How Can I Become a Contract Lawyer?

Research what it takes to become a contract lawyer. Learn about degree requirements, licensure, job growth and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Contract Lawyer Do?

Contract lawyers are attorneys who specialize in negotiating and preparing the contracts required to complete business transactions in a wide range of industries. They are responsible for drafting the contracts and negotiating with both parties involved in a particular contract to ensure all terms and conditions are understood and clearly expressed. The following chart outlines entry-level requirements and employment info for this career field:

Degree Required Juris Doctor (JD)
Key Skills Analytical, problem-solving and research skills
Licensure State licensure required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for all lawyers)*
Mean Salary (2015) $136,260 (for all lawyers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Contract Lawyer?

Contract law is an integral part of the legal field. A lawyer who specializes in contract or transactional law usually has additional contract negotiation experience. Since contracts are utilized in a broad range of public and private situations, it appears there are very few industries where a contract lawyer wouldn't be needed. Consumer purchases, employee benefit packages, global trade, government land procurement and intellectual property are some of the circumstances where their services might be needed.

Where Could I Work?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that lawyers may be employed by banks, government organizations, insurance companies, manufacturing firms, public utilities, real estate agencies and intellectual property firms (www.bls.gov). You may also find opportunities in the business sector where a law degree may not be required but considered beneficial, such as with administrative or management positions within profit as well as non-profit sectors.

What Courses Will I Need to Take in Law School?

The BLS states that law school is usually a three-year program of study. While you will have opportunities to take specialized coursework, curriculum requirements do vary. Most law schools have a set program for first-year students. These capstone courses usually include contract law. The first section may cover topics such as contract formation, third-party contracts and breach of contract issues, while the second section will educate students about basic substantive criminal law as well as common crimes and their defenses.

Additional course content includes business and professional ethics, constitutional law, criminal procedure, evidence, property, torts and writing. While elective courses do vary among law schools, you may need or want to take courses that cover corporate law, business litigation, nonprofit representation and anti-trust law.

If you're planning to specialize in corporate law or business litigation, some schools indicate that you need to have a firm foundation in accounting, economics and finance. Tax law is also a recommended class along with courses that address analytical methods, mergers and other market transaction issues.

While you're in law school, you may want to look for opportunities to further hone your skills. While these opportunities may be competitive, internships, clerkships and legal clinic positions provide relevant work experience. You may, for example, draft contracts for a school-based legal clinic.

The BLS indicates that you could also participate in mock court competitions or conduct research and write for a campus journal. This type of experience may provide the first step toward career decision-making, regular employment and networking opportunities.

What Happens After I Complete My Juris Doctor?

After you complete your Juris Doctor, the BLS states you'll need to study and pass the bar exam within the state where you plan to work. If you're not already employed within the legal field, you may want to look for a clerkship or other opportunity to further develop your knowledge base and skills. The BLS also suggests that you could work for a corporate legal department of a government agency.

Once you've passed the bar, the BLS states that you may begin your career as an associate. After you've gained experience, you may become a partner. Other options include private practice or in-house counsel. You may also want to look into working for a corporate legal department, becoming a mediator or obtaining additional education in order to teach college or university-level contract law.

Even though continuing education is an integral aspect of professional development, the BLS states there are 45 states that require ongoing education. In some cases, you may be able to take coursework online. In addition to fulfilling this requirement, these opportunities may assist you with obtaining a broader awareness of your intended expertise. Furthermore, this requirement provides the opportunity to stay abreast of new laws, changes to existing laws and other pertinent information.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many specializations available within law. Another possible alternative career path that you could talk after earning a JD, would be to become a criminal law attorney where you defend clients accused of a crime. You could also choose to work for local, state or federal governments as a prosecutors who file and try suits against individuals or organizations for breaking the law. Although the career typically requires being appointed or elected, becoming a judge or hearing officer is a possible career path that requires a law degree to pursue. As a judge, you would be responsible for overseeing and mediating court hearings, ensuring that the procedure abides by the laws and proper protocol of a fair trial. Other positions closely related to that of a contract lawyer include an arbitrator, mediator or conciliator. In these positions, you would be able to communicate and negotiate between conflicting parties in order to find a compromise without taking the case to court. This occupation may only require a bachelor's degree.

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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