What Does a Lawyer Do?

Lawyers work in a variety of fields, from criminal law to divorce law to patent law, navigating the legal system on behalf of their clients. If you'd like to be a lawyer, you'll need formal education and the ability to work in a competitive environment. Schools offering Courts & Legal Systems degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

As a lawyer, also called an attorney, you would be an advocate, advisor, and counselor to the clients you represent. Your job would include counseling clients about legal options and representing them in criminal or civil court proceedings. You would work inside courtrooms, but also perform many duties outside of court, including researching, preparing cases, and offering advice to your clients. Clients are often individuals, but can also be businesses and organizations.

Duties and Responsibilities

The exact duties you'll perform as a lawyer will vary depending on the type of law in which you specialize. For example, tax lawyers spend less time in courtrooms than criminal lawyers, because they are usually not involved in prosecution or defense. Your duties may include preparing legal documents, performing legal research, filing briefs, speaking with clients, collecting evidence, consulting colleagues, selecting jurors, and analyzing laws.

Work Environment

Where you work is dependent on the particular job you choose. You could work for an existing law firm, own a solo practice, or hold a position in a government office, corporation, or other organization. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that a little less than a quarter of lawyers in the U.S. were self-employed (www.bls.gov). The same year, the BLS indicated that more than half of all lawyers provide legal services through a law firm, working in privately-owned or corporate offices.

Education

To become a lawyer, you'll need a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, which takes around three years to earn. You can apply for J.D. degree programs after completing a bachelor's degree in a variety of fields, such as English or political science, but keep in mind that these programs are highly competitive. You'll need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and submit your scores to schools to which you're applying. After completing a J.D. degree program, you can take the bar examination in your state and, upon passing, become licensed to practice law. To keep your license valid and to keep up with changes in the law, you'll take continuing education classes on a regular basis.

Specializations

There are laws for nearly every aspect of day-to-day living, from finance to marriage. Lawyers often specialize in one of these areas in order to offer the best counsel possible. You will probably choose your specialization after completing a formal education, since most law education programs are general; however, most programs let you choose electives to prepare you for a specialization. Some specializations include criminal law, business law, tax law, divorce law, patent law, and environmental law.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 581,920 jobs held by lawyers in 2012 (www.bls.gov). The projected job growth for this field was 10% from 2012-2022. The BLS reported the mean annual wage for lawyers in May 2012 was $130,880.

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