Pursuing a Career in Law
If you are considering law school, you are taking the initial step toward a potentially rewarding career in the legal profession. A legal education can be one of the most challenging and fulfilling endeavors an individual will pursue in their lifetime. There are many potential reasons one may choose to attend law school. Learning the skills of a lawyer and then using them in practice is the most common reason. However, some may simply be interested in the complexities of the law and seek to learn more about it. Others are motivated to enter law school to effect change through government, interest groups, or other non-profit organizations.
Like any other profession, not all lawyers are rich and successful. However, the legal profession is generally rewarding both personally and financially. A person with a background in legal education can, in addition to practicing law, turn to other fields such as teaching, business, and advocacy.
The Job of a Lawyer
Lawyers must be able to examine legal issues, while keeping in mind the constantly changing law and legal system. They also must be able to advocate, to the best of their ability, diverse interests. This also means advocating interests with which they may not personally agree. Lawyers must have skills to communicate effectively, verbally and in writing. At the same time, successful attorneys must have the ability to effectively persuade and negotiate.
Practicing attorneys, therefore, are intricately involved in business dealings, political negotiations, and debating some of the most difficult issues facing society. The work of an attorney often involves avoiding and negotiating past conflict. In this manner, the work of an attorney can be very interesting. You'll find lawyers at work in the center of the biggest deals in government, business, and the non-profit sector.
Attorneys find themselves in a wide variety of positions. Some become in-house counsel on corporate, governmental, or interest group staffs. Others work for large law frims who represent business clients. Others work in smaller firms or open their own practice. Other lawyers pursue careers in academia or as jurists sitting on the bench. Sound like an interesting field? It is. But you should also go in with "both eyes open." People often have inaccurate views about practicing law.
Some view law school as an automatic ticket to "big bucks." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for lawyers in 2006 was approx. $102,000. This figure includes attorneys in all fields and all levels of experience, and in all different regions of the U.S. Attorneys at big, prestigious corporate law firms can make high six-figure salaries.
The annual salary for large law firm partners who have been with the firm for many years often easily top $500,000. Some even make millions. However, there's a greater number of "everyday" lawyers who work in smaller legal practices and earn much more modest incomes (starting salaries around $35,000 are not uncommon). Many of these attorneys make a decent living at their trade. Many other lawyers who, burgeoning under massive student loan debt, struggle to find jobs and pay their bills.
Some people have inaccurate views of what lawyers do and make. Having seen television programs such as Law and Order, some may get the idea that all lawyers spend their time in the court room trying cases. This is not true for most attorneys. Much of a lawyer's work involves reading, research, negotiations, and discussions. Indeed, some lawyers hardly ever set foot in a courtroom. The job of many attorneys is often to study agreements and potential situations to avoid litigation, not engage in it.
Some approach law from an unrealistic perspective. For example, many individuals seek to practice environmental law based upon their deeply held belief in environmental protection. But they should know that a large number of the positions in environmental law involve representing the interests of chemical companies, industrial manufacturers, and global oil corporations ... the very groups most environmentalists oppose.
Others envision practicing criminal law to protect the innocent from arbitrary governmental power. But these lawyers must realize that those who practice criminal law represent many people who are guilty of commiting heinous crimes, in addition to the innocent. Like all fields, a career in law has "pros" and "cons."
On the whole, most lawyers find their work to be interesting and rewarding. But you must be realistic about what a career in law, or any other field, entails.