Become a Civil Litigation Associate: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a civil litigation associate. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a civil litigation associate. View article »

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Civil Litigation Associates

Civil litigation is a non-criminal legal dispute between two or more persons, corporations, or government agencies. Civil litigators are lawyers who take these disputes to court or to arbitration to be resolved by a judge, jury, or arbitrator.

Most law firms have one or more senior attorneys who have a partnership in the firm. They are the firm's owners, and they may employ associate lawyers who work for the firm but do not own an interest in it. These associate litigators might research laws, write legal documents, argue cases, or negotiate settlements.

In many firms, associate attorneys work long hours, and their work can be very stressful. While they do not make as much money as the firm's partners, they usually enjoy a higher-than-average income. At the same time, they're gaining valuable experience as litigators. With time, they may become partners in the firm or use the experience gained to go out on their own.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Degree Field Law
Experience Usually none required
Licensure and Certification All states require lawyers to be licensed
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, research, and writing skills; ability to use legal research engines, such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, project management software, and accounting software
Salary $115,820 per year (median salary for lawyers as of 2015)

Sources:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015), CareerOneStop

Civil litigation associates have Juris Doctor degrees and are licensed by the states in which they practice. They're expected to have strong critical thinking, analytical reasoning, negotiation, and research and writing skills. They must also be able to use legal research engines, such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, project management software, and accounting software.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for lawyers, which include civil litigation associates, was $115,820 in 2015.

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Be a Civil Litigation Associate

What steps do I need to take to be a civil litigation associate?

Step 1: Enter a Bachelor's Degree Program

Most law schools require that applicants possess a bachelor's degree. There's no specific undergraduate field of study required to attend law school. Many law students possess undergraduate degrees in the humanities, economics, or government.

You will want to prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Scores from the LSAT must be submitted with law school applications. Your test scores can determine whether you're admitted to the school of your choice. Several companies offer prep courses that teach test taking techniques that may increase your score.

Step 2: Take the LSAT

The LSAT consists of a half-day of testing of multiple-choice questions. Questions on the exam are designed to test an examinee's reading, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning skills. This test is often taken in an undergraduate's junior year.

Step 3: Attend and Graduate From Law School

A full-time student in law school usually requires three years to graduate. During their first year of study, students take courses in basic law subjects, such as constitutional law, property, torts, and civil procedure. During their second and third years, students take elective courses and complete clinical experiences or judicial internships.

Some schools allow students to concentrate their studies in civil litigation and dispute resolution. These concentrations include courses about the federal court system, negotiations, complex trial advocacy techniques, and advanced evidence. Some include judicial internships. Completing one of these concentrations may provide in-depth knowledge of civil trial practices that can be helpful when practicing as a civil litigation associate.

It's a good idea to take elective courses in court procedures and evidence. Since litigators spend a lot of time in court, being familiar with the operation of state and federal courts and court rules makes it easier to work as a litigator. Examples of elective courses include evidence and trial advocacy, pretrial civil litigation, and intensive trial advocacy.

It's also smart to complete a judicial internship. Many law schools allow students to complete internships with local, state, or federal judges. Working alongside a judge introduces aspiring litigators to common trial practices and procedures.

Step 4: Take a Bar Exam

Becoming a licensed attorney requires passing a professional responsibility exam, bar exam, and being admitted to a state's bar association. The format of each state's bar exam is different. Some bar exams include multiple days of testing with both multiple-choice and essay questions.

You definitely want to prepare for the exam. Failing a bar exam prevents an individual from practicing law. Some companies offer bar exam prep courses that provide examinees with test taking tips and instruction on the subjects tested in the exam. Completing one of these prep courses could make it more likely that an individual passes the test on the first attempt.

Step 5: Work as a Civil Litigation Associate

Many law firms hire associate attorneys right out of law school, while others prefer lawyers who have experience practicing law. In any case, working as litigation associates gives young attorneys the experience they need to move ahead in their legal careers.

Step 6: Advance Your Career by Earning a Master of Laws (LLM)

Many law schools offer LLM programs to licensed attorneys. These programs provide advanced, in-depth instruction in an area of law. LLM programs in litigation, advocacy, trial advocacy, or dispute resolution are available. These programs include courses in advanced appellate advocacy, advanced evidence, pretrial civil litigation, and arbitration. Completing this program will help you to stand out and gain advancement.

Civil litigation associates take non-criminal legal disputes to court or to arbitration to be resolved. They have JD degrees and state licenses. They have strong skills in research and writing along with proficiency in relevant software, and they earn a median annual salary of $115,820.

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