In order to work as a litigator, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) is required, as well as admission to a state's bar association. Generally, law firms prefer candidates with exceptional college records, and clerkship and litigation experience is often preferred, if not required. Litigators should have excellent written and oral communication skills, since they often have to draft motions and participate in formal trials. They should also possess above-average analytical abilities and be detail-oriented. In addition to a J.D., many litigators take another one to two years to complete a post-graduate fellowship.
Juris Doctor Program
Within this first-professional program, students can often take elective courses in litigation and participate in specialty clinics. In these courses, students build their research and writing skills while learning about trends in litigation. They typically participate in mock trials, where they practice witness examination, oral advocacy and information discovery. Some common courses in these programs include:
- Civil procedure
- Constitutional law
- Property and torts
- Criminal law
Fellowship positions are extremely competitive and are offered in cooperation with a participating firm or government organization. Most programs last one to two years, during which time lawyers are provided a stipend. Fellows are often expected to assist law professors with teaching as well as oversee third-year law students. They often work in research and investigations, deposition preparation or legal writing.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the BLS, lawyers made a median annual wage of $115,820 as of May 2015. The employment for this profession from 2014-2024 is expected to grow 6%, which is as fast as the average.
All lawyers must be recognized by their state in order to legally practice. In order to qualify for licensure or bar membership, applicants must have graduated from an accredited law school and passed the state-mandated bar exam. An additional exam on ethics may also be required. Continuing education is generally needed to stay current with the state laws.
Colleges and legal groups often host continuing education seminars, which can last one to three days. For example, Loyola University sponsors a two-day trial training litigation workshop, during which time lawyers can build skills in opening and closing statements, witness examination and jury picking. There are also longer three to six day conferences and meetings held by organizations such as the American Bar Association (www.abanet.org).
Litigators can look to the Web for networking and informational resources. These include message boards, audio downloads and industry newsletters. With memberships to organizations such as the American Bar Association, lawyers can browse relevant online periodicals like the Litigation journal. Moreover, research is paramount to lawyers, and spending time in law libraries is often beneficial to a case. There are also books available that range in topics from mediation to consumer litigation.
Law students wanting to become litigators may study litigation and participate in specialty clinics while they earn their J.D., after which they'll need to pass the bar exam. Lawyers with a J.D. may return for post-graduate fellowship to gain further knowledge and experience in litigation.