How To Get a Job in a Law Firm (With Qualifications and Tips)
Updated June 24, 2022
Many people associate the legal profession with extensive schooling and credentials, but you can find a job at a law firm with different degrees and experience. For those who want to work in the legal sector, law firms offer several types of jobs with varying qualifications that can apply to people of different backgrounds and interests. With a solid understanding of the requirements, you can decide whether law is the right field for you.
In this article, we define what a law firm is, the jobs available in them, the necessary qualifications to work in a law practice and provide steps and tips to help you pursue a career working at a law firm.
What is a law firm?
A law firm is a business of licensed lawyers who provide legal services and consultations to clients. They typically comprise multiple lawyers who combine their expertise into one entity, which is the subsequent firm. Partners at law firms usually share clients and the profits made from successful cases, although this varies by practice. Partners at a firm may develop independent contracts to negotiate how the split profits from the practice amongst employees.
Most law firms have a hierarchical organization that involves the firm partners at the top, then the senior staff attorneys, followed by associate attorneys, paralegals and support staff. Support staff at a law firm comprises receptionists, secretaries, human resources, volunteers, IT support, records clerks and any other staff member who contributes to the administrative duties.
6 jobs at law firms
Here's a list of six jobs you can pursue at a law firm:
National average salary: $26,867 per year
Primary duties: A records clerk is a member of the support staff at a law firm and has mainly administrative responsibilities. Their day-to-day duties include labeling, filing, organizing and storing legal documents and statements for the firm and also help transport files to different law firms and courts as necessary. Important skills for a records clerk are organization, attention to detail and computer literacy.
National average salary: $51,439 per year
Primary duties: A paralegal is a legal professional whose primary responsibilities are to provide clerical support to their supervising attorneys. Their daily duties involve filing and creating documents, legal contracts and reports that they provide to the practice partners and clients. Some important skills for becoming a paralegal include communication, IT skills, organization and legal literacy.
Related: Learn About Being a Paralegal
National average salary: $53,886 per year
Primary duties: The duties of a legal secretary are to manage the day-to-day schedules of the attorneys practicing in the law firm. They also write emails and make phone calls to clients and local courts, request documents for cases and help record clerks with the filing and organizing of paperwork. Some skills typical of a legal secretary include organization, attention to detail, communication and computer literacy.
Related: Learn About Being a Legal Secretary
National average salary: $63,992 per year
Primary duties: Accountants are financial experts that companies hire to organize and offer advice regarding their finances. Accountants are common employees at law firms as they handle their budgeting, salaries and payroll and help negotiate fees for legal services provided by the practice. Skills an accountant may use to excel at a law firm include mathematics, business and financial literacy and negotiation abilities.
Related: Learn About Being an Accountant
National average salary: $63,992 per year
Primary duties: Staff attorneys are lawyers who work as part of the internal staff at a law firm, usually assisting other attorneys by conducting in-depth research and offering legal advice regarding cases. Senior-level lawyers usually supervise them and any partner attorneys at the practice, but they may have independent assignments. Some typical skills common of a staff attorney include efficiency, attention to detail, research and writing proficiency.
Related: Learn About Being an Attorney
National average salary: $102,347 per year
Primary duties: Litigation attorneys are members of a legal practice who represent clients in civil cases, typically involving a court trial. They're experts in civil law policies and the procedures of court trials and represent both plaintiffs and defendants in the court of law. Litigation attorney skills include strong verbal and written communication, persuasiveness, listening abilities and attention to detail.
Academic qualifications for working in a law firm
Here are the usual qualifications and credentials necessary for finding a position at a law firm:
1. Bachelor's degree
Most positions at a law firm are going to require a minimum education of a bachelor's degree, although clerical jobs may have less strict qualifications. If you're interested in becoming a legal assistant, paralegal or attorney, consider earning your undergraduate degree in a subject relevant to legal studies, such as political science, philosophy, criminal justice, English or business law. To become a paralegal or legal assistant, complete an associate degree in paralegal studies from an American Bar Association (ABA) accredited program.
Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
The LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, is an exam specifically designed for individuals interested in applying for law school. This exam isn't a measure of your legal knowledge but evaluates your ability to think critically and handle various legal duties. The LSAT is a requirement for any person applying to a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program and it's recommended that test-takers study before taking the exam.
3. J.D. degree
For those interested in becoming attorneys, the next step to working at a law firm is to complete a law school program and earn your J.D. There are various law programs across the country, with some offering specializations in topics like entertainment, corporate or civil law. Most law school programs last around three years and can require extensive effort and time allotment, so make sure you're prepared to take on the responsibility.
Read more: What Is a Juris Doctor Degree?
4. Bar exam
The highest academic credential necessary for any position at a law firm is to pass the bar exam upon completing your J.D. degree. The bar evaluates your ability to practice law in your state of residence, meaning that different states have distinct elements to their exams. Passing the bar is a requirement for working as a practicing lawyer at any level, including as a member of a law firm.
How to get a job in a law firm
Here are some steps you can follow when trying to find a job at a law firm:
1. Research law firms in your area
Conduct thorough research of the different law firms in your area and determine which ones appeal to your career aspirations. Learn about the partners at each firm and what their specialties are, some of their most famous cases and the size and backgrounds of their clientele. Make a list of law firms that meet your standards of employment and are actively searching for candidates to fill positions.
2. Volunteer at local law firms
Volunteering offers you on-the-job experience in the legal field even before you complete your qualifications for practicing law. Many law school students or aspiring legal professionals choose to volunteer as legal clerks and receptionists over summer breaks to gain experience and begin developing their network of employers. Volunteering can provide helpful insight into whether law is the right career for you before committing to a job.
3. Update your resume and cover letter
When applying to open positions at a law firm, it's important to make sure that your resume and cover letter are a current reflection of your education, experience and skill-based credentials. Include any work or volunteer experience relevant to the legal profession, such as working as a law clerk or receptionist. Customize your cover letters to each firm with distinct references to the practice's specialties and the positions that are open for employment.
4. Build an employment network
The next step in getting a job at a law firm is to expand your employment network. Build your network by connecting with law professionals via job search sites and social media platforms to introduce yourself in a virtual format. You may also consider emailing, calling or visiting different law firms in your area to bring a physical copy of your resume and cover letter and formally introduce yourself, emphasizing your interest in working as a legal professional.
5. Prepare for interviews
If a law firm offers you an interview for a position, take time to prepare for your meeting by studying common law interview questions and topics. Review basic legal concepts and terminology and familiarize yourself with every credential outlined on your resume. Try to research the firm you're interviewing for, including their specialties, employment hierarchy, partners, case history and any other relevant information that may come up when you meet.
Tips for starting your career in a law firm
Here are some tips you can use when starting your career as an employee at a law firm:
Gain as much legal experience as possible during your undergraduate and graduate academic career by volunteering and performing clerical work.
Learn about all the different areas of law and consider volunteering at law firms with different specialties.
Connect with your peers at the undergraduate and graduate level who are also interested in pursuing a career in law.
Join clubs during your undergraduate studies, such as a mock trial club or an organization for future legal professionals.
Find a mentor in your employer, law professor or any person who can provide wisdom and support for your legal career.
Stay up to date on high-profile legal cases that may serve as precedents for future proceedings in your career
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