Lawyer: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for lawyers. Get the facts about job duties, job growth, education and licensure requirements 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 Lawyer?

Lawyers, also referred to as attorneys, provide legal advice to businesses and individuals. Some practice as partners in law firms, and others are self-employed. Lawyers represent their clients in a court of law, and communicate with the various parties involved in the legal process. They interpret laws for their clients, present facts in court and argue on behalf of their clients. These professionals also prepare legal documents, such as appeals, contracts and wills. Lawyers can specialize in different areas, like family law or environmental law. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a lawyer.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Education Field of Study Law
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required by all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820*

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

What Are the Job Duties of a Lawyer?

The field of law is vast, and many lawyers specialize in multiple areas. Some of the areas you may specialize in include environmental law, criminal law, family law, social security and disability, medical malpractice and international law. As a lawyer, you'll advise clients as to their rights under the law and help protect the interests of businesses and other groups. Depending on your area of specialty, you may assist the aforementioned parties with litigation, contracts, depositions and other legal matters.

Often, you'll act as a professional representative for clients who are involved in court cases. You'll gather and exhibit evidence to exonerate clients, confer with judges, and lay out cases before juries in courtroom settings. Additional duties include drawing up legal briefs, researching legal precedents, questioning witnesses and developing courtroom strategies.

What Is the Career Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for all lawyers was expected to increase by 6% from 2014-2024. Growth was attributed to a rise in the number of affordable legal clinics, allowing more middle-class citizens to seek legal counsel, as well as demand for antitrust law, health care and corporate litigation services. Since many students graduate from law school every year, you can expect job competition to be fierce. If you graduate from a prestigious institution with high grades, you may experience improved job prospects. In 2015, lawyers earned a median salary of $115,820.

What Educational Requirements Must I Fulfill?

Lawyers generally complete seven years of postsecondary education, which includes four years of undergraduate study and three years of law school. Earning a bachelor's degree in any subject will qualify you to go on to pursue graduate studies in law. However, to help you prepare for law school, consider completing undergraduate coursework in subjects which will allow you to hone your speaking, writing and critical thinking skills. Your bachelor's curricula should include classes in government, English, foreign language and philosophy.

After completing an undergraduate program, you'll need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). These institutions require that you take and pass the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) prior to being admitted. You'll also need exceptional grades, and sometimes, a pre-admission interview.

During the first half of law school, you'll take core classes such as constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, basic legal research, legal writing and civil procedure. During the second half, you'll take courses more focused on your chosen specialty area. You can gain experience by participating in your university's courtroom competitions and practice trials, writing for your school's law journal, completing summer clerkships or working in university-sponsored legal clinics.

In order to legally practice law, you must first become licensed by your state ABA. This involves passing a comprehensive written bar examination, which will test you on areas such as state and federal laws. You will also be required to pass an ethics examination. In addition, your state may require that you take the Multistate Performance Test, and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. These tests gauge your practical skills and your comprehension of ABA judicial conduct codes. It will probably be necessary to take continuing education courses throughout your career.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Judges and hearing officers have related careers that require a doctoral or professional degree. These professionals oversee the legal process in court, and apply the law to each case they oversee to deliver a decision. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators have similar occupations as well, but their jobs only require a bachelor's degree. Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators work to resolve disputes between parties outside of the courts of law.

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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