Private Attorney

When people think of legal careers, the first profession is usually that of attorney or lawyer. Attorneys work both sides of a court case, as prosecutor representing the community or as a defense lawyer representing the one accused. They also spend time advising clients on legal rights, business practices and personal concerns. Attorneys may specialize in certain areas of law, such as criminal, civil, business, family, bankruptcy, probate, international or environmental.

What is the job of an attorney?

Most attorneys work in private practice as either criminal or civil lawyers. As a criminal lawyer, they advise and represent in court those accused of crime. A civil attorney deals with litigations, wills, trusts, and contracts. Many attorneys work for some level of government, such as for State attorneys general, prosecutors and public defenders. A few will work for one single client, such as a large corporation, and they are called the “house counsel.” Some attorneys work for nonprofit organizations.

What are the requirements for the job?

The education for an attorney takes about 7 years, including a four year college degree and law school. Competition for law school is fierce, so a pre-law student must make the best grades possible during his undergraduate career. Another requirement is a high score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

After graduation from law school, a lawyer must pass the bar exam before being allowed to practice.

Attorneys must be able to work well with people, inspiring their confidence. They should be creative, persistent, and have the ability to collect and analyze large amounts of information. Other characteristics that are beneficial to attorneys include being detail oriented, self motivating, having good speaking abilities and good analytical skills.

What is the work environment?

About 26% of attorneys are self-employed, either in solo practice or as partners in a law firm, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In general, attorneys work in offices or in the courtroom. They may have to travel to meet with clients, sometimes to the jail or prison. Attorneys working on a salary basis usually have regular schedules. Those who are self-employed or at a law firm may work long hours, including nights and weekends. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 33% reported working more than 50 hours a week.

Salaries, job advancement and outlook

Salaries for attorneys ranged from $78,000 to $145,000 in 2008. A new graduate can expect to make about $68,000 for the first year.
Attorneys just beginning their career often work at a salaried position. They may work as associate attorneys in a law firm. After gaining experience, they may be chosen as a partner, buying part ownership of the firm, or they may start their own practice. Lawyers sometimes go on to become judges or professors at law schools.

The job outlook for attorneys is about the same as for all professions, showing a growth of about 13% from 2008 to 2018.

Last Updated: 05/23/2014

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