Government Lawyer: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for government lawyers. Get the facts about job duties, training and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Government Lawyer?

A government lawyer may work for the local, state or federal government in positions such as a state lawyer or public defender. They are responsible for reviewing their client's case, understanding and interpreting applicable laws, and arguing the case in court. Government lawyers also prepare and organize the documents of their cases, like contracts, appeals and wills. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a government lawyer.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Key Responsibilities Provide legal advice and analysis to government entity or agency; represent government body or agency in court proceedings involving the agency or government body; prosecute criminals on behalf of the state or municipality or defend criminals as public defender
Licensure or Certification All states require lawyers to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Mean Salary (2015) $136,260 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Job Opportunities Are Available For Government Lawyers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a large percentage of lawyers working in the country are self-employed or in private practice. However, there are a variety of government positions as well. In general, state lawyers prosecute criminal cases or work as public defenders, according to the BLS. If you are interested in resolving issues without going to court, you may want to think about a career as an arbitrator or mediator.

The BLS states that federal attorneys may try both civil and criminal cases. In addition, some tend to be directly involved with program development, legislative analysis, procedural issues and law enforcement. If you work for the judicial branch, then it is likely you will be involved with Supreme Court appeals; these may arise from the U.S. District Courts, the Court of Appeals as well as other government entities.

If working at the federal level appeals to you, there are several opportunities available as well, including at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Should I Locate an Internship?

The DOJ has volunteer positions for interns during the academic year as well as the summer. While these internships are competitive, they can potentially provide valuable experience and launch your career.

The DOJ also has a Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP). This paid position is generally awarded to second year law students. If you have recently graduated, then you may also be qualified to apply. The DOJ specifies that earning this position would be required to pursue a clerkship or fellowship with the department.

Another DOJ program you may want to explore is The Attorney General's Honors Program for Entry-Level Attorneys. If chosen, you would be able to work as an attorney within the justice system.

What Salary Might I Earn?

In general, the BLS stated in May 2015 that lawyers made a mean annual salary of $136,260. The report also indicated that state lawyers earned a mean salary of $86,760 per year, while local government attorneys made $99,060 at that same time. Since professional-level federal wages are based on the General Schedule (GS), which has 15 pay grades with incremental step increases, your salary would usually depend on a variety of factors, including experience and job demand.

What Are Some Similar Alternative Careers?

If you possess a J.D. and state licensure, you have the option to pursue a number of lawyer positions outside the government. For instance, you could choose to work as a lawyer for corporations needing legal guidance on business matters such as contracts, taxes and patents. If there is a specific industry or field you find interesting, you might also consider applying your legal expertise to that specialty. Such specialized legal areas include intellectual property, tax law, environmental law and family law, among others. Your education and experience could also prepare you to work as a law school professor or legal recruiter.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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