For anyone looking for a variety of options in a career, the legal field might be a good choice. As long as there are contracts of any kind or disputes between people or entities, there will be a need for attorneys. Frequently used interchangeably with the term “lawyer” in the US, an attorney can specialize in a wide variety of practices. It’s not just Law & Order scenarios!
The path to becoming an attorney is not the easiest or fastest. After earning an undergraduate degree, students must earn a graduate degree in law (J.D.) at a law school and pass the state Bar Examination. Attorneys who take the law firm path will generally work as an “Associate” Attorney for up to 10 years with the hope and expectation of being invited into the partnership.
One thing all specialties have in common – attorneys need to not only understand the law and how to apply it, but be able to store vast amounts of legal information in their brain!
Typical Job Duties
Depending on their specialty area, attorneys may or may not actually appear in court. But they are generally responsible for interpreting the law for clients and providing legal advice. They may also serve as trustees, guardians, or other legal roles in the best interest of a client. Attorneys generally draft or supervise the work of others who write extensive legal documents. Attorneys may appear in court in hearings or trials on behalf of clients.
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- The average salary of an attorney is between $80 and $120k
- The high end of attorney compensation is $200k and up (potentially way up!)
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As societies advance, new specialties emerge. Before talk of global warming and ecological challenges, who could have foreseen the need for environmental or “green law”? It is now (fortunately or not) a growing area of law.
Electronic Discovery is another fast-growing specialty. Essentially, anything stored on an electronic device may be “discoverable” in a legal proceeding. Since the amount of potential data is exploding, additional expertise and support will be needed to help manage these types of practices.
There is also an increasing focus on reducing costs by outsourcing some of the legal work (sometimes even overseas) and addressing work-life balance with remote, or virtual employment..
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Associates typically work 7-10 years to achieve partnership in the firm of their choice and may become practice chairs or managing partner (similar to a CEO of a corporation).
Attorneys who don’t take the law firm track may work in government, local municipalities, in-house counsel for a large corporation, or open their own law firm.
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What Can Set A Candidate Apart?
- Broad knowledge of business, technology, and trends in their respective field
- Specialized education or experience; particularly in an emerging area of law
- Deep knowledge of laws and application
Common Skills and Proficiencies
- Ability to manage significant workloads
- Excellent communication and negotiation skills
Frequently Required Credentials and Education
- J.D. (Juris Doctor)
- Admittance to state Bar
- Approximately 8% attorney job growth, which is close to the average for all occupations
- Reducing costs means companies will rely on in-house counsel and an increase in demand for companies focused on finance, insurance, healthcare, and consulting.