Career Development

Attorney Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Being an attorney requires a unique blend of skills that are often developed over years of experience. These skills are typically honed in the classroom, legal office, and courtroom.

Being an attorney requires a unique blend of skills that are often developed over years of experience. These skills are typically honed in the classroom, legal office, and courtroom.

An attorney’s primary duty is to represent their clients in court while following the laws laid out by the state or federal government. The modern attorney can be assigned a wide variety of cases depending on their training, experience, and specialization. This may include criminal defense work, estate planning, corporate law, intellectual property law (i.e., patents), or family law (i.e., divorce). 

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an attorney and what it takes to become one yourself.

Attorney Job Duties

Lawyers perform a wide range of duties, including the following:

  • Interacting with clients, such as interviewing them to learn about their legal issues and case history and determining whether they have a good case for taking to court
  • Drafting legal documents, such as contracts or wills, reviewing existing documents to ensure compliance with laws, and preparing applications for government programs
  • Researching legal issues in order to prepare cases for trial or other proceedings
  • Negotiating settlements with opposing parties during mediation sessions or preparing arguments for trials
  • Drafting motions or petitions requesting rulings from the judge
  • Representing clients in court before judges or juries
  • Drafting appeals of decisions made by lower courts, working closely with clients on each step of the appeal process
  • Advising clients on what strategies might be best at different stages of the legal process
  • Interviewing witnesses related to the case being tried and getting statements from them

Attorney Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for attorneys is $112,602. The highest earners make over $216,000 per year. Attorneys with higher salaries tend to work at large corporations.

Job opportunities for attorneys are expected to grow at an average pace over the next decade. This is due to the increasing need for legal services as the population grows and becomes more affluent.

Attorney Job Requirements

The requirements for an attorney are as follows:

Education: An attorney should hold a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, political science, business, or a relevant area, and a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.  

Most law schools require applicants to have a minimum GPA of 3.6 and a minimum LSAT score of 150. These scores and GPAs allow law schools to assess applicants’ ability to succeed in the program and their ability to pass the bar exam.

Training: After graduating from law school, applicants must pass the bar exam. The bar exam consists of two parts, one multiple-choice section, and one essay section. Law students are required to take the bar exam in the state where they intend to practice law.

Certifications & Licenses: After passing the bar exam, applicants are required to obtain a license to practice law. These licenses are obtained through the state or country in which they plan to work.

Attorney Skills

The following skills are required for this job:

Critical thinking: A successful attorney must be able to analyze a situation and determine the best way to approach it.

Persuasive communication: Lawyers must be able to speak persuasively in order to present their cases effectively.

Research skills: An attorney must be able to research and find information on a variety of topics. 

Legal knowledge: An attorney must possess extensive legal knowledge in order to do his or her job well. This includes knowing the laws of the state and federal government as well as court procedures. 

Persistence: To succeed as a lawyer, you need to be persistent. The work can be challenging, but your determination will help you get through difficult times.

Nerves of steel: An ability to handle pressure and looming deadlines can be crucial in some specialties that involve a great deal of litigation.

Attorney Work Environment

Attorneys can work in a variety of environments, from law offices to courtrooms. They often spend much time sitting or standing at their desks and talking on the phone or conferring with colleagues and clients. Lawyers often work long hours, including evenings, weekends, and some holidays. Some are self-employed, so this schedule is even longer. 

As an attorney, you will need to be able to work under pressure to deal with deadlines, resolve conflicts, and solve problems. Attorneys sometimes travel to visit clients and attend hearings, trials, and other legal proceedings. Some also spend a lot of their time reading, analyzing information, and performing research.

Attorney Career Advancement

Attorneys who go into private practice typically have a few years of experience under their belts. In this field, the possibilities for advancement are very broad. Some lawyers go on to specialize in a particular area of law, while others may want to move up the ranks within a firm, or even become a partner in a firm.

Other attorneys decide to go in a different direction, such as becoming a judge. Judges are responsible for presiding over trials and trials, but they are not involved in the investigation or prosecution of the case. 

Attorney Trends

Here are three trends influencing how attorneys work. Attorneys will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Growing Importance of Online Legal Services

As more Americans have turned to online legal services, there has been a growing demand for lawyers who are well-versed in the technology involved in the practice.

Many lawyers that specialize in online legal services focus on a particular area of law, such as real estate or immigration, and typically provide clients with access to digital resources and information rather than going to court. In addition, many online legal service providers help clients manage their cases from start to finish by helping them fill out paperwork and file the necessary documents. 

Data-Driven Decision Making

As technology continues to evolve, lawyers are becoming increasingly reliant on data analytics in order to make better decisions about the direction of their practice.

Some lawyers are even using algorithms to help identify which cases are likely to have the highest chance of success, which can allow them to spend more time on cases that are most likely to be profitable for their firm.

Growth of Appellate Law

As more laws are passed, they can be challenged in court on constitutional grounds, which leads to the creation of a new specialty within the legal profession—appellate law.

Appellate law is a type of legal practice that deals with appeals for lower courts, and typically involves an in-depth study of relevant case law. Appellate lawyers may also help defend a client’s civil rights in cases involving alleged discrimination or other breaches of due process. 

How to Become an Attorney

1. Planning Your Career Path

The most successful attorneys are passionate about their work; they feel motivated when helping others in need. Consider what makes you feel most fulfilled when working on a project; you will be more likely to succeed if you can find enjoyment in your daily tasks.

A career as an attorney requires that you be detail-oriented and well-organized. You will also need to be able to think on your feet and deal with stress effectively, so it’s important to consider your ability to perform under pressure.

2. Writing a Resume

The best resumes for attorneys highlight their litigation skills, ability to communicate effectively with clients, and attention to detail. The best attorneys are able to work well in a team setting as well as independently. 

When listing your work history, you can emphasize these skills by providing a brief description of the cases you worked on and the results of those cases. Since many attorneys specialize in certain fields, it’s important to be specific about the type of law you’re interested in.

In addition to your work experience, employers will want to see that you have continued education in your chosen field. If you’re just starting out as an attorney, explain how your work experience has prepared you for this job and what role you hope to play at the company.

3. Applying for Jobs

To find a job as an attorney, start by doing some general research into the field. You’ll want to look into your area of specialty to see if there are any firms in your area looking for someone in your field. You should also spend a great deal of time networking. Be a part of a professional organization that can help you find a mentor, and a group of friends with whom you can discuss the industry as well as potential job opportunities.

4. Ace the Interview

In any attorney job interview, you must be prepared to answer questions about your career path, experience, and credentials. You also need to demonstrate an interest in the firm and why you want to work for it. Prepare a list of your transferable skills and explain how they apply to this specific position. Law firms require excellent organizational skills, strong writing skills, and experience with a particular type of case. Be ready to answer any questions related to these. 

Dress professionally and arrive on time. Make sure your clothing is appropriate for the office culture. In most offices, you should dress business casual, but this may vary depending on the legal field in which you’re interviewing. For example, a large corporate setting could require a different dress code than a smaller firm. Research the culture of the company where you’re interviewing so that you can adjust your appearance if necessary.

Don’t be afraid to talk about something negative. Use the opportunity to show how you learned from the experience and what you do differently now.


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