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Job Description of an Attorney General

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An attorney general is the chief legal advisor and law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction. The individual filling the position has a number of important responsibilities and usually has a term limit as prescribed by a state's constitution.

Attorney General Job Description

The attorney general is the top legal officer in a state, commonwealth or territory of the United States. At the federal level, the attorney general is one of 15 members comprising the president's cabinet. Although duties vary among jurisdictions, powers of the attorney general typically include the authority to issue formal opinions, propose legislation, serve as public advocates, handle criminal prosecutions and appeals and enforce laws.

In 43 states and the District of Columbia, the attorney general is elected by popular vote. In five states (Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming), the governor appoints the attorney general. The attorney general is selected by secret ballot of the legislature in Maine, and by the state Supreme Court in Tennessee. The Attorney General of the United States is nominated by the president and confirmed by congressional vote.

Education Requirements

The first step toward becoming an attorney general is a law degree, which is three years of specialized education beyond the bachelor's degree. You don't need a specific major for application to law school. Experts in law school admissions encourage students to pursue a rigorous course of undergraduate study that meshes with their talents and interests. Admission to a top-tier school requires a high grade point average, so students should undertake a major in which they can do well and that prepares them to earn an excellent score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a mandatory exam for applicants that measures academic achievement and abilities in logical reasoning and abstract thinking.

Attorney general offices usually have volunteer and/or paid internships and fellowships for law students. Experience gained during the internship, as well as professional connections made, can be invaluable if you have aspirations to the office of attorney general.

Upon completion of all requirements for the law degree, individuals are eligible to take the bar exam in the state where they wish to practice. Successful completion of law school is the only acceptable prerequisite to sit for the bar. You cannot substitute private or correspondence study, law office training or work experience for law school.

Admission to the bar varies from state to state, but typically requires candidates to achieve at least the minimum score on an exam that is given over a two-day period. If you're planning to take the bar exam, be sure to check the dates in your state for registration and the exam itself. Procedures and deadlines can change, and exceptions are rarely granted if you miss a date or fail to abide by the rules for application. A growing number of states are accepting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), granting attorneys greater flexibility in choosing a state or jurisdiction in which to practice.

Work Environment

The office of the attorney general is located in the capital of the jurisdiction in which he or she serves. In many states, there are also regional offices that make services and information more accessible to the public. An attorney general's office is staffed with the deputy and associate attorneys general, lawyers, professionals such as social workers and advocates, paralegals and support staff. Employees are organized into divisions or bureaus. Each division is dedicated to a particular area of law, such as consumer advocacy, fraud or crime.

Salary and Job Outlook

As of 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions earns $230,700 per year, the same as the other members of the president's cabinet. Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi earns about $128,000 per year. The salary for an attorney general is not readily available, although most state offices provide information on salary ranges encompassing all job titles within the office of attorney general. The average salary nationwide is $60,000 per year. The median salary for an assistant attorney general is $92,471. The median salary for a paralegal in an attorney general's office is $50,100. Median salary refers to the middle salary reported. Half of those in the position earn more, while half earn less.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in legal occupations will grow by 9 percent through 2026. With the growing U.S. population, there will be an increased demand for legal services. Competition for jobs within the offices of an attorney general is expected to remain strong.


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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