Lawyers. Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors in our society. As advocates, they represent one of the opposing parties in criminal and civil trials by presenting evidence that supports their client in court. As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients as to their legal rights and obligations, and suggest particular courses of action in business and personal matters. Whether acting as advocates or advisors, all attorneys interpret the law and apply it to specific situations. This requires excellent research and communication skills.
Lawyers perform in-depth research into the purposes behind the applicable laws and into judicial decisions that have been applied to those laws under circumstances similar to those currently faced by the client. While all lawyers continue to make use of law libraries to prepare cases, some supplement their search of the conventional printed sources with computer software packages. Software can be used to automatically search legal literature and identify legal texts relevant to a specific case. In litigation involving many supporting documents, lawyers may use computers to organize and index the material. Tax lawyers are increasingly using computers for making tax computations and exploring alternative tax strategies for clients.
Lawyers then communicate to others the information obtained by research. They advise what actions clients may take and draw up legal documents, such as wills and contracts, for clients. Lawyers must deal with people in a courteous, efficient manner and not disclose matters discussed in confidence with clients. They hold positions of great responsibility, and are obligated to adhere to a strict code of ethics.
The more detailed aspects of a lawyer's job depend upon his or her field of specialization and position. While all lawyers are licensed to represent parties in court, some appear in court more frequently than others. Some lawyers specialize in trial work. These lawyers need an exceptional ability to think quickly and speak with ease and authority, and must be thoroughly familiar with courtroom rules and strategy. Trial lawyers still spend most of their time outside the courtroom conducting research, interviewing clients and witnesses, and handling other details in preparation for trial.
Besides trials, lawyers may specialize in other areas, such as bankruptcy, probate, or international law. Environmental lawyers, for example, may represent public interest groups, waste disposal companies, or construction firms in their dealings with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other State and Federal agencies. They help clients prepare and file for licenses and applications for approval before certain activities can occur. They also represent clients' interests in administrative adjudications and during drafting of new regulations.
Some lawyers concentrate in the emerging field of intellectual property. These lawyers help protect clients' claims to copyrights, art work under contract, product designs, and computer programs. Still other lawyers advise insurance companies about the legality of insurance transactions. They write insurance policies to conform with the law and to protect companies from unwarranted claims. They review claims filed against insurance companies and represent the companies in court.
The majority of lawyers are in private practice where they may concentrate 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. In civil law, attorneys assist clients with litigation, wills, trusts, contracts, mortgages, titles, and leases. Some manage a person's property as a trustee or, as an executor, to ensure the provisions of a client's will are carried out. Others handle only public interest casescivil or criminalwhich have a potential impact extending well beyond the individual client.
Lawyers sometimes are 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 about 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.
Attorneys employed at the various levels of government make up still another category. Lawyers that work for State attorneys general, prosecutors, public defenders, and courts play a key role in the criminal justice system. At the Federal level, attorneys investigate cases for the Department of Justice or other agencies. Also, lawyers at every government level help develop programs, draft laws, interpret legislation, establish enforcement procedures, and argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government.
Other lawyers work for legal aid societiesprivate, nonprofit organizations established to serve disadvantaged people. These lawyers generally handle civil rather than criminal cases.
A relatively small number of trained attorneys work in law schools. Most are faculty members who specialize in one or more subjects, and others serve as administrators. Some work full time in nonacademic settings and teach part time. (For additional information, see the section on college and university faculty elsewhere in the Handbook.) Some lawyers become judges, although not all judges have practiced law.
Judges. Judges apply the law. They oversee the legal process in courts of law, resolving civil disputes and determining guilt in criminal cases according to local, State, and Federal statutes. They preside over cases touching on virtually every aspect of society, from traffic offenses to disputes over management of professional sports, from the rights of huge corporations to questions of disconnecting life support equipment for terminally ill persons. They must ensure trials and hearings are conducted fairly and that the court administers justice in a manner safeguarding the legal rights of all parties involved.
Judges preside over trials or hearings and listen as attorneys representing the parties present and argue their cases. They rule on the admissibility of evidence and methods of conducting testimony, and settle disputes between the opposing attorneys. They ensure the rules and procedures are followed, and if unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established, judges direct how the trial will proceed based on their knowledge of the law.
