensing exams called "bar exams." When a lawyer receives their license to practice law, they are "admitted to the bar."

To practice law in any state, a person must be admitted to the state’s bar under rules established by the jurisdiction’s highest court. The requirements vary by individual states and jurisdictions. For more details on individual state and jurisdiction requirements, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Most states require that applicants graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Prior felony convictions, academic misconduct, or a history of substance abuse are just some factors that may disqualify an applicant from being admitted to the bar.

Lawyers who want to practice in more than one state often must take the bar exam in each state.

After graduation, lawyers must keep informed about legal developments that affect their practices. Almost all states require lawyers to participate in continuing legal education either every year or every 3 years. 

Many law schools and state and local bar associations provide continuing legal education courses that help lawyers stay current with recent developments. Courses vary by state and generally cover a subject within the practice of law, such as legal ethics, taxes and tax fraud, and healthcare. Some states allow lawyers to take their continuing education credits through online courses. 

Advancement

Newly hired attorneys usually start as associates and work with more experienced lawyers. After several years, some lawyers may be admitted to partnership of their firm, which means they become partial owners of the firm.

After gaining a few years of work experience, some lawyers go into practice for themselves or move to the legal department of a large corporation. Very few in-house attorneys are hired directly out of law school.

A small number of experienced lawyers are nominated or elected to judgeships. Other lawyers may become full-time law school faculty and administrators. For more information about judges and law school faculty, see the profile on judges and hearing officers and the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Other Experience

Law students often gain practical experience by participating in school-sponsored legal clinics, in a school’s moot court competitions, in practice trials under the supervision of experienced lawyers and judges, and through research and writing on legal issues for a school’s law journals.

Part-time jobs or summer internships in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments also provide valuable experience. Some smaller firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations may hire students as summer associate interns after they have completed their first year at law school. Many larger firms’ summer internship programs are only eligible to law students who have completed their second year. These experiences can help law students decide what kind of legal work they want to focus on in their careers, and these internships may lead directly to a job after graduation.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Lawyers help their clients resolve problems and issues. As a result, they must be able to analyze large amounts of information, determine relevant facts, and propose viable solutions.

Interpersonal skills. Lawyers must win the respect and confidence of their clients by building a trusting relationship, so that clients feel comfortable enough to share personal information related to their case.

Problem-solving skills. Lawyers must separate their emotions and prejudice from their clients’ problems and objectively evaluate the matter. Therefore, good problem-solving skills are important for lawyers, to prepare the best defense and recommendation.

Research skills. Preparing legal advice or representation for a client commonly requires substantial research. All lawyers need to be able to find what applicable laws and regulations apply to a specific matter.

Speaking skills. Clients hire lawyers to speak on their behalf. Lawyers must be able to clearly present and explain their case to arbitrators, mediators, opposing parties, judges, or juries. 

Writing skills. Lawyers need to be precise and specific when preparing documents, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

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42 Attorney jobs

Capitol Recruiters Inc.
Washington, DC
Conflicts Attorney

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Mid-level Restructuring Attorney with bankruptcy experience

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Mid-level Attorney with antitrust experience

$144,595 Estimated

U.S. Coast Guard
Washington, DC
Attorney Advisor (General), GS-0905-14 / 15

$144,595 Estimated

Offices, Boards and Divisions
Washington, DC
Attorney Advisor

$144,595 Estimated

Library of Congress
Washington, DC
Legislative Attorney (Constitutional Law)

$144,595 Estimated

Kelly Services
Washington, DC
Attorney - Direct Hire

$144,595 Estimated

Library of Congress
Washington, DC
Legislative Attorney (National Security Law)

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Privacy and Cybersecurity Attorney with 4-6 years of experience

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Reston, VA
Employment and Labor Attorney with 3-5 years of experience

$130,000 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Compliance Attorney with 4+ years of ERISA experience

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Bankruptcy Attorney with 3-4 years of experience

$144,595 Estimated

Confidential
Washington, DC
Supervisory Attorney-Advisor (QR)

$144,595 Estimated

Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, DC
Attorney (Honors and Lateral)

$144,595 Estimated

DTI
Washington, DC
Junior-Mid Chinese Speaking Trademark Attorney for Global Washington, D.C Client

$144,595 Estimated

DHS Headquarters
Washington, DC
Attorney-Advisor (General)

$144,595 Estimated

STS Systems Integration (SSI)
Washington, DC
Attorney II

$144,595 Estimated

Administrative Office of The U.S. Courts
Washington, DC
Attorney Advisor

$144,595 Estimated

DLA Piper
Washington, DC
Attorney

$144,595 Estimated

BCG Attorney Search
Washington, DC
Private Equity Attorney with 7-10 years of fund formation experience

$144,595 Estimated

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Real Attorney Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Attorney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP New York, NY Aug 24, 2015 $400,000 -
$800,000
Attorney Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP New York, NY Sep 05, 2016 $400,000
Attorney Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP New York, NY Aug 09, 2016 $400,000
Attorney Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP New York, NY Sep 15, 2015 $400,000
Attorney Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP New York, NY Sep 07, 2015 $400,000
Attorney Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP New York, NY Nov 07, 2016 $400,000 -
$500,000
Attorney Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP Washington, DC Sep 21, 2016 $375,000 -
$1,000,000
Attorney Latham & Watkins LLP New York, NY Sep 26, 2016 $315,000
Attorney Proskauer Rose LLP New York, NY May 22, 2016 $310,000
Counsel Attorney O'Melveny & Myers LLP CA Dec 08, 2016 $290,000
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Top Skills for An Attorney

RealEstateTransactionsDiscoveryTrialPreparationCounselPersonalInjuryCasesLegalResearchFamilyLawMattersBankruptcyLegalDocumentsCivilLitigationLawFirmEstatePlanningLegalIssuesFederalCourtsForeclosureCriminalDefenseEmploymentLawIntellectualPropertySocialSecurityCriminalLaw

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Top Attorney Skills

  1. Real Estate Transactions
  2. Discovery
  3. Trial Preparation
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Prepared documents for commercial/residential real estate transactions.
  • Drafted discovery, responses and discovery motions.
  • Developed litigation strategies including: case theory, discovery, plea / settlement negotiation and trial preparation.
  • Counseled Senator Barack Obama's staff on Constitutional issues related to provisions of proposed ethics legislation sponsored by the Senator.
  • Initial intake, screening, and acceptance of personal injury cases.

Top Attorney Employers

What Kind Of Companies Hire an Attorney

  1. Private Practice
  2. Thomson Reuters
  3. The Law
  4. Social Security Administration
  5. Legal Aid
  6. Solo Practice
  7. Special Counsel
  8. Pro Bono
  9. King & Spalding, LLP
  10. Neighborhood Legal Services
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Attorney Videos

Attorney (Commercial Litigator), Career Video from drkit.org

Attorney Edgar Snyder Talks About Becoming a Lawyer in Pittsburgh

Attorney, Securities Litigation, Career Video from drkit.org