Careers in Law


Skills required for practice:

Although there are a wide variety of areas in which to practice law, each field requires its lawyers to have:

  • Excellent legal analysis
  • Well-developed problem thinking skills, and
  • Clear and persuasive writing.

Where do lawyers work?

51.1%   Private Practice

18.4 %  Business and Industry

11.5%   Govt Employment/Military

9%        Judicial Clerkships

7.1%     Public interest

2.6%     Academic

*Data from class of  2013 NALP employment statistics

Average Salary of a Lawyer

Starting salaries vary depending on type of law and location.

For those in the class of 2011 who disclosed their salary information:

Overall National Data

$60,000 Median

$78,653 Mean

Private Practice – Big Firms

$85,000 Median

$98,000 Mean

Small Firms (Over ½ of jobs)

$50,000 – $70,000 Salary

Public Service

$52,000 Government

$45,000 Public Interest Organizations

$52,000 Judicial Clerks

Source: Starting Salaries based on the Class of 2011

Overall –  Richardson School of Law – Salaries of Recent Graduates

$58,095 Median

$78,653 Mean

Private Practice (27%)

$60,000 Median

Business / Other Professional (16%)

$50,000 Median

Judicial Clerkship (37%)

$52,500 Median

Government (13%)

$57,250 Median

Public Interest (2%)

$57,000 Median

Source: Employment statistics of the Class of 2011

*Please note that salaries vary by state, city and the law school attended. Visit a law school’s website to find out the specific salary data that their recent graduates report.

Salary Graph

As seen below, although the median salary is $78,000, most salaries pay less than $75,000 with only 34% making more than $75,000.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 3.02.43 PM

Source: The NALP Salary Curve for the Class of 2011

Choosing a Law Specialty

There are many different areas in which lawyers work. While it’s not necessary to know exactly which field is for you before law school, having an idea and doing some research will help you decide.

Some examples of legal practice areas: (listed alphabetically)

  • Academia
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Bankruptcy
  • Corporate/Business
    • Banking
    • Finance
    • Securities
    • Mergers/Acquisitions
    • Tax
  • Consumer Protection
  • Energy
  • Entertainment & Sports
  • Environmental
  • Governmental/Agency
    • Federal
    • State
    • Municipal
  • Health Care
  • Immigration
  • Individual Services
    • Criminal Law
    • Divorce
    • Family Law
    • Trusts/Estates
    • Wealth Planning
  • Insurance
  • Intellectual Property Law
    • Copyright Law
    • Patent Prosecution
    • Patent Litigation
    • Trademark
  • International Law
  • Judiciary
  • Labor and Employment
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Military Law (JAG)
  • Personal Injury
  • Public Interest Law
    • Civil Rights
    • Human Rights
  • Trial/Litigation
  • Real Estate/Land Use

Once you are familiar with the different types of law, some areas may seem more interesting than others. Learning the law does not happen overnight and law school will not teach you everything about your specialty.  You will use the knowledge from your undergraduate degree, professional experiences, and on-the-job training to become a specialized lawyer.

The best way to find out if you will truly enjoy a field is to try it out!

  1. Conduct informational interviews.
  2. Ask to shadow an attorney that does similar work.
  3. Work in a law office or work as an intern / extern with a judge, court, or administrative body of that specialty.

3 Types of Work

While many of the practice areas involve all three types of work, some areas of law focus more on litigation while others may primarily focus on regulatory or transactional matters.

  • Litigation: This is your courtroom attorney, the one that is usually glamorized on TV or in movies. In real life, this lawyer still leads an exciting life in the courtroom, having to think on his or her feet and preparing documents for settlements and trials.
    • Some examples are: Criminal Prosecution, Civil Litigation, and Patent Prosecution.
  • Regulatory: This is your government lawyer.  A good amount of work with government agencies such as the EPA or heavily regulated industries such as banking require detailed lawyers to make sure there is compliance with a vast amount of regulations.
    • Some examples are: Energy, Environmental, and Banking Law.
  • Transactional: This is your corporate attorney. They draft documents and work on negotiations for mergers, acquisitions, contracts, and other matters.
    • Some examples are: Tax, Trust and Estates, and Contract Law

Additional Resources:

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP)