Careers

Learn About Being a Lawyer

What does a lawyer do?

A lawyer is a professional who helps individuals and businesses navigate the legal process. Lawyers specialize in particular areas, such as family, tax and criminal law. A lawyer’s duties depend on their specialty, but often include:

  • Working with paralegals, investigators, police and clients to prepare comprehensive cases for mediations and trials, including preparing legal documents and collecting evidence

  • Attending hearings, trials and other legal meetings with clients

  • Scheduling and administering full depositions of case witnesses and relevant experts

  • Interpreting laws, regulations and rulings for clients and informing them of their legal rights

  • Preparing legal documents for clients, including wills, business contracts and divorce agreements

  • Reviewing discovery documents and determining the best legal action for each client

Typical salary

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in US: $54,068 per year
  • Typical salaries range from $48,431 to $175,000 yearly.

Lawyer requirements

You must earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree and pass the state bar exam to become a lawyer. In Virginia, Washington, Vermont and California, lawyers can take the bar exam without a JD. You must undergo ongoing education to secure and keep a license. You will also need to renew your state’s license periodically.

There are several educational and developmental requirements to practice law:

Education

If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Your LSAT score will help you gain admission to a school offering a JD degree program. It is important to complete your JD at a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) since many firms will only hire applicants from ABA-approved schools. 

During law school, you will likely specialize in one discipline, for example, criminal, tax, constitutional or environmental law. Most programs take three years to complete. 

Once you earn your JD, you can complete the State Bar Association examination. Passing this exam licenses you to practice law in your state only. Each state has different laws that you must learn to understand varying legislation. You must continually study new and changing laws to maintain a thorough knowledge of state regulations. 

Training

After obtaining a JD, aspiring lawyers typically complete an internship or externship. Internships are typically in a law office, with externship part of a nonprofit or governmental agency. However, in either of these roles, you will likely complete similar duties, including: 

  • Preparing and filing paperwork
  • Researching case histories 
  • Interacting with clients 
  • Taking notes in meetings 

Shadowing other lawyers in an internship or externship can give you valuable experience. For instance, acting as a note-taker in a courtroom can provide you with insight into how the trial process works. 

Certifications

The JD and successful completion of the bar exam are the only requirements to practice law. However, you can become certified in other areas to make you a more well-rounded professional. Some popular certifications include: 

  • As more financial matters are conducted online, the field of cybersecurity law continues to grow. To become a cybersecurity lawyer, it can be beneficial to gain certification in information technology (IT) related issues. For example, CompTIA offers the Security+ certification, which will teach you the basics of risk and threat management and the laws governing cybersecurity. To earn this certification, you will need to complete a 90-question multiple-choice exam. 

  • If your specialty is consumer law, you could pursue a Credit and Collection Compliance Attorney (CCCA) certification. The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals offers this certification to demonstrate your expertise in Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP). To earn this credential, you will need to complete a written exam. The certification also requires renewal every three years. 

  • The National Board of Trial Advocacy offers a variety of certifications, including Civil Trial Law, Criminal Trial Law, Family Trial Law and Social Security Disability Law. Each of these certifications shows that you’ve mastered litigation in your chosen specialty. The individual certifications have specific requirements before completing an examination, but most require a minimum number of courtroom hours or cases in the specialty. To pursue one of these certifications, you will need to pay a $400 application fee, have the application approved and complete an examination that also costs $400. 

Skills

Most successful lawyers share common skills. Law firms and other businesses typically seek the following qualities in their candidates:

Written and verbal communication

Strong communication skills help you effectively advocate for clients and convince juries to rule in their favor. Your communication skills will also encourage clients and witnesses to disclose important information and help you retain key details. You’ll use strong writing skills to prepare legal reports and documents.

Organization

Skills could include maintaining thorough physical and digital records so that you can easily access information. 

Problem-solving

You’ll rely on your problem-solving skills to assess cases and determine the best approach to achieve optimum outcomes for your clients. You’ll also use problem-solving skills to compile evidence and build the strongest cases for your clients.

Analysis

You will use analytical skills when interpreting rules and regulations and counseling clients about their cases. In some cases, you’ll need to review court documents and analyze the information to form an effective argument. 

Lawyer work environment

Most lawyers in the United States work for law firms. However, a growing number of lawyers are self-employed as consultants. Self-employed lawyers create their own schedules and can work as often as they wish. Also, many companies employ lawyers to navigate corporate regulations. 

Lawyers spend most of their time working in fast-paced offices. Many also spend time in courtrooms during cases. They may also travel to meet clients, witnesses and experts in their homes, workplaces, prisons or hospitals. In many environments, lawyers must maintain business professional dress at all times. 

Lawyers work full-time hours, although typical hours are often more than the standard 40 hours a week. Overtime is common, especially when lawyers are preparing for cases and facing deadlines.

Lawyer job description example

Our private law practice seeks a reliable lawyer for managing divorce and family law cases. They will be responsible for maintaining accurate and organized case files and working closely with our dedicated paralegals to satisfy court requirements for our growing list of valued clients. The successful applicant will have experience with divorce and custody cases. They should be a passionate advocate for clients with a willingness to work overtime as required. Additional responsibilities include executing divorce mediation sessions and maintaining an extensive case schedule. 

Candidates should meet these requirements: 

  • An active license from the State Bar Association
  • Six years of experience in family law
  • Excellent verbal and nonverbal communication skills
  • The ability to think critically in fast-paced situations

Related careers

  • Paralegals: If you want to pursue a career in law without earning your Juris Doctor, you could become a paralegal. These professionals work closely with lawyers and perform many of the same duties, including drafting legal documents and preparing for cases.