Saturday, January 10, 2009

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition Lawyers

Significant Points

  • About 27 percent of lawyers are
    self-employed, either as partners in law firms or in solo practices.

  • Formal requirements to become a lawyer
    usually include a 4-year college degree, 3 years of law school, and passing a
    written bar examination; however, some requirements may vary by State.

  • Competition for admission to most law
    schools is intense.

  • Competition for job openings should be keen
    because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year.

Nature of the Work

The legal system affects nearly every aspect of
our society, from buying a home to crossing the street. Lawyers form the
backbone of this system, linking it to society in numerous ways. They hold
positions of great responsibility and are obligated to adhere to a strict code
of ethics.

Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors in our
society. 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 particular courses of action in business and personal matters.
Whether acting as an advocate or an advisor, all attorneys research the intent
of laws and judicial decisions and apply the law to the specific circumstances
faced by their clients.

The more detailed aspects of a lawyer’s job depend upon his or her field of
specialization and position. Although all lawyers are licensed to represent
parties in court, some appear in court more frequently than others. Trial
lawyers, who specialize in trial work, must be able to think quickly and speak
with ease and authority. In addition, familiarity with courtroom rules and
strategy is particularly important in trial work. Still, trial lawyers spend the
majority of their time outside the courtroom, conducting research, interviewing
clients and witnesses, and handling other details in preparation for a trial.

Lawyers may specialize in a number of areas, such as bankruptcy, probate,
international, elder, or environmental law. Those specializing in environmental
law, for example, may represent interest groups, waste disposal companies, or
construction firms in their dealings with the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency and other Federal and State agencies. These lawyers help clients prepare
and file for licenses and applications for approval before certain activities
may occur. Some lawyers specialize in the growing field of intellectual
property, helping to protect clients’ claims to copyrights, artwork under
contract, product designs, and computer programs. Other lawyers advise insurance
companies about the legality of insurance transactions, guiding the company in
writing insurance policies to conform to the law and to protect the companies
from unwarranted claims. When claims are filed against insurance companies,
these attorneys review the claims and represent the companies in court.

Most lawyers are in private practice, concentrating on criminal or civil law. In
criminal law, lawyers represent individuals who have been charged with crimes
and argue their cases in courts of law. Attorneys dealing with civil law assist
clients with litigation, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles, and
leases. Other lawyers handle only public-interest cases-civil or
criminal-concentrating on particular causes and choosing cases that might have
an impact on the way law is applied. Lawyers are sometimes employed full time by
a single client. If the client is a corporation, the lawyer is known as “house
counsel” and usually advises the company concerning legal issues related to its
business activities. These issues might involve patents, government regulations,
contracts with other companies, property interests, or collective bargaining
agreements with unions.

A significant number of attorneys are employed at the various levels of
government. Some work for State attorneys general, prosecutors, and public
defenders in criminal courts. At the Federal level, attorneys investigate cases
for the U.S. Department of Justice and other agencies. Government lawyers also
help develop programs, draft and interpret laws and legislation, establish
enforcement procedures, and argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the

Other lawyers work for legal aid societies—private, nonprofit organizations
established to serve disadvantaged people. These lawyers generally handle civil,
rather than criminal, cases.

Lawyers increasingly use various forms of technology to perform more
efficiently. Although all lawyers continue to use law libraries to prepare
cases, most supplement conventional printed sources with computer sources, such
as the Internet and legal databases. Software is used to search this legal
literature automatically and to identify legal texts relevant to a specific
case. In litigation involving many supporting documents, lawyers may use
computers to organize and index material. Lawyers must be geographically mobile
and able to reach their clients in a timely matter, so they might use electronic
filing, web and videoconferencing, and voice-recognition technology to share
information more effectively.

Work environment. Lawyers do most of
their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. They sometimes meet in
clients’ homes or places of business and, when necessary, in hospitals or
prisons. They may travel to attend meetings, gather evidence, and appear before
courts, legislative bodies, and other authorities. They may also face
particularly heavy pressure when a case is being tried. Preparation for court
includes understanding the latest laws and judicial decisions.

Salaried lawyers usually have structured work schedules. Lawyers who are in
private practice may work irregular hours while conducting research, conferring
with clients, or preparing briefs during nonoffice hours. Lawyers often work
long hours; of those who work full time, about 37 percent work 50 hours or more
per week.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Formal requirements to become a lawyer usually
include a 4-year college degree, 3 years of law school, and passing a written
bar examination; however, some requirements may vary by State. Competition for
admission to most law schools is intense. Federal courts and agencies set their
own qualifications for those practicing before or in them.

Education and training. Becoming a lawyer usually takes 7 years of
full-time study after high school - 4 years of undergraduate study, followed by
3 years of law school. Law school applicants must have a bachelor’s degree to
qualify for admission. To meet the needs of students who can attend only part
time, a number of law schools have night or part-time divisions.

