Lawyer Careers

Lawyers are also called attorneys or counselors. They are professionals licensed by the bar association to advise and represent clients in legal matters. Lawyers may specialize in a field of law, like criminal law or real estate law, or maintain a general practice.

Because they represent people in legal matters, lawyers are required to uphold the law to the highest possible standard. They may lose their credibility if they are caught committing crimes.

Most lawyers spend their time outside the courtroom. It goes into activities like library research or attending meetings with their clients to review case defense. Lawyers may also investigate evidence, develop legal documents, and attempt to settle matters outside the courtroom.

To become a lawyer, applicants need to pass the bar and attend law school. Some people begin practicing after college, while others become paralegals before going back to attend law school. Lawyers need writing and communications skills, analytical skills, and empathy.

What Does a Lawyer Do

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes. 

Duties

Lawyers typically do the following:

  • Advise and represent clients in courts, before government agencies, and in private legal matters
  • Communicate with their clients, colleagues, judges and others involved in the case
  • Conduct research and analysis of legal problems
  • Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses
  • Present facts in writing and verbally to their clients or others and argue on behalf of their clients
  • Prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds

Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors.

As advocates, they represent one of the parties in criminal or civil trials by presenting evidence and arguing in support of their client.

As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest courses of action in business and personal matters. All attorneys research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the laws to the specific circumstances that their clients face. 

Lawyers often oversee the work of support staff, such as paralegals and legal assistants. 

Lawyers may have different titles and different duties, depending on where they work.

While working in a law firm, lawyers, sometimes called associates, perform legal work for individuals or businesses. Some attorneys who work at law firms, such as criminal law attorneys or defense attorneys, represent and defend the accused.

Attorneys also work for federal, state, and local governments. Prosecutors typically work for the government to file a lawsuit, or charge, against an individual or corporation accused of violating the law. Some may also work as public defense attorneys and represent individuals who could not afford to hire their own private attorney.

Others may work as government counsels for administrative bodies of government and executive or legislative branches. They write and interpret laws and regulations and set up procedures to enforce them. Government counsels also write legal reviews on agencies' decisions. They argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government.

Corporate counsels, also called in-house counsels, are lawyers who work for corporations. They advise a corporation's executives about legal issues related to the corporation's business activities. These issues may involve patents, government regulations, contracts with other companies, property interests, taxes, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

Legal aid lawyers work for private, nonprofit organizations that work to help disadvantaged people. They generally handle civil cases, such as those about leases, job discrimination, and wage disputes, rather than criminal cases.

In addition to working in different industries, lawyers often specialize in a particular area. The following are just some examples of the different types of lawyers that specialize in specific legal areas:

Environmental lawyers deal with issues and regulations that are related to the environment. They may represent advocacy groups, waste disposal companies, and government agencies to make sure they comply with the relevant laws.

Tax lawyers handle a variety of tax-related issues for individuals and corporations. Tax lawyers may help clients navigate complex tax regulations, so that they pay the appropriate tax on items such as income, profits, or property. For example, they may advise a corporation on how much tax it needs to pay from profits made in different states to comply with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.

Intellectual property lawyers deal with the laws related to inventions, patents, trademarks, and creative works, such as music, books, and movies. An intellectual property lawyer may advise a client about whether it is okay to use published material in the client’s forthcoming book.

Family lawyers handle a variety of legal issues that pertain to the family. They may advise clients regarding divorce, child custody, and adoption proceedings.

Securities lawyers work on legal issues arising from the buying and selling of stocks, ensuring that all disclosure requirements are met. They may advise corporations that are interested in listing in the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO) or in buying shares in another corporation.

Litigation lawyers handle all lawsuits and disputes between parties. These could be disputes over contracts, personal injuries, or real estate and property. Litigation lawyers may specialize in a certain area, such as personal injury law, or may be a general lawyer for all types of disputes and lawsuits.

Some attorneys become teachers in law schools. For more information on law school professors, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

How To Become a Lawyer

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.

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the right jobs to get there.

