Lawyers, also known as attorneys, are trained and licensed to practice law, which means they represent clients’ interests and advise them on legal matters. Although many lawyers work in private practice and specialize in criminal or civil law, attorneys also work in many other sectors including business, health care, insurance and the government.
Specific requirements vary, but in most states, becoming a lawyer requires an undergraduate college degree, a degree in law (usually three years) and a passing score on the bar examination.
The most common degree in law is the Juris Doctor, or J.D., and it is earned by completing law school coursework after having earned an undergraduate degree. There are no required undergraduate majors for applying to law school, but either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree is necessary to eventually become a lawyer.
Earning an online law degree is possible, but be aware that only California allows online law degree recipients to sit for the state bar exam.
Lawyers study the law, including statutes and cases, to advise clients in legal, business and personal matters. Becoming a lawyer involves a well-rounded skill set in researching, writing, public speaking and critical and analytical thinking.
The specific duties of a lawyer depend upon the area of practice, which can include criminal law, corporate law, tax law, family law, estate law, bankruptcy, intellectual property, environmental law, public interest law and more.
In 2006, about 761,000 were employed as lawyers. About 27 percent of these were self-employed as solo practitioners or as partners in law firms, while other sectors represented in salaried positions include the government, law firms, corporations such as banks and insurance companies, and non-profit organizations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the middle 50 percent of lawyers earned between $69,910 and $145,600 in 2006, with a median salary of $102,470.
Salaries vary widely depending on practice area as well as the size and location of the employer. Generally, solo practitioners are on the lower end of the earning scale. Recent law grads can expect to earn a median salary of about $60,000.
Competition for attorney jobs will continue to be high due to the large number of law graduates entering the workforce every year. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts “about as fast as the average” growth in the employment of lawyers, particularly in salaried jobs with the government, law firms and corporations.