Formal requirements to become a lawyer usually include a 4-year undergraduate college degree, 3 years of law school, and passing a written bar examination. Most states and jurisdictions require future lawyers to complete a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.
The J.D. is a three-year professional degree. The first year of law school (1L) offers a general education in the basic components of the law. Students are introduced to legal institutions, legal reasoning, and case analysis. Indeed, much of the first year is spent on close analysis of judicial decisions. The second and third years (2L and 3L) are customized to a student's particular legal interest. Many schools offer clinical courses which encourage the learning of law in context by allowing 2L and 3L students to work with real clients under the close supervision of clinical instructors.
The law is a respected profession which arose out of the basic need for an orderly society and a body of rules and procedures to govern human relationships. A lawyer’s primary function is to provide legal assistance in peaceful resolution of conflicts. Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes. In order to accomplish this, lawyers regularly do the following:
♦ Advise and represent clients in courts, before government agencies, or in private legal matters
♦ Communicate with their clients and others
♦ Conduct research and analysis of legal problems
♦ Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses
♦ Present facts in writing or verbally to their clients or others and argue on their behalf
♦ Prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds
Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors.
As advocates, they represent one of the parties in criminal and civil trials by presenting evidence and arguing in court to support their client.
As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest courses of action in business and personal matters. All attorneys research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the laws to the specific circumstances that their clients face.
There are a variety of opportunities to specialize within the practice of law—criminal law, defense attorney, government counsel, environmental law, tax law, intellectual property law, etc. For more information about these specializations, see http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm.
Most states require that applicants graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Lawyers who want to practice in more than one state must often take separate bar exams in each state.
Lawyers held about 728,200 jobs in 2010. A majority of lawyers work in private or corporate legal offices. Some are employed in local, state and federal governments. About 22 percent of lawyers were self-employed in 2010.
Lawyers work mostly in offices. However, some travel to attend meetings with clients at various locations, such as homes, hospitals, or prisons. Some lawyers gather evidence; others appear before courts. Lawyers who represent clients in courts may face heavy pressure during trials.
The majority of lawyers work full time, and many work long hours. Lawyers who are in private practice or those who work in large firms often work long hours conducting research and preparing or reviewing documents.
Employment of lawyers is expected to grow by 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for legal work will continue as individuals, businesses, and all levels of government will need legal services in many areas.
However, growth in demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to do some of the same tasks that lawyers do. For example, accounting firms may provide employee-benefit counseling, process documents, or handle various other services that law firms previously handled.
Competition for legal employment is strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available. As in the past, some recent law school graduates who have been unable to find permanent positions are turning to the growing number of temporary staffing firms that place attorneys in short-term jobs. This service allows companies to hire lawyers “as-needed” and permits beginning lawyers to develop practical skills.
Job opportunities are typically affected by cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, demand declines for some discretionary legal services, such as planning estates, drafting wills, and handling real estate transactions. Also, corporations are less likely to litigate cases when declining sales and profits restrict their budgets. Some corporations and law firms may even cut staff to contain costs until business improves.
**Information on this page was compiled in large part from information in Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which can be found online at: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm