Becoming a lawyer is a significant undertaking that requires considerable time, effort, and financial expenditure. Completing law school and passing the bar exam are both challenging endeavors. However, passing the bar exam and earning your law degree are only the first steps on your lawyer career path.
To get the most out of your career, you need to clearly identify your personal lawyer career goals, plan your lawyer career path, and hone your legal skills. Below you will find some helpful tips on lawyer career development that will help you become the best lawyer you can be.
Lawyer Career Prospects: Why is Law a Good Profession?
Law is a good profession because it offers prestige, a high earning potential, and a broad range of public and private practice areas. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for lawyers was $127,990 in May 2020. From 2020 to 2030, employment for lawyers is expected to expand at a rate of approximately nine percent, with about 46,000 new legal positions predicted over the next 10 years. Building a law career requires a lot of time and effort, but keeping the benefits of a legal career in mind can help keep future lawyers motivated.
What Does a Typical Lawyer Career Path Look Like?
Stage 1: Summer Associate
Law firms and government agencies can employ law students for short periods while they are still attending law school. Summer associate programs typically last nine weeks, starting in May and ending in July. Summer associates get to experience what it’s like to work at a law firm without having to commit to full-time employment. According to ZipRecruiter, a summer associate’s average annual wage is $35,706.
Stage 2: Paralegal
Law students can get part-time paralegal jobs to gain more experience in the legal industry. If you become a paralegal, you will be a legal assistant that conducts legal, regulatory, and business research for lawyers. Paralegals usually work for law firms, corporations in the legal department, courts, or in the private sector. A paralegal’s average annual compensation is $49,930, according to PayScale.
Stage 3: Associate Attorney
Associate attorneys are in charge of accomplishing legal work for their law firm. They conduct research, attend court hearings, and provide analysis and advice to clients. They also finalize and deliver any necessary paperwork to the courts. The average salary of an associate attorney is $83,771 per year.
Stage 4: Senior Attorney
A senior attorney has a high expertise level. Licensed attorneys assist in the management of lower-ranking employees and also oversee a legal team’s work when representing clients. Senior attorneys are also responsible for representing their legal team in meetings with an opposing party’s legal team. A senior attorney has an average salary of $124,900 per year.
Stage 5: Law Firm Partner
A law firm partner is a co-owner of the law firm and works to manage the firm itself. Partners are in charge of the firm’s legal and technical support teams, and they are also responsible for coordinating logistics for new cases, budgeting, and vendor connections. A law firm partner’s average salary is $188,859 per year.
Lawyer Career Path: Important Milestones
After passing the bar exam and acquiring state board licensing, law students become lawyers seeking employment in law firms and at government agencies. Obtaining work experience in the legal field is crucial for recent graduates. Before becoming a partner or founding their own law firm, entry-level lawyers work with experienced lawyers to improve their craft. Below you will find a list of important milestones in your career as a lawyer.
- Gain work experience in the legal field while studying. Internships, summer associate programs, volunteer legal services, and paralegal positions allow you to immerse yourself in larger firms or government agencies while also getting work experience in the practice of law.
- Prepare your resume. Most law students have little or no prior legal expertise, but your resume shouldn’t be blank. Include all your legal experience in your resume, such as the aforementioned internships, summer associate programs, and volunteer legal services.
- Obtain your first full-time position as an associate. Some law students get job offers from professional firms that they’ve interned at or have been employed by during their time in school. Others need to take advantage of their law school’s resources and enhance their professional network to acquire their first full-time legal job.
- Hone your legal skills to grow as a legal professional. It is essential to develop legal writing proficiency, citation and reference management abilities, litigation expertise, and reading list navigation know-how to build a successful law career. You’ll need strong problem-solving skills to boot.
- Become a law firm partner. If you’re a practicing lawyer looking to join a firm as a partner, you need to build your reputation as a legal specialist before finding a partnership mentor. After you become a partner, you will strengthen your leadership and analytical skills by developing relationships with other partners.