Judges often hold pretrial hearings for cases. They listen to allegations and, based on the evidence presented, determine whether there is enough merit for a trial to be held. In criminal cases, judges may decide that persons charged with crimes should be held in jail pending their trial, or may set conditions for release through the trial. In civil cases, judges may impose restrictions upon the parties until a trial is held.
When trials are held, juries are often selected to decide cases. However, judges decide cases when the law does not require a jury trial, or when the parties waive their right to a jury. Judges instruct juries on applicable laws, direct them to deduce the facts from the evidence presented, and hear their verdict. Judges sentence those convicted in criminal cases in many States. They also award relief to litigants including, where appropriate, compensation for damages in civil cases.
Judges also work outside the courtroom "in chambers." In their private offices, judges read documents on pleadings and motions, research legal issues, hold hearings with lawyers, write opinions, and oversee the court's operations. Running a court is like running a small business, and judges manage their courts' administrative and clerical staff, too.
Judges' duties vary according to the extent of their jurisdictions and powers. General trial court judges of the Federal and State court systems have jurisdiction over any case in their system. They generally try civil cases that transcend the jurisdiction of lower courts, and all cases involving felony offenses. Federal and State appellate court judges, although few in number, have the power to overrule decisions made by trial court or administrative law judges if they determine that legal errors were made in a case, or if legal precedent does not support the judgment of the lower court. They rule on fewer cases and rarely have direct contacts with the people involved.
The majority of State court judges preside in courts in which jurisdiction is limited by law to certain types of cases. A variety of titles are assigned to these judges, but among the most common are municipal court judge, county court judge, magistrate, or justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small claims cases, and pretrial hearings constitute the bulk of the work of these judges, but some States allow them to handle cases involving domestic relations, probate, contracts, and selected other areas of the law.
Administrative law judges, formerly called hearing officers, are employed by government agencies to rule on appeals of agency administrative decisions. They make decisions on a person's eligibility for various Social Security benefits or worker's compensation, protection of the environment, enforcement of health and safety regulations, employment discrimination, and compliance with economic regulatory requirements.
Lawyers and judges do most of their work in offices, law libraries, and courtrooms. Lawyers sometimes meet in clients' homes or places of business and, when necessary, in hospitals or prisons. They frequently travel to attend meetings; to gather evidence; and to appear before courts, legislative bodies, and other authorities.
Salaried lawyers in government and private corporations generally have structured work schedules. Lawyers in private practice may work irregular hours while conducting research, conferring with clients, or preparing briefs during nonoffice hours. Lawyers often work long hours, and about half regularly work 50 hours or more per week. They are under particularly heavy pressure, for example, when a case is being tried. Preparation for court includes keeping abreast of the latest laws and judicial decisions. Although work generally is not seasonal, the work of tax lawyers and other specialists may be an exception. Because lawyers in private practice can often determine their own workload and when they will retire, many stay in practice well beyond the usual retirement age.
Many judges work a standard 40-hour week, but a third of all judges work over 50 hours per week. Some judges with limited jurisdiction are employed part time and divide their time between their judicial responsibilities and other careers.
Lawyers and judges held about 735,000 jobs in 1994. About three-fourths of the 656,000 lawyers practiced privately, either in law firms or in solo practices. Most of the remaining lawyers held positions in government, the greatest number at the local level. In the Federal Government, lawyers work for many different agencies but they are concentrated in the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Defense. Other lawyers are employed as house counsel by public utilities, banks, insurance companies, real estate agencies, manufacturing firms, welfare and religious organizations, and other business firms and nonprofit organizations. Some salaried lawyers also have part-time independent practices; others work as lawyers part time while working full time in another occupation.
Judges held 79,000 jobs in 1994. All worked for Federal, State, or local governments, with about 40 percent holding positions in the Federal Government. The remainder were mostly employed at the State level.
Many people trained as lawyers are not employed as lawyers or judges; they work as law clerks, law school professors, managers and administrators, and in a variety of other occupations.
Lawyers. 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. Nearly all require that applicants for admission to the bar pass a written bar examination. Most jurisdictions also require applicants to pass a separate written ethics examination. Lawyers who have been admitted to the bar in one jurisdiction occasionally may be admitted to the bar in another without taking an examination if they meet that jurisdiction's standards of good moral character and have a specified period of legal experience. Federal courts and agencies set their own qualifications for those practicing before them.
