Lawyer Opportunities for Advancement

Jul 16, 2019

Lawyers fresh out of law school often gain experience by working with seasoned lawyers within law firms or government agencies. As a lawyer's career progresses, advancement can take several forms, including working with in-house counsel, representing clients as an independent attorney, teaching at a postsecondary school, or moving into the role of a judge or adjudicator.

Career Advancement Options for Lawyers

Lawyers serve as advisors for clients in legal matters as well as advocates in court and with government agencies. A lawyer must be able to research and interpret laws and regulations and apply their findings to client needs. A Juris Doctor and passing scores on a state bar exam are required for this career.

A lawyer's first thought of advancement may be a partnership position within a law firm; this makes you a co-owner of the firm, a position that brings greater compensation as well as a larger share of the firm's risk and responsibility. Requirements for attaining partnership vary by firm, and competition over a limited number of partnerships is fierce.

Alternatively, experienced lawyers can apply for a position on an in-house counsel team within a large corporation or branch out on their own and represent clients independently. Lawyers can also advance in their career by teaching law at a postsecondary institution, working as a judge or magistrate, or becoming an administrative judge or adjudicator. Details on these alternate advancement options are given below.

Job Title Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2016-2026)* Qualifications
In-House Counsel or Independent Attorney $120,910 (for all lawyers) 8% Active state bar association license, several years of experience
Law Instructor $111,140 12% Visiting assistant professor position, fellowship, or related practice experience
Judge or Magistrate $133,920 6% Active bar association license, election or appointment, U.S. Office of Personnel Management exam (at the federal level), and state judicial training (at the state level)
Administrative Judge or Adjudicator $99,850 (Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers) 4% (Administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers) Active law license and 7+ years in administrative law or litigation

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

In-House Counsel or Independent Attorney

Positions within a corporation's in-house counsel are often reserved for lawyers with several years of experience. These lawyers specialize in the legal issues surrounding corporate business dealings. Seasoned attorneys may also choose to start their own practice, offering legal services independent of a large law firm. An independent lawyer would need to consider the costs of office space, legal assistance, and other small-business concerns.

Postsecondary Law Instructor

An experienced lawyer can find teaching at a postsecondary institution to be a rewarding career move. Depending on the college or university, a law instructor can carry a full teaching load or divide their time between teaching and research. Postsecondary instructors begin their career as assistant professors, graduating to associate professor and on to full professor positions over the course of several years. Many colleges and universities offer tenure-track positions, providing the possibility of future job security as instructors move up through the ranks. Teaching at a four-year university requires a JD and related teaching or practice experience, and a university may also want you to maintain your bar association license.

Judge or Magistrate

Experience as a lawyer can also open the door to a role as a judge or magistrate. A judge or magistrate presides over trials at either the local, state, or federal court level. They evaluate arguments, research legal precedent, assure fair representation during trial, and write legal decisions. Judges and magistrates are typically elected to their positions, meaning that political support is important for any lawyer who wishes to move into the judge or magistrate role. An active state bar association license is necessary, as is training required by your state. This training can be provided by organizations like the Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, and the American Bar Association. Federal judges must also pass an exam given by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Administrative Judge or Adjudicator

An administrative judge or adjudicator works for a local, state, or federal agency, providing fair judgements for claims in regards to government programs. Requirements for this position include an active law license and seven years of administrative law or litigation experience. Unlike a judge or magistrate, administrative judges are not appointed through an election process. Vacancies are posted on the website, and interested lawyers must submit a federal resume to apply.

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