Lawyer Salary Statistics: United States Department of Labor

Summary What Lawyers Do
Work Environment Pay
Job Future Additional Info

Summary

Quick Facts: Lawyers
2010 Median Pay $112,760 per year
$54.21 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2010 728,200
Job Outlook, 2010-20 10% (About as fast as average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 73,600

What Lawyers Do

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes.
Work Environment

The majority of lawyers work in private or corporate legal offices. Some work for local, state, and federal governments. The majority work full time, and many work long hours.

How to Become a Lawyer

Formal requirements to become a lawyer usually include a 4-year bachelor’s degree, 3 years of law school, and passing a written bar examination. However, some requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage of lawyers was $112,760 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Employment of lawyers is expected to grow by 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available.

What Lawyers Do

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes.

Duties

Lawyers typically do the following:

  • Advise and represent clients in courts, before government agencies, or in private legal matters
  • Communicate with their clients and others
  • Conduct research and analysis of legal problems
  • Interpret laws, rulings, and regulations for individuals and businesses
  • Present facts in writing or verbally to their clients or others and argue on their behalf
  • Prepare and file legal documents, such as lawsuits, appeals, wills, contracts, and deeds

Lawyers, also called attorneys, act as both advocates and advisors.

As advocates, they represent one of the parties in criminal and civil trials by presenting evidence and arguing in court to support their client.

As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest courses of action in business and personal matters. All attorneys research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the laws to the specific circumstances that their clients face.

To prepare for cases more efficiently, lawyers increasingly use the Internet, online legal databases, and virtual law libraries. Lawyers also often oversee the work of support staff, such as paralegals and legal assistants.

Lawyers may have different titles and different duties, depending on where they work.

Criminal law attorneys are also known as prosecutors or defense attorneys. Prosecutors work for the government to file a lawsuit, or charge, against an individual or corporation accused of violating the law.

Defense attorneys work for either individuals or the government (as public defenders) to represent, or defend, the accused.

Government counsels commonly work in government agencies. They write and interpret laws and regulations and set up procedures to enforce them. Government counsels also write legal reviews on agencies’ decisions. They argue civil and criminal cases on behalf of the government.

Corporate counsels, also called in-house counsels, are lawyers who work for corporations. They advise a corporation’s executives about legal issues related to the corporation’s business activities. These issues might involve patents, government regulations, contracts with other companies, property interests, taxes, or collective-bargaining agreements with unions.

Legal aid lawyers work for private, nonprofit organizations for disadvantaged people. They generally handle civil cases, such as those about leases, job discrimination, and wage disputes, rather than criminal cases.

Lawyers often specialize in a particular area. The following are some examples of types of lawyers:

Environmental lawyers deal with issues and regulations that are related to the environment. They might represent advocacy groups, waste disposal companies, or government agencies to make sure they comply with the relevant laws.

Tax lawyers handle a variety of tax-related issues for individuals and corporations. Tax lawyers may help clients navigate complex tax regulations so that they pay the appropriate tax on income, profits, property, and so on. For example, they might advise a corporation on how much tax it needs to pay from profits made in different states to comply with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) rules.

Intellectual property lawyers deal with the laws related to inventions, patents, trademarks, and creative works such as music, books, and movies. An intellectual property lawyer might advise a client about whether it is okay to use published material in the client’s forthcoming book.

Family lawyers handle a variety of legal issues that pertain to the family. They may advise clients regarding divorce, child custody, and adoption proceedings.

Securities lawyers work on legal issues arising from the buying and sell of stocks, ensuring that all disclosure requirements are met. They may advise corporations that are interested in listing in the stock exchange through an initial public offering (IPO) or buying shares in another corporation.

Litigation lawyers handle all lawsuits and disputes between parties. These could be contract disputes, personal injury disputes, or real estate and property disputes. Litigation lawyers may specialize in a certain area, such as personal injury law, or may be a general lawyer for all types of disputes and lawsuits.

Some attorneys become teachers in law schools.

Work Environment

Lawyers held about 728,200 jobs in 2010. A majority of lawyers work in private or corporate legal offices. Some are employed in local, state and federal governments. About 22 percent of lawyers were self-employed in 2010.

The following industries employed the most lawyers in 2010:

Legal services 51%
Government 18%
Finance and insurance 3%
Management of companies and enterprises 2%

Lawyers work mostly in offices. However, some travel to attend meetings with clients at various locations, such as homes, hospitals, or prisons. Some lawyers gather evidence; others appear before courts. Lawyers who represent clients in courts may face heavy pressure during trials.

Work Schedules

The majority of lawyers work full time, and many work long hours. Lawyers who are in private practice or those who work in large firms often work long hours conducting research and preparing or reviewing documents.

Pay

The median annual wage of lawyers was $112,760 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,130, and the top 10 percent earned more than $166,400.

Salaries of experienced lawyers vary widely according to the type, size, and location of their employer. Lawyers who own their own practices usually earn less than those who are partners in law firms.

The majority of lawyers work full time and many work long hours. Lawyers who are in private practice or those who work in large firms often work long hours conducting research and preparing or reviewing documents.

Job Future

Employment of lawyers is expected to grow by 10 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for legal work will continue as individuals, businesses, and all levels of government will need legal services in many areas.

However, growth in demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to do some of the same tasks that lawyers do. For example, accounting firms may provide employee-benefit counseling, process documents, or handle various other services that law firms previously handled.

Lawyers will continue to be needed in the federal government to prosecute or defend civil cases on behalf of the United States, prosecute criminal cases brought by the federal government, and collect money owed to the federal government. However, budgetary constraints at all levels of government, including federal, will moderate employment growth.

Competition should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available. As in the past, some recent law school graduates who have been unable to find permanent positions are turning to the growing number of temporary staffing firms that place attorneys in short-term jobs. This service allows companies to hire lawyers “as-needed” and permits beginning lawyers to develop practical skills.

Job opportunities are typically affected by cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, 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 restrict their budgets. Some corporations and law firms may even cut staff to contain costs until business improves.

Because of the strong competition, a law graduate’s willingness to relocate and work experience are becoming more important. However, to be licensed in another state, a lawyer may have to take an additional state bar examination.

Additional Information

American Bar Association

National Association for Law Placement

For more information about the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and the law school application process, visit

Law School Admission Council

For a list of state and jurisdiction admission bar offices, visit

National Conference of Bar Examiners

The requirements for admission to the bar in a particular state or other jurisdiction may be obtained at the state capital, from the clerk of the Supreme Court, or from the administrator of the State Board of Bar Examiners..

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