Salary and Career Info for Estate Lawyers

Sep 21, 2019

Estate lawyers require significant formal education. Learn about the schooling, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

An estate lawyer prepares wills for their clients. This is to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes after they die. Estate lawyers tend to earn less than other lawyers and are more likely to be affected by economic downturns, because people may opt to delay preparing a will.

Essential Information

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
Other Requirements Licensure required; lawyers must pass their state bar exam
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% for all lawyers
Median Salary (2018)* $120,910 for all lawyers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information

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 mean yearly salary of lawyers in general was $144,230 as of May 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May 2018, the BLS reported that lawyers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $208,000 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $58,220 or less per year.

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.

Career Information

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 2018 to 2028, employment of attorneys is expected to increase as fast as the average, 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.

As of 2018, the median salary among first-year, first-time lawyers was about $120,000. A poor economy may influence potential clients to delay preparing a will, so estate lawyers are more likely to go through periods of decreased income during those times.

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