To qualify for the bar examination in most States, an applicant must complete at least 3 years of college and graduate from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) or the proper State authorities. (ABA approval signifies that the law schoolparticularly its library and facultymeets certain standards developed by the Association to promote quality legal education.) In 1994, the American Bar Association approved 178 law schools. Others were approved by State authorities only. 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 California. Seven States accept the study of law in a law office or in combination with study in a law school; only California accepts the study of law by correspondence as qualifying for taking the bar examination. Several States require registration and approval of students by the State Board of Law Examiners, either before they enter law school or during the early years of legal study.
Although there is no nationwide bar examination, 47 States, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands require the 6-hour Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) as part of the bar examination; the MBE is not required in Indiana, Louisiana, Washington, and Puerto Rico. The MBE, covering issues of broad interest, is given in addition to a locally prepared 6-hour State bar examination. The 3-hour Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) is used as part of the State bar examination in a few States. States vary in their use of MBE and MEE scores.
The required college and law school education usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school4 years of undergraduate study followed by 3 years in law school. Although some law schools accept a very small number of students after 3 years of college, most require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. To meet the needs of students who can attend only part time, a number of law schools have night or part-time divisions which usually require 4 years of study. In 1994, about one 1 in 8 graduates from ABA-approved schools attended part time.
Preparation for a career as a lawyer really begins in college. Although there is no recommended "prelaw" major, the choice of an undergraduate program is important. Certain courses and activities are desirable because they give the student the skills needed to succeed both in law school and in the profession. Essential skillsproficiency in writing, reading and analyzing, thinking logically, and communicating verballyare learned during high school and college. An undergraduate program that cultivates these skills while broadening the student's view of the world is desirable. Courses in English, a foreign language, public speaking, government, philosophy, history, economics, mathematics, and computer science, among others, are useful. Whatever the major, students should study a variety of disciplines.
Students interested in a particular aspect of law may find related courses helpful. For example, many law schools with patent law tracks require bachelor's degrees, or at least several courses, in engineering and science. Future tax lawyers should have a strong undergraduate background in accounting.
Acceptance by most law schools depends on the applicant's ability to demonstrate an aptitude for the study of law, usually through good 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 that they place on each of these factors.
All law schools approved by the American Bar Association require that applicants take the LSAT. Nearly all law schools require applicants to have certified transcripts sent to the Law School Data Assembly Service, which then sends applicants' LSAT scores and their standardized records of college grades to the law schools of their choice. Both this service and the LSAT are administered by the Law School Admission Council.
Competition for admission to many law schools is intense. Enrollments rose very rapidly during the 1970s, with applicants far outnumbering available seats. Since then, law school enrollments have remained relatively unchanged, and the number of applicants has fluctuated. However, the number of applicants to most law schools still greatly exceeds the number that can be admitted. Enrollments are expected to remain at about their present level through the year 2005, and competition for admission to the more prestigious law schools will remain keen.
During the first year or year and a half of law school, students generally study fundamental courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, torts, civil procedure, and legal writing. In the remaining time, they may elect specialized courses in fields such as tax, labor, or corporation law. Law students often acquire practical experience by participation in school sponsored legal aid or legal clinic activities, 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 journal.
In 1994, law students in 38 States 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.
A number of law schools have clinical programs where students gain legal experience through practice trials and law school projects under the supervision of practicing lawyers and law school faculty. Law school clinical programs might include work in legal aid clinics, for example, or on the staff of legislative committees. Part-time or summer clerkships in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments also provide experience that can be extremely valuable later on. Such training can provide references or lead directly to a job after graduation, and can help students decide what kind of practice best suits them. Clerkships also may be an important source of financial aid.
Graduates receive the degree of juris doctor (J.D.) or bachelor of law (LL.B.) as the first professional degree. Advanced law degrees may be desirable for those planning to specialize, do research, or teach. Some law students pursue joint degree programs, which generally require an additional year. Joint degree programs are offered in a number of areas, including law and business administration and law and public administration.
