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What Can You Do With a Law Degree?

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The Whole Truth: There are a Variety of Career Options After Law School

There's a lot more to practicing law than what you see on TV dramas. Although many lawyers do trial work and argue cases in front of a judge and jury, there are many other applications for a law degree. Some lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom and, instead, apply their expertise to a variety of legal issues in behind-the-scenes roles. Full- and part-time opportunities are available for attending law school and for working in the field, so you should be able to balance work and family in this profession.

Attending Law School

Law school requires three years of full-time study after taking a bachelor's degree. Although there's no formal requirement for a major, most pre-law students study history, political science, philosophy or economics. Law school admissions to top schools are very competitive, requiring a high grade point average and excellent scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Less competitive options are widely available, as are programs allowing students to study part-time or through evening classes. To practice law, you must have a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). You must also pass the bar exam in the state where you want to practice. Each state has its own exam, although they're similar and usually administered over two days.

Career Opportunities

The number of jobs for lawyers are expected to grow by about 9 percent over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand will be higher in certain industries, particularly health care, consulting and finance. Among careers in law to consider are:

Patent Attorney: If you have a scientific or technical background, you may be interested in helping inventors protect intellectual property and get their patents from the government.

Professional Counselor: Some law schools are hiring individuals who have both law and counseling degrees to help students navigate the pressures of school and career planning.

Banking and Finance: Money matters can be complicated, and a lawyer specializing in estate planning, taxes or small business administration can help individuals navigate rules and regulations.

Military Service: Every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces needs lawyers for issues surrounding military justice.

Journalism and Writing: We've all seen legal analysts on favorite TV news or talk programs, often without realizing it. Savannah Guthrie of the "Today" show is one famous example. As writers, former attorneys John Grisham and Scott Turow became successful applying their legal knowledge to writing fiction.

Public Interest Advocacy: Are you passionate about a cause, such as immigration or poverty? Some lawyers work for nonprofit associations to seek justice for the underserved.

Salary Ranges

Salaries for lawyers vary widely depending upon where they went to school, the firm they work for, geographic location and type of practice. Not surprisingly, lawyers who work for nonprofits or as public defenders earn the least, while partners at top firms get salaries and bonuses worth millions. Here are some average salaries:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $77,429
  • 4 to 6 years of experience: $110,595
  • 10 to 14 years of experience: $135,950
  • 15-plus years of experience: $151,053

Going to law school doesn't necessarily mean you'll be spending your career in a courtroom. Employers across a wide range of industries are looking for law school graduates who can apply their expertise.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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