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Lawyer: Job Outlook and Career Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a lawyer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Lawyers, also known as attorneys, are legal specialists who help clients interpret laws and deal with legal issues. To become a lawyer, one must complete a graduate law school program accredited by the American Bar Association and pass his or her state's bar exam. Many lawyers specialize in a specific area of law; discipline range from corporate and divorce law to criminal defense and legal aid.

Required Education J.D. (Juris Doctor) from an accredited law school
Other Requirements State licensure, which requires successful passing of the state bar and ethics exams
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 10%*
Median Salary (May 2013) $114,300*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for lawyers are expected to increase by 10% between 2012 and 2022 ( The BLS attributed this growth to a general increase in the demand for legal services.

However, the BLS also reported that, as more college graduates attend law school, the job market is expected to become increasingly competitive. Employers may favor attorneys who have specialized in an area related to law, which they can do by completing a specialized Master of Laws (LL.M.) program after earning their first law degree. Job prospects may also be better in urban areas.

Salary Information

As of May 2013, according to the BLS, lawyers earned a median annual salary of $114,300. Those working in the offices of physicians earned the highest wages, with an average salary of $235,020 per year.

Career Overview

Most practicing lawyers work for law firms, corporate legal departments or government agencies. Many specialize in a specific area, such as cyber or corporate law. Some lawyers advise clients and represent them in court. For example, a criminal attorney may provide a client with legal options, argue on his or her behalf in front of a judge and cross-examine witnesses.

Educational Requirements

After finishing a 4-year undergraduate program, aspiring lawyers must complete a graduate program at an accredited law school. Traditional law school programs usually last three years and culminate in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Core studies include constitutional, contractual and property law. During their final years of study, most students choose a specialization or concentration, such as business or environmental law.


All states require would-be lawyers to pass their respective bar exams prior to beginning practice. Most states also mandate lawyers to take an ethics exam. Once they have passed the exam in one state, lawyers who want to practice in a different state may have to take it again.

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