After graduation, lawyers must keep informed about legal and nonlegal developments that affect their practice. Thirty-seven States and jurisdictions mandate Continuing Legal Education (CLE). Furthermore, many law schools and State and local bar associations provide continuing education courses that help lawyers stay abreast of recent developments.
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. Integrity and honesty are vital personal qualities. Perseverance and reasoning ability are essential to analyze complex cases and reach sound conclusions. Lawyers also need creativity when handling new and unique legal problems.
Most beginning lawyers start in salaried positions. Newly hired salaried attorneys usually act as research assistants to experienced lawyers or judges. After several years of progressively more responsible salaried employment, some lawyers are admitted to partnership in their firm, or go into practice for themselves. Some lawyers, after years of practice, become full-time law school faculty or administrators; a growing number 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.
Judges. Most judges, although not all, have been lawyers first. All Federal judges and State trial and appellate court judges are required to be lawyers or "learned in law." About 40 States presently allow nonlawyers to hold limited jurisdiction judgeships, but opportunities are better with law experience. Federal administrative law judges must be lawyers and pass a competitive examination administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Many State administrative law judges and other hearing officials are not required to be lawyers, but law degrees are preferred for most positions.
Federal judges are appointed for life by the President, with the consent of the Senate. Federal administrative law judges are appointed by the various Federal agencies with virtually lifetime tenure. About half of all State judges are appointed, while the remainder are elected in partisan or nonpartisan State elections. Most State and local judges serve fixed terms, which range from 4 or 6 years for most limited jurisdiction judgeships to as long as 14 years for some appellate court judges. Judicial nominating commissions, composed of members of the bar and the public, are used to screen candidates for judgeships in many States, as well as for Federal judgeships.
All States have some type of orientation for newly elected or appointed judges. The National Judicial College and the National Center for State Courts provide judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel. General and continuing education courses usually run from a couple of days to 3 weeks in length. Over half of the States, including Puerto Rico, require judges to enroll in continuing education courses while serving on the bench.
Individuals interested in pursuing careers as lawyers or judges should encounter keen competition through the year 2005. Law schools still attract large numbers of applicants and are not expected to decrease their enrollments, so the supply of persons trained as lawyers should continue to exceed job openings. As for judges, the prestige associated with serving on the bench should insure continued intense competition for openings.
Lawyers. Employment of lawyers has grown very rapidly since the early 1970s, and is expected to continue to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. New jobs created by growth in the profession should exceed job openings that arise from the need to replace lawyers who stop working or leave the profession. The strong growth in demand for lawyers will result from growth in the population and the general level of business activities. Demand will also be spurred by growth of legal action in such areas as employee benefits, health care, intellectual property, sexual harassment, the environment, and real estate. Legal services can be expensive, but the availability of legal clinics and prepaid legal service programs should increase the use of legal services by middle-income groups.
Even though jobs for lawyers are expected to increase rapidly, competition for job openings should continue to be keen because of the large numbers graduating from law school each year. During the 1970s, the annual number of law school graduates more than doubled, outpacing the rapid growth of jobs. Growth in the yearly number of law school graduates tapered off during the 1980s, but again increased in the early 1990s. The high number of graduates will strain the economy's capacity to absorb them. Although graduates with superior academic records from well-regarded law schools will continue to enjoy good opportunities, most graduates will encounter competition for jobs. As in the past, some graduates may have to accept positions in areas outside their field of interest or for which they feel they are overqualified. They may have to enter jobs for which legal training is an asset but not normally a requirement. For example, banks, insurance firms, real estate companies, government agencies, and other organizations seek law graduates to fill many administrative, managerial, and business positions.
Due to the 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 a new 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 particular field such as tax, patent, or admiralty law.
Employment growth of lawyers will continue to be concentrated in salaried jobs, as businesses and all levels of government employ a growing number of staff attorneys, and as employment in the legal services industry is increasingly concentrated in larger law firms. The number of self-employed lawyers is expected to continue to increase slowly, reflecting the difficulty of establishing a profitable new practice in the face of competition from larger, established law firms. Also, the growing complexity of lawwhich encourages specializationand the cost of maintaining up-to-date legal research materials favor larger firms.