Although there is no recommended “prelaw” undergraduate major, prospective
lawyers should develop proficiency in writing and speaking, reading,
researching, analyzing, and thinking logically - skills needed to succeed both
in law school and in the law. Regardless of major, a multidisciplinary
background is recommended. Courses in English, foreign languages, public
speaking, government, philosophy, history, economics, mathematics, and computer
science, among others, are useful. Students interested in a particular aspect of
law may find related courses helpful. For example, prospective patent lawyers
need a strong background in engineering or science, and future tax lawyers must
have extensive knowledge of accounting.

Acceptance by most law schools depends on the applicant’s ability to demonstrate
an aptitude for the study of law, usually through undergraduate grades, the Law
School Admission Test (LSAT), the quality of the applicant’s undergraduate
school, any prior work experience, and sometimes, a personal interview. However,
law schools vary in the weight they place on each of these and other factors.

All law schools approved by the American Bar Association require applicants to
take the LSAT. As of 2006, there were 195 ABA-accredited law schools; others
were approved by State authorities only. Nearly all law schools require
applicants to have certified transcripts sent to the Law School Data Assembly
Service, which then submits the applicants’ LSAT scores and their standardized
records of college grades to the law schools of their choice. The Law School
Admission Council administers both this service and the LSAT. Competition for
admission to many law schools - especially the most prestigious ones - is
usually intense, with the number of applicants greatly exceeding the number that
can be admitted.

During the first year or year and a half of law school, students usually study
core courses, such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, torts, civil
procedure, and legal writing. In the remaining time, they may choose specialized
courses in fields such as tax, labor, or corporate law. Law students often gain
practical experience by participating in school-sponsored legal clinics; in the
school’s moot court competitions, in which students conduct appellate arguments;
in practice trials under the supervision of experienced lawyers and judges; and
through research and writing on legal issues for the school’s law journals.

A number of law schools have clinical programs in which students gain legal
experience through practice trials and projects under the supervision of lawyers
and law school faculty. Law school clinical programs might include work in legal
aid offices, for example, or on legislative committees. Part-time or summer
clerkships in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments
also provide valuable experience. Such training can lead directly to a job after
graduation and can help students decide what kind of practice best suits them.
Law school graduates receive the degree of juris doctor (J.D.), a first
professional degree.

Advanced law degrees may be desirable for those planning to specialize,
research, or teach. Some law students pursue joint degree programs, which
usually require an additional semester or year of study. Joint degree programs
are offered in a number of areas, including business administration or public

After graduation, lawyers must keep informed about legal and nonlegal
developments that affect their practices. In 2006, 43 States and jurisdictions
required lawyers to participate in mandatory continuing legal education. Many
law schools and State and local bar associations provide continuing education
courses that help lawyers stay abreast of recent developments. Some States allow
continuing education credits to be obtained through participation in seminars on
the Internet.

Licensure. To practice law in the courts of any State or other
jurisdiction, a person must be licensed, or admitted to its bar, under rules
established by the jurisdiction’s highest court. All States require that
applicants for admission to the bar pass a written bar examination; most States
also require applicants to pass a separate written ethics examination. Lawyers
who have been admitted to the bar in one State occasionally may be admitted to
the bar in another without taking another examination if they meet the latter
jurisdiction’s standards of good moral character and a specified period of legal
experience. In most cases, however, lawyers must pass the bar examination in
each State in which they plan to practice. Federal courts and agencies set their
own qualifications for those practicing before or in them.

To qualify for the bar examination in most States, an applicant must earn a
college degree and graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar
Association (ABA) or the proper State authorities. ABA accreditation signifies
that the law school, particularly its library and faculty, meets certain
standards. With certain exceptions, graduates of schools not approved by the ABA
are restricted to taking the bar examination and practicing in the State or
other jurisdiction in which the school is located; most of these schools are in

Although there is no nationwide bar examination, 48 States, the District of
Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin
Islands require the 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) as part of their
overall bar examination; the MBE is not required in Louisiana or Washington. The
MBE covers a broad range of issues, and sometimes a locally prepared State bar
examination is given in addition to it. The 3-hour Multistate Essay Examination
(MEE) is used as part of the bar examination in several States. States vary in
their use of MBE and MEE scores.

Many States also require Multistate Performance Testing to test the practical
skills of beginning lawyers. Requirements vary by State, although the test
usually is taken at the same time as the bar exam and is a one-time requirement.

In 2007, law school graduates in 52 jurisdictions were required to pass the
Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which tests their
knowledge of the ABA codes on professional responsibility and judicial conduct.
In some States, the MPRE may be taken during law school, usually after
completing a course on legal ethics.

Other qualifications. The practice of law involves a great deal of
responsibility. Individuals planning careers in law should like to work with
people and be able to win the respect and confidence of their clients,
associates, and the public. Perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability also
are essential to lawyers, who often analyze complex cases and handle new and
unique legal problems.

Advancement. Most beginning lawyers start in salaried positions. Newly
hired attorneys usually start as associates and work with more experienced
lawyers or judges. After several years, some lawyers are admitted to partnership
in their firm, which means they are partial owners of the firm, or go into
practice for themselves. Some experienced lawyers are nominated or elected to
judgeships. (See the section on judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers
elsewhere in the Handbook.) Others become full-time law school faculty or
administrators; a growing number of these lawyers have advanced degrees in other
fields as well.

