What It's Like to Be an Attorney

Career Information

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Job Description

An attorney, also called a lawyer, represents and advises his or her clients in both criminal and civil cases. An attorney may be a general practitioner or may specialize in one of a variety of areas including criminal, real estate, matrimonial, probate and environmental law. Attorneys are often assisted by paralegals.

Employment Facts

There were 759,800 attorneys employed in 2012. Most work in private or corporate practices. Others work for local or state governments or for the federal government. Some are in-house counsel for corporations, which means they are employed by the companies they represent. Almost a quarter are self-employed.

An attorney typically spends a lot of time in his or her office but sometimes has to travel to meet his or her clients or appear in court.

Educational Requirements

After earning a bachelor's degree, an aspiring attorney must earn a juris doctor (JD)  degree from a law school. To meet the licensing requirements of most states in the US, which is known as being admitted to the bar,  one must attend a school that is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). While in school, law students also get practical experience which may include volunteering in community legal clinics, participating in competitions or practice trials and working at summer or part-time jobs in law firms.

Some also write for their schools' law journals.

Other Requirements

To practice law, one must be admitted to the bar of the state in which he or she wants to practice. Admission to the state bar requires "passing the bar," a written examination, and in some states, taking a written ethics exam as well. Usually one must take continuing education courses every few years. For information about the requirements of the state in which you want to practice, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE).

In addition to the educational and licensing requirement, to be successful in this occupation one needs certain soft skills. An attorney must be able to communicate well both in writing and orally. He or she must have strong problem solving and critical thinking skills, in order to identify problems and come up with solutions and choose and implement the best one. In order to establish a relationship with his or her clients, good interpersonal skills are important.

Advancement Opportunities

An attorney typically begins his or her career as an associate of a law firm. After spending several years working with more seasoned attorneys, he or she may become a partner in the firm. Some experienced lawyers become judges, while others join law school faculties.

Job Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth for attorneys will be about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2022.


Attorneys earned a median annual salary of $114,970 and median hourly wages of $55.27 in 2014 (US).

Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much an Attorney currently earns in your city.

A Day in an Attorney's Life:

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for attorney positions found on Indeed.com:

  • Develop case strategies with an eye toward resolving cases early and cost-effectively.
  • Maintain a high-level of communication with all clients.
  • Prepare pleadings and other legal documents for court filings in a timely fashion.
  • Build and maintain strong client relationships.
  • Review, negotiate and draft contracts and similar documents with vendors, customers, and employees.
  • Prosecute cases in the courts.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Lawyers, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Lawyers.htm (visited May 21, 2015).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Lawyers, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/23-1011.00 (visited May 21, 2015).