Average Salary
$121,347
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
6%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
1,446
Job Openings

Lawyer Career Paths

Top Careers Before Lawyer

Law Clerk
12.3 %

Top Careers After Lawyer

Attorney
12.2 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Lawyer

Lawyers in America make an average salary of $121,347 per year or $58 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $234,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $62,000 per year.
Average Salary
$121,347

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
White Plains, NY
Salary Range100k - 197k$141k$140,782
Washington, DC
Salary Range98k - 193k$138k$138,203
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range97k - 190k$136k$136,404
Seattle, WA
Salary Range97k - 184k$134k$134,315
Boston, MA
Salary Range91k - 184k$130k$129,976
Reston, VA
Salary Range75k - 148k$106k$106,223
$48k
$197k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Intl Law Firm Seeks Corp/Franchise Lawyer for Immediate
Intl Law Firm Seeks Corp/Franchise Lawyer for Immediate
Robert Half
Robert Half
09/15/2020
09/15/2020
$80,00009/15/2020
$80,000
Lawyer
Lawyer
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
09/11/2019
09/11/2019
$237,50009/11/2019
$237,500
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Lawyer
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP
09/09/2019
09/09/2019
$237,50009/09/2019
$237,500
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Lawyer
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP
09/09/2019
09/09/2019
$237,50009/09/2019
$237,500
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Jung & Associate, P.C.
Jung & Associate, P.C.
08/29/2019
08/29/2019
$80,35008/29/2019
$80,350
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Lawyer Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Lawyer. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Lawyer Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Lawyer resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Lawyer Demographics

Gender

female

48.5 %

male

44.7 %

unknown

6.8 %

Ethnicity

White

80.0 %

Hispanic or Latino

6.9 %

Black or African American

5.5 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

42.8 %

French

14.4 %

Portuguese

7.6 %
See More Demographics

Lawyer Education

Degrees

Bachelors

47.1 %

Doctorate

24.3 %

Masters

13.4 %

Top Colleges for Lawyers

1. Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,354
Enrollment
7,083

2. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

3. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

4. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

5. Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,430
Enrollment
5,963

6. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

7. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

8. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

9. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

10. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, IN • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,391
Enrollment
8,568
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Lawyer

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 25.5% of lawyers listed legal advice on their resume, but soft skills such as analytical skills and interpersonal skills are important as well.

  • Legal Advice, 25.5%
  • Law Firm, 10.8%
  • Legal Documents, 7.0%
  • Civil Litigation, 6.9%
  • Real Estate, 5.7%
  • Other Skills, 44.1%
  • See All Lawyer Skills

Best States For a Lawyer

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a lawyer. The best states for people in this position are New York, Washington, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Lawyers make the most in New York with an average salary of $132,825. Whereas in Washington and Massachusetts, they would average $128,011 and $124,279, respectively. While lawyers would only make an average of $123,920 in Connecticut, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New York

Total Lawyer Jobs:
147
Highest 10% Earn:
$221,000
Location Quotient:
2.12
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. District of Columbia

Total Lawyer Jobs:
78
Highest 10% Earn:
$219,000
Location Quotient:
8.61
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Massachusetts

Total Lawyer Jobs:
78
Highest 10% Earn:
$213,000
Location Quotient:
1.57
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Lawyer Employers

1. Milbank
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$218,127
Lawyers Hired: 
44+
2. Ropes & Gray
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$205,829
Lawyers Hired: 
41+
3. Morrison & Foerster
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$200,243
Lawyers Hired: 
39+
4. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$212,009
Lawyers Hired: 
38+
5. Latham & Watkins
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$199,274
Lawyers Hired: 
35+
6. White & Case
4.9
Avg. Salary: 
$236,876
Lawyers Hired: 
29+

What are the best companies to work for?

Ronald Rychlak

Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Mississippi

Legal support is needed in numerous areas, from small law firms to large multinational corporations. More and more, you see colleges and universities with a need in this field. The goal should be to find a welcoming office, a stable environment, and a geographic location that fits your needs and desires. Fortunately, with this background, there are many options to choose from.Show more

Lawyer Videos

Updated October 2, 2020