Personal Injury Lawyers
Personal injury lawyers focus their practice on cases related to psychological or physical injuries, such as those caused by a negligent physician or a drunk driver. They work to ensure that their clients' rights are protected and that the client receives a fair settlement to compensate for his or her injuries.
While most lawyers work on a full-time basis in an office setting, many work very long hours as they prepare for a case and may have to travel to meet with clients or other individuals related to a case. Most personal injury lawyers work for private practices. The potential for high income is present with experience and an affiliation with a respected practice. All lawyers earn a mean annual salary of $136,260 as of May 2015, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree followed by a law degree (Juris Doctor)|
|Key Skills||Strong speaking, analytical, and organizational skills; knowledge of federal and state laws pertaining to personal injury|
|Salary (2015)||$136,260 (mean annual salary for all lawyers)*|
Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The first step to becoming a personal injury lawyer involves earning an undergraduate degree. To attend law school, students must have a bachelor's degree. Although most schools will accept undergraduate study from any area, common majors for prospective lawyers include political science, social science, history, and English. Some schools offer programs specifically in pre-law.
It's also recommended that aspiring lawyers participate in mock trials hosted by either a school or lawyer's office. Mock trials give students the opportunity to spend time working alongside licensed lawyers and learn about how court proceedings work.
Toward the end of a bachelor's program, students must take the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, a multiple-choice exam that measures a student's aptitude for the skills normally used by lawyers, such as critical reading, research, task management, and logic. Admission to law school is typically competitive and often depends on a student's grade point average, as well as his or her LSAT score.
Earn a Law Degree
The second step to becoming a personal injury lawyer consists of earning a law degree. Law school generally requires three years of study beyond a bachelor's degree. The first year covers general legal subjects, such as constitutional law, property, torts, contracts, criminal law, and legal writing. The second and third years are dedicated to elective courses, which can include courses related to personal injury, such as advanced tort law, medical malpractice law, and civil litigation. It's important to note that in order to gain admittance to the bar, most states require attorneys to earn their law degree from an institution approved by the American Bar Association.
Participating in an internship is also important. Interning with a personal injury firm or a judge who presides over personal injury trials can teach students about trial practices commonly used in this field. An internship may be required by some schools.
Take the Bar Exam and the MPRE
The third step to becoming a personal injury lawyer is to take and pass the bar exam. In order to practice law in most states, aspiring lawyers need to pass the bar exam (successful passage constitutes licensure and is called 'being admitted to the bar'). There's no specific bar exam for personal injury lawyers; the exam is the same for all specialties. The format and content of this exam varies from state to state. In most cases, applicants are tested on state-specific and national laws. The bar exam must be taken in the state a personal injury attorney intends to practice.
The fourth step to becoming a personal injury lawyer is to take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which is required by many states. This multiple-choice exam is meant to measure a lawyer's understanding of professional conduct. The test isn't meant to determine the individual lawyer's ethics but rather to measure his or her understanding of the laws that govern professional behavior and how they apply to lawyers in cases such as contempt, censure, or even criminal wrongdoings while on the job.
The fifth step to becoming a personal injury lawyer is to complete continuing education. Continuing education is required in most states for a personal injury lawyer to maintain bar status. A personal injury lawyer can continue his or her education through the Center of Professional Development offered by the ABA. Law schools may also offer continuing education courses. Additionally, continuing education can help a lawyer stay current with changes in laws and advances in the field.
The sixth step to becoming a personal injury lawyer involves gaining experience to advance your career. A personal injury lawyer can take several routes for career advancement, but all require gaining several years of legal, courtroom, and practical experience. Junior lawyers working in law firms can become a partner, which is an ownership position within the firm. Additionally, experience offers some lawyers the skills and contacts to open their own law firms. Experienced lawyers can also become judges or law professors.
Prospective personal injury lawyers should seek to earn a bachelor's degree and a law degree; take and pass the LSAT, bar exam, and MPRE; complete continuing education; and make sure to gain plenty of experience.