Planning Your Lawyer Career Path
There are several factors to consider when planning your lawyer career path. Depending on which route you would like to follow in the legal field, you must take into consideration which areas you excel in, what your career goals are, and how you can grow your professional network to access the roles you want.
Evaluate Your Strengths and Skill Gaps
To become the best lawyer you can be you need to reflect on what you are proficient in, consider your passions, and identify any areas that you can improve. Understanding your strengths and interests will help you choose the most suitable field of law and pursue relevant specialized experience on your lawyer career path.
Upskilling as a Lawyer
Regardless of your current position, you should always think about your lawyer career goals and professional development. If you don’t continually increase your level of expertise, your career may stagnate. Take advantage of any opportunities for professional growth that come your way, and always consider how to improve your experience level in pertinent areas.
Find a Mentor
Take time to observe your senior colleagues during your career. Do they possess any abilities that you want to gain? Is there anyone that could serve as a good mentor? Look for someone who is inclined to share their own experiences, provide career advice, and would be willing to act as a sounding board when you need a second opinion.
Grow Your Professional Network
Take advantage of networking opportunities inside your law firm, in any associations you are a member of, and in your client base. A robust professional network will be a great asset as you move along your lawyer career path. Don’t forget to use professional networking services such as LinkedIn to maintain your online network of coworkers, former colleagues, and clients.
Maintain Your Work-Life Balance
Law can be a stressful profession. Don’t forget that prioritizing your personal life is vital. Think about what you’re enthusiastic about and what you want to be remembered for. Take into account your relationships. Have a bucket list, travel goals, and other things you focus on outside of your professional life.
Popular Law Career Paths
|Career Path||Skills||Average Salary||Job Outlook|
|General Counsel||Excellent knowledge of the field, contract negotiation, corporate governance, litigation case management, legal and regulatory compliance||$169,110||9%|
|Judge and Hearing Officer||Extensive understanding of the field and legal issues, case management, legal document review, and legal compliance||$80,231||3%|
|Arbitrator, Mediator, and Conciliator||Great negotiation skills, facilitation, knowledge of writing procedures and documentation||$63,108||10%|
|Court Reporter and Simultaneous Captioner||English language, proofreading, transcription, typing, and software knowledge||$51,908||3%|
|Paralegal and Legal Assistant||Exceptional legal knowledge, attention to detail, and legal writing skills||$50,224||12%|
Next Steps for Aspiring Lawyers
Passing the bar exam and receiving your license is just the start of your lawyer career path. To become the best lawyer you can be, you should keep upskilling and consulting with your senior colleagues on legal matters that you find challenging. Along with honing legal skills, prospective lawyers need to develop strong communication skills, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking abilities and grow their professional networks to build their reputations.
Lawyer Career Path FAQ
A Juris Doctor (JD) degree is the best degree to become a lawyer. A JD is an advanced degree in law that focuses on civil procedures, contracts, and constitutional law,. A wide range of lawyers choose political science or another focus in the social sciences as their degree during their undergraduate study. However, depending on the career path you want to follow you may choose a slightly different undergraduate degree or further your studies in a graduate school.
The top five most in-demand types of lawyers include civil litigation lawyer (also known as a trial lawyer), criminal defense lawyer, defamation lawyer (also known as a libel and slander attorney), business lawyer (litigation or transactional), and family lawyer (also known as domestic relations attorney or divorce lawyer).
The careers you can have with a law degree include an associate in a law firm, a senior attorney, or even a law firm partner. Alternatively, you can work as an arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator, or you can become a judge.
Law is a good career in the US. Lawyers are paid $126,930 annually on average, making it a good role to pursue financially. From 2020 to 2030, the employment of lawyers is expected to expand at a rate of 9 percent, which is approximately average for all occupations. Over the next 10 years, around 46,000 lawyer openings are projected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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