Some attorneys use their legal training in administrative or managerial
positions in various departments of large corporations. A transfer from a
corporation’s legal department to another department often is viewed as a way to
gain administrative experience and rise in the ranks of management.


Lawyers held about 761,000 jobs in 2006.
Approximately 27 percent of lawyers were self-employed, practicing either as
partners in law firms or in solo practices. Most salaried lawyers held positions
in government, in law firms or other corporations, or in nonprofit
organizations. Most government-employed lawyers worked at the local level. In
the Federal Government, lawyers worked for many different agencies but were
concentrated in the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Defense. Many salaried
lawyers working outside of government were employed as house counsel by public
utilities, banks, insurance companies, real estate agencies, manufacturing
firms, and other business firms and nonprofit organizations. Some also had
part-time independent practices, while others worked part time as lawyers and
full time in another occupation.

A relatively small number of trained attorneys work in law schools, and are not
included in the employment estimate for lawyers. Most are faculty members who
specialize in one or more subjects; however, some serve as administrators.
Others work full time in nonacademic settings and teach part time.

Job Outlook

Average employment growth is projected, but job
competition is expected to be keen.

Employment change. Employment of lawyers
is expected to grow 11 percent during the 2006-16 decade, about as fast as the
average for all occupations. The growth in the population and in the level of
business activity is expected create more legal transactions, civil disputes,
and criminal cases. Job growth among lawyers also will result from increasing
demand for legal services in such areas as health care, intellectual property,
venture capital, energy, elder, antitrust, and environmental law. In addition,
the wider availability and affordability of legal clinics should result in
increased use of legal services by middle-income people. However, growth in
demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large
accounting firms and paralegals to perform some of the same functions that
lawyers do. For example, accounting firms may provide employee-benefit
counseling, process documents, or handle various other services previously
performed by a law firm. Also, mediation and dispute resolution increasingly are
being used as alternatives to litigation.

Job growth for lawyers will continue to be concentrated in salaried jobs, as
businesses and all levels of government employ a growing number of staff
attorneys. Most salaried positions are in urban areas where government agencies,
law firms, and big corporations are concentrated. The number of self-employed
lawyers is expected to grow slowly, reflecting the difficulty of establishing a
profitable new practice in the face of competition from larger, established law
firms. Moreover, the growing complexity of law, which encourages specialization,
along with the cost of maintaining up-to-date legal research materials, favors
larger firms.

Job prospects. Competition for job openings should continue to be keen
because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year.
Graduates with superior academic records from highly regarded law schools will
have the best job opportunities. Perhaps as a result of competition for attorney
positions, lawyers are increasingly finding work in less traditional areas for
which legal training is an asset, but not normally a requirement - for example,
administrative, managerial, and business positions in banks, insurance firms,
real estate companies, government agencies, and other organizations. Employment
opportunities are expected to continue to arise in these organizations at a
growing rate.

As in the past, some graduates may have to accept positions outside of their
field of interest or for which they feel overqualified. 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 on an “as-needed” basis and
permits beginning lawyers to develop practical skills.

Because of the keen competition for jobs, a law graduate’s geographic mobility
and work experience assume greater importance. The willingness to relocate may
be an advantage in getting a job, but to be licensed in another State, a lawyer
may have to take an additional State bar examination. In addition, employers
increasingly seek graduates who have advanced law degrees and experience in a
specialty, such as tax, patent, or admiralty law.

Job opportunities often are adversely 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 will not hire new attorneys until business improves, and these
establishments may even cut staff to contain costs. Several factors, however,
mitigate the overall impact of recessions on lawyers; during recessions, for
example, individuals and corporations face other legal problems, such as
bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces requiring legal action.

For lawyers who wish to work independently, establishing a new practice will
probably be easiest in small towns and expanding suburban areas. In such
communities, competition from larger, established law firms is likely to be less
than in big cities, and new lawyers may find it easier to establish a reputation
among potential clients.

Projections Data

Occupational title      Lawyers
SOC Code      23-1011
Employment, 2006      761,000
Projected employment, 2016      844,000
Change, 2006-16 (Number)      84,000
Change, 2006-16 (Percent)      11%


In May 2006, the median annual earnings of all
wage-and-salaried lawyers were $102,470. The middle half of the occupation
earned between $69,910 and $145,600.

Median annual earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of lawyers in May 2006 were:

  • Management of companies and enterprises    $128,610

  • Federal Government    $119,240

  • Legal services    $108,100

  • Local government    $78,810

  • State government    $75,840

Salaries of experienced attorneys vary widely
according to the type, size, and location of their employer. Lawyers who own
their own practices usually earn less than those who are partners in law firms.
Lawyers starting their own practice may need to work part time in other
occupations to supplement their income until their practice is well established.

Median salaries of lawyers 9 months after
graduation, 2005:

  • All graduates    $60,000

  • Private practice   $85,000

  • Business    $60,000

  • Government    $46,158

  • Academic/judicial clerkships    $45,000

Most salaried lawyers are provided health and
life insurance, and contributions are made to retirement plans on their behalf.
Lawyers who practice independently are covered only if they arrange and pay for
such benefits themselves.