Summary

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

What they do

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 a criminal or civil trial 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 and legal secretaries.

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

In law firms, lawyers, sometimes called associates, perform legal work for individuals or businesses. Those who represent and defend the accused may be called criminal law attorneys or defense attorneys.

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, representing individuals who could not afford to hire their own private attorney.

Others may work as government counsels for administrative bodies and executive or legislative branches of government. They write and interpret laws and regulations and set up procedures to enforce them. Government counsels also write legal reviews of agency 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.

Public-interest lawyers work for private, nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to disadvantaged people or others who otherwise might not be able to afford legal representation. They generally handle civil cases, such as those having to do with leases, job discrimination, and wage disputes, rather than criminal cases.

In addition to working in different industries, lawyers may specialize in particular legal fields. Following are examples of types of lawyers in these fields:

Environmental lawyers deal with issues and regulations that are related to the environment. For example, they may work for advocacy groups, waste disposal companies, or government agencies to help ensure compliance with relevant laws.

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

 

Work Environment

Lawyers work mostly in offices. However, some travel to attend meetings with clients at various locations, such as homes, hospitals, or prisons. Others travel to appear before courts.  Lawyers may face heavy pressure during work—for example, during trials or when trying to meet deadlines.

 

How to become a Lawyer

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

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.

Prospective lawyers take licensing exams called “bar exams.” Lawyers who receive a license to practice law 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 state and jurisdiction. 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, and 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 continuing education credits through online courses.

Newly hired attorneys usually start as associates and work on teams with more experienced lawyers. After several years, some lawyers may advance to partnership in their firm, meaning that they become partial owners of the firm. Those who do not advance within their firm may be forced to leave, a practice commonly known as “up or out.”

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.

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

 

Pay

The median annual wage for lawyers was $122,960 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $59,670, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

Job Outlook

Employment of lawyers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for legal work is expected to continue as individuals, businesses, and all levels of government require legal services in many areas.

Despite this need for legal services, more price competition over the next decade may lead law firms to rethink their project staffing in order to reduce costs to clients. Clients are expected to cut back on legal expenses by demanding less expensive rates and scrutinizing invoices. Work that was previously assigned to lawyers, such as document review, may now be given to paralegals and legal assistants. Also, some routine legal work may be outsourced to other, lower cost legal providers located overseas.

Although law firms will continue to be among the largest employers of lawyers, many large corporations are increasing their in-house legal departments in order to cut costs. For many companies, the high cost of hiring outside counsel lawyers and their support staffs makes it more economical to shift work to their in-house legal department. This shift will lead to an increase in the demand for lawyers in a variety of settings, such as financial and insurance firms, consulting firms, and healthcare providers.

The federal government is likely to continue to need lawyers to prosecute or defend civil cases on behalf of the United States, prosecute criminal cases brought by the federal government, and collect money owed to the federal government. However, budgetary constraints at all levels of government, especially the federal level, will likely moderate employment growth.

 

Similar Job Titles

Assistant Attorney General, Assistant Counsel, Associate Attorney, Attorney, Attorney at Law, City Attorney, Deputy Attorney General, General Counsel, Lawyer, Partner

Related Occupations

Equal Opportunity Representative and Officer; Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators and Hearing Officers; Arbitrators, Mediators and Conciliators; Judges, Magistrate Judges and Magistrates; Sales Agents-Financial Services

 

More Information

The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field.  Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas.  As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.

 

Magazines and Publications

Attorney at Law Magazine

The Lawyer Magazine

New Law Journal

The NewJurist Magazine

Family Lawyer Magazine

Modern Law Magazine

 

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Video Transcript

Lawyers advise individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes, and represent them in court and legal transactions. Also called attorneys, lawyers inform their clients about their legal rights and obligations, and help steer them through the complexities of the law. They also advocate for their clients in court by presenting evidence and making legal arguments. Lawyers conduct research and prepare documents, such as lawsuits, wills, and contracts. They also oversee the work of paralegals and legal secretaries. Lawyers work for law firms, governments, and corporations. In government, prosecutors are the attorneys who file charges against those accused of violating the law, while public defenders represent individuals who cannot afford to pay an attorney. Lawyers who work in law firms often start as associates, and may advance to partnership, or part owner, in their firm. Those who do not make partner after several years may be forced to leave, a practice known as “up or out.” Lawyers may specialize in a subject area, such as environmental law, tax, intellectual property, or family law. Most lawyers work in offices, and travel to visit clients or represent their clients in court. They generally keep full-time hours, and overtime is common. Attorneys may face heavy pressure at times— for example, during trials or when trying to meet deadlines. It usually takes three years of law school after college to become a lawyer. All states require lawyers to pass licensing tests called “bar exams” to practice law. Prior felony convictions may disqualify candidates from practicing law.

 

Other legal specialty practice areas include

  • Aviation Law
  • Animal Law

 

Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH https://www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop https://www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online https://www.onetonline.org