How to Become a Labor Lawyer: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a labor lawyer, including the education requirements. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in labor law. View article »

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  • 0:01 Labor Lawyer Career Info
  • 1:17 Get a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:19 Go to Law School
  • 4:26 Join the Bar
  • 5:39 Specialize in Labor Law
  • 6:40 Continue Education and Advance

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Video Transcript

Labor Lawyer Career Info

Degree Level Bachelor's and Juris Doctor degrees
Degree Field(s) Undergraduate major may vary
Licensure Bar membership required
Key Skills Analytical and problem-solving skills; strong research, writing, and speaking skills; ability to listen well to clients and earn their trust
Salary $115,820 (2015 median for all lawyers)

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Labor lawyers provide legal counsel on employment and labor relations. They may represent individual employees, labor unions, or employers in the private or public sector. Labor law, which is most commonly concerned with relations among unionized employees, their unions, and their employers, is technically distinct from employment law, which more broadly governs legal matters in the workplace (such as health and safety and discrimination). In practice, however, the two areas overlap considerably.

In general, lawyers work on a full-time basis in an office setting. Overtime hours and some travel may be required in order to meet with clients and/or prepare for a case. Income is good for this career, but will depend on the employer. Labor lawyers may accept less pay if they choose to focus on a cause they feel passionate about.

Labor lawyers should have some key skills, including analytical skills, problem-solving skills, research skills, writing and speaking skills, and the ability to listen well to clients and earn their trust. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers in general earned a median salary of $115,820 in 2015.

Get a Bachelor's Degree

Any career as a lawyer begins with earning a bachelor's degree, which is a prerequisite for law school. There is no one best major for those planning on attending law school. The most important consideration is choosing a major that is interesting and challenging enough to inspire hard work and good grades. Nonetheless, a career in law does require particular skills - i.e., being able to research, analyze, speak, and write well - and majors and individual classes can help students develop these skills. Studying history, political science, public speaking, English, economics, and math could be especially useful.

Activities and summer internships or jobs that provide opportunities for public speaking, writing and editing, or research would all be helpful in preparing for law school and beyond. Consider, for example, joining a debate society, working for a student publication, serving as a club officer, or seeking out an internship that involves research and writing.

Go to Law School

Most law schools approved by the American Bar Association, as well as many others, require applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The LSAT is comprised of 5 multiple-choice sections and a writing exercise, each of which must be completed in 35 minutes. The test measures reading comprehension, critical thinking and reasoning skills, and ability to evaluate the arguments and reasoning of others. Scores are an important factor in law school admissions, which can be quite competitive.

At a minimum, test takers should familiarize themselves with the directions and kinds of questions they can expect. Taking practice exams under time constraints, particularly for the written section, can help test takers learn to use their time judiciously. Those who wish to prepare more extensively can enroll in a private test prep course or purchase additional materials beyond the free sample tests and questions offered by the test administrator, the Law School Admission Council.

Completing law school typically takes three years of full-time study. Students spend their first year taking required courses that cover basic topics, such as civil procedure, contracts, property law, and torts. In their second and third years, law students can take more electives. Aspiring labor lawyers then can begin specializing by choosing courses on such topics as employment discrimination, worker compensation, and collective bargaining and labor dispute resolution.

Law firms, government agencies, and labor organizations, among others, often hire law students for summer or part-time jobs. Some work experience specifically in labor law during law school is an important indicator to future employers of a student's commitment to the field.

Another good way to impress prospective employers is by getting an article on a labor law subject published. Students can submit a carefully revised law school paper to their own school's law review and/or to law reviews and journals elsewhere that specialize in labor law.

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Join the Bar

Before practicing as a lawyer, prospective attorneys must become members of their state bar association, otherwise known as becoming a licensed attorney. Individual states have varying rules and procedures, but the main requirements throughout the U.S. are holding a law degree and passing a multi-part bar exam. Most states use the Multistate Bar Examination, a 6-hour test of 200 multiple-choice questions covering constitutional law, criminal law, contracts, evidence, property, and torts. In addition, bar applicants normally must sit for a second day of exams, which may be multistate or locally devised. These generally test writing and lawyering skills. An additional multistate ethics exam, administered separately, is also required almost everywhere. State bar examiners carry out additional screening to ensure applicants meet character and fitness standards.

Law schools advise their students to treat bar exam preparation as a full-time job for at least several weeks. Commercial prep courses, though possibly expensive, are a popular means of preparing and are generally highly recommended by law schools.

Specialize in Labor Law

Once a law school graduate joins the bar, she or he can begin practicing law. Labor law positions exist at law firms; corporate legal departments; non-profit advocacy groups; labor organizations; and federal, state, and local government agencies. Labor lawyers may work on collective bargaining agreements, employee grievances, and arbitration of labor disputes, or they may advise clients on their regulatory obligations, among other areas. They may also delve into related areas of employment law concerning discrimination, workers' compensation, pension and benefit plans, or health and safety.

One can join the American Bar Association's Section of Labor and Employment Law or state labor law bar committees. The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) is for attorneys who specialize in representing individual employees. Professional organizations provide networking opportunities and help one stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field.

Continue Education and Advance

Most states require attorneys to attend continuing legal education, either each year or every few years. Continuing education is available through bar associations and law schools. Other professional legal associations, like the NELA, offer educational seminars and other events that may count toward requirements in some states. Depending on the state, some lawyers may also be able to gain necessary credits from online courses.

Experienced lawyers have several paths to career advancement. First, lawyers working within a firm can become ownership partners after years of experience. Additionally, lawyers who gain years' worth of practical skills and contacts can open their own independent law firms. Additionally, experienced lawyers can become judges or law professors.

Aspiring labor lawyers must first complete an undergraduate program before passing the LSAT, going to law school, passing the bar exam, completing internships, and eventually specializing in labor law.

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