If you’re looking to delve into the world of law and become an attorney, you have to be a creative negotiator, problem-solver, strategist, advisor, and advocate — often all in one. Usually, the kind of work you do depends on the kind of law you’ve studied or desire to practice, meaning you may have to spend more or less time in court depending on your area of expertise.
Getting qualified to practice law is different from state to state to some extent, but the process is pretty similar everywhere. It starts with earning a bachelor’s degree. After that, you can apply for a Juris Doctor degree program. The J.D. degree usually takes about three to five years to earn, and it’s offered at law schools throughout the United States.
In order to enter a law school, you’ll first need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and send in your scores for approval. Once you receive your J.D. degree, you can take your state bar exam. If you pass the exam, you will finally have a license to practice law. However, this doesn’t mean your education is over. Most likely, you’ll take even more classes after getting your degree and taking your exams so you can stay up to date with current policies and laws.
You have the power to decide in what area of law you’d most like to specialize. Most attorneys decide to specialize in one particular subject, and choose to take focused electives in school to prepare for it. Common specializations include ones like criminal law, business law, healthcare law, patent law, environmental law, and constitutional law.
It’s important to know the difference between a trial attorney and a transactional lawyer. If you become a trial attorney or a litigator, you’ll be more likely to spend more time in the courtroom. You’re the negotiator, the one who sets out to make a case for or against a cause. A criminal lawyer usually spends more time in court than a civil lawyer, due to a need for prosecution and defense.
Meanwhile, a transactional lawyer probably won’t spend much time in court. If you’re a transactional lawyer, you’re generally more of a counselor or an advisor than an advocate. Your job may require that you do things like research and prepare documents for someone who wants to sell a company rather than make a case for a judge and jury.
Salary and Benefits
Your salary as a lawyer can depend on your location, experience, and the kind of work you do. There’s a large range of pay that can extend from under $60,000 a year all the way to nearly $200,000 a year. Sometimes salaries for specialties like Personal Injury can go even higher. You can also become eligible for promotions as you gain time and experience.
An attorney who works for a government office or organization generally has a full range of benefits as well. Insurance, sick leave, vacation days, and retirement plans are available options you may not have with all other jobs. Lawyers also get time off for federal holidays throughout the year. Private practices may not have all these benefits, but there may be some extra flexibility and freedom in working in a private sector.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated growth in demand for attorneys between 2014 and 2024 is about 6 percent, indicating a need for more lawyers in the coming years. Your education, however challenging, can help you master the practice of law and bring you the rewards of the job.