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Job Description for a Legal Associate

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A legal associate, otherwise known as an associate in a law firm, is an entry- to mid-level attorney. An associate typically specializes in one area of law, such as criminal, family, entertainment, bankruptcy and environmental law. Most associate attorneys strive to earn partner status at their firms.

Job Duties

An associate attorney works closely with clients to manage a case from beginning to end. He conducts research to properly advise clients, develops litigation strategies, gathers evidence to support claims, prepares legal documents and represents clients in court. The associate attorney provides updates and regularly consults with senior associates. Supervising a paralegal or legal assistant is often an added responsibility of the job.

Qualifications and Experience

To be hired as an associate, law firms require that you have a J.D. degree from an American Bar Association-approved law school. You also must have a license to practice law in your state and typically at least one year of relevant work experience. Interning at a law firm during law school can increase your chance of finding work after graduation. Excellent writing skills, the capacity to collaborate with others and outstanding time-management abilities are essential.

Work Environment

Because of high stress and long hours, associate attorney was named the unhappiest job in America in a 2013 survey conducted by CareerBliss. Many attorneys work by billable hours -- they are required to bill a certain number of hours to clients each month to generate money for the firm. Often, a lawyer must work long hours to meet deadlines and meet billable hour requirements. On the other hand, they earn above average salaries of at $131,990 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2013.

Opportunities for Advancement

After proving her worth to the firm, an associate attorney may be promoted to partner status after an average of 10 years at the company. Partnerships give an attorney a small ownership in the firm. They are typically awarded to associates who meet or exceed the required billable hours; have developed strong relationships with existing partners; promote the firm at networking events; and are successful at bringing new business into the firm.


Laura Woods is a Los Angeles-based writer with more than six years of marketing experience. She has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Robert Morris University.

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