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How Much Do Lawyers Make

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Embracing the Legal Life

You don't have to look for lawyers in a law firm. You can find them almost anywhere, in courtrooms of course, but also in business settings, investment firms, real estate agencies, the judicial bench, the hallowed halls of government and radio or television journalism, with widely varying salaries. But they all have to walk through the same front door, and it's called law school. With a Juris Doctorate degree in hand, a lawyer can pick from a wide variety of professional opportunities, some offering more money, some increased satisfaction.

Job Description

Lawyers work in many different arenas, but generally their job is to apply the law to specific situations, providing clients with legal advice about their rights and responsibilities under the law. Many stay in the legal system, either prosecuting or defending people charged with crimes or advocating for clients in civil cases. Some operate in the business world, offering advice about courses of action and business transactions.

Education Requirements

To become an attorney, you need to get accepted into law school and complete the three-year program. You need a bachelor’s degree to enter law school. You can major in any field, but it's useful to choose courses that improve your ability to think and communicate logically and with precision. If you know what type of law you want to practice when you get out, you can pick your major accordingly.

After college, you must take the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT. This tests your ability to read, understand and reason rather than any particular legal knowledge. Armed with your undergraduate grades and your LSAT score, your next task is to get accepted into a law school.

Law schools with good reputations are extremely competitive, so you will require good grades in college, a strong LSAT score and good references from work or volunteer activities. Law school takes three years, at the end of which you get a Juris Doctor degree, also called a J.D.

Finally, if you intend to practice law, you must pass the Bar Exam for the state in which you intend to work. Some Bar Exams are harder than others, but none are easy. Consider taking a private Bar-prep class to succeed in this difficult test. Your state's exam may include, in addition to state law exams, the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination, the Multistate Performance Test, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination and the Uniform Bar Examination.

The median salary for an attorney was $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that half of all attorneys earned more than this and half earned less. The lowest 25 percent earned a median salary of $77,580, while the top 25 percent earned a median salary of $176,580.

Industries Where Attorneys Work

Some attorneys work in public agencies. Those in the district attorney's office prosecute people charged with crimes, while those in the public defender's office offer a criminal defense. Attorneys working for the attorney general's office conduct legal affairs for a state. City attorneys work for the municipality they serve.

Most lawyers practicing law work in private practice, either solo and self-employed or as part of a group of attorneys. These private practitioners are hired by clients for specific legal matters.

Some lawyers work as in-house counsel for corporations or government entities. They provide legal advice on whatever issues arise in the course of business.

Years of Experience

Entry level attorneys can expect to earn 18 percent less than the average salary, while those in mid-career earn 14 percent more. Experienced attorneys earn 36 percent more. Those with a lifetime of experience can earn up to 60 percent more than the median amount.

Job Growth Trend

Job opportunities for attorneys will grow about 9 percent over the next decade, which is about average for all occupations. But with increasing numbers of students graduating from law school, competition for jobs will also be strong.