Nevertheless, for lawyers who wish to work independently, establishing a new practice probably will continue to be easiest in small towns and expanding suburban areas, as long as an active market for legal services exists. 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 become known to potential clients. Additionally, rent and other business costs are somewhat lower in small towns than metropolitan areas. Yet, starting a new practice will remain an expensive and risky undertaking that should be weighed carefully. Most salaried positions will remain in urban areas where government agencies, law firms, and big corporations are concentrated.
Some lawyers are adversely affected by cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, the 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 result in budgetary restrictions. Although few lawyers actually lose their jobs during these times, earnings may decline for many. Some corporations and law firms will not hire new attorneys until business improves. Several factors, however, mitigate the overall impact of recessions on lawyers. During recessions, individuals and corporations face other legal problems, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, and divorces, that require legal action. Furthermore, new laws and legal interpretations will create new opportunities for lawyers.
Judges. Employment of judges is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations. Contradictory social forces affect the demand for judges. Pushing up demand are public concerns about crime, safety, and efficient administration of justice; on the other hand, tight public funding should slow job growth.
Competition for judgeships should remain keen. Most job openings will arise as judges retire. Traditionally, many judges have held their positions until late in life. Now, early retirement is becoming more common, creating more job openings. However, becoming a judge will still be difficult. Besides competing with other qualified people, judicial candidates must gain political support in order to be elected or appointed.
Annual salaries of beginning lawyers in private industry averaged about $37,000 in 1993, but top graduates obtaining positions at the Nation's largest law firms in some cases started at over $80,000 a year. In the Federal Government, annual starting salaries for attorneys in 1994 were about $29,200 or $36,400, depending upon academic and personal qualifications. Factors affecting the salaries offered to new graduates include: Academic record; type, size, and location of employer; and the specialized educational background desired. The field of law makes a difference, too. Patent lawyers, for example, generally are among the highest paid attorneys.
Salaries of experienced attorneys also vary widely according to the type, size, and location of their employer. The average salary of the most experienced lawyers in private industry in 1993 was nearly $115,000, but some senior lawyers who were partners in the Nation's top law firms earned over $1 million. General attorneys in the Federal Government averaged around $67,900 a year in 1995; the relatively small number of patent attorneys in the Federal Government averaged around $76,300.
Lawyers on salary receive increases as they assume greater responsibility. Lawyers starting their own practice may need to work part time in other occupations during the first years to supplement their income. Their incomes usually grow as their practices develop. Lawyers who are partners in law firms generally earn more than those who practice alone.
Federal district court judges had salaries of $133,600 in 1995, as did judges in the Court of Federal Claims. Circuit court judges earned $141,700 a year. Federal judges with limited jurisdiction, such as magistrates and bankruptcy court judges, had salaries of $122,900 in 1995. Full-time Federal administrative law judges had average salaries of $94,800 in 1995. The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court earned $171,500 in 1995, and the Associate Justices earned $164,100.
Annual salaries of associate justices of States' highest courts averaged $91,093 in 1995, according to a survey by the National Center for State Courts, and ranged from about $64,452 to $131,085. Salaries of State intermediate appellate court judges averaged $93,970, but ranged from $75,589 to $122,893. Salaries of State judges with limited jurisdiction varied widely; many salaries are set locally.
Most salaried lawyers and judges were provided health and life insurance, and contributions were made on their behalf to retirement plans. Lawyers who practiced independently were only covered if they arranged and paid for such benefits themselves.
Legal training is useful in many other occupations. Some of these are paralegal, arbitrator, journalist, patent agent, title examiner, legislative assistant, lobbyist, FBI special agent, political office holder, and corporate executive.
The American Bar Association annually publishes A Review of Legal Education in the United States, which provides detailed information on each of the 178 law schools approved by the ABA, State requirements for admission to legal practice, a directory of State bar examination administrators, and other information on legal education. Single copies are free from the ABA, but there is a fee for multiple copies. Free information on the bar examination, financial aid for law students, and law as a career may also be obtained from:
American Bar Association, 750 North Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60611.
Information on the LSAT, the Law School Data Assembly Service, applying to law school, and financial aid for law students may be obtained from:
Law School Admission Council, P.O. Box 40, Newtown, PA 18940. Telephone: (215) 968-1001.
The specific requirements for admission to the bar in a particular State or other jurisdiction may also be obtained at the State capital from the clerk of the Supreme Court or the administrator of the State Board of Bar Examiners.