Estate lawyers work with their clients to determine how their assets should be transferred after they die. The process involves an understanding of state and federal tax laws, property, real estate, trusts and wills. Aspiring estate lawyers must complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.); estate law is among the common coursework in a J.D. program. After graduation, new lawyers must pass their state bar exam to earn licensure to practice. Candidates might consider earning an additional Master of Laws (LL.M.) related to estate law to further study the topic, though this is optional.
|Required Education||J.D. is required; LL.M. in estate law is available and optional|
|Licensure||Required; lawyers must pass their state bar exam|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*||10% for all lawyers|
|Median Salary (2013)*||$114,300 for all lawyers|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
An attorney's income generally reflects experience, the size of the legal firm he or she works for and the location of the practice. The median yearly salary of lawyers in general was $114,300 as of May 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). PayScale.com reported in 2014 that estate planning attorneys earned a median of $74,903 at that time, with most salaries ranging from $40,230 to $128,802.
A first-year attorney's median salary ranged from $50,000 in the smallest firms to 160,000 in firms of 501 or more attorneys, according to January 2013 data from the National Association of Law Placement (www.nalp.org). The median salary for all first-year full-time lawyers who had graduated in 2011 was $60,000. Estate attorneys interested in practicing with public interest organizations will earn significantly less. The median income for entry-level public interest work was $45,000 for law school graduates from the class of 2011, according to NALP.
Lawyers who plan to start their own practice typically earn less than their counterparts in law firms. The economy can have a direct effect on business, particularly estate attorneys. In tough times, people may forgo seeking legal advice for drafting of wills and planning estates. That cycle can affect an attorney's income.
After high school, those planning to become an estate attorney need around seven additional years of education. Aspiring attorneys must earn a bachelor's degree (which takes about four years, depending on the discipline) and another three years of law school. They must pass the bar examination in order to practice law in their state.
Law students generally spend their first year learning the fundamentals of the law. In the second and third years, they have more latitude to choose their coursework. Estate law classes include topics like asset management, estate planning, family law, taxation, real estate law, and trusts. Students can also participate in internships and law clinics specializing in estates, which earn them credits while allowing them to work with actual clients.
Some law school graduates and even practicing attorneys may decide they want more education and training. Many law schools offer certificates or master's of law degrees (LL.M.) in estate planning or the broader topic of taxation. Students can expect to take one to two years of additional coursework, depending on the program and the subject.
In the decade from 2012 to 2022, employment of attorneys is expected to increase by 10%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth will be tempered by keen competition because of the increasing numbers of law school graduates annually (www.bls.gov).