How to Become an Attorney
Attorney Careers & Degrees

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An attorney is a lawyer who is qualified to represent a client in a courtroom setting.

If you have an interest in law and criminal justice, are an excellent public speaker, and really know how to get a convincing point across, then you might like to become an attorney.

Often, the terms lawyer and attorney are used interchangeably.

However, there is a difference between the two terms.

A lawyer is a person who is qualified to give out legal advice and assistance.

An attorney is a lawyer who is able to represent a person in a court.

While all attorneys are lawyers, not all lawyers are attorneys.

In some parts of the world, an attorney is referred to as an Esquire, or in the higher courts, a Barrister.

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Educational Requirements to Become an Attorney

If you would like to become an attorney, you will need to prepare yourself for at least seven years of schooling.

It’s also a competitive field, so you will need to get good grades to gain a place in law school, and also to get a good graduate job.

Study hard in high school, and then apply for a place in a good college.

You should complete a four year undergraduate degree.

There is no specific requirement for your major, but choosing an area in the humanities can help.

Criminal justice, history, politics, and writing can all help to give you a strong knowledge base that will help you in graduate school.

Some colleges run a specific pre-law program that may be of interest, although not essential.

After college you’ll need to apply to law school.

Entrance is competitive, and is based on your grade point average, admission essay, interview, and an examination (the law schools admission test or LSAT.)

It will most likely take three years to complete law school.

You should take up as many opportunities as you can to take on an internship over the summer.

Positions in the area of law that you want to work in are the best.

After you graduation law school you will need to sit and pass the bar exam in your state before you can start practice.

Attorney Job Description

An attorney’s role is to represent their client in court.

They may be defending a client against charges made, or presenting a case against another person and seeking damages or compensation.

Attorneys can represent clients for many different areas such as DUI, Injury, Divorce, Bankruptcy, Social Security Disability, and Criminal cases.

The part of an attorney’s job that we are more familiar with is in the court room, where an attorney will present arguments, question witnesses, and win over juries.

However there is also much work that an attorney does outside of the court room.

Many attorneys work long hours.

Working an 18 hour day is not unheard of.

Keeping a strong work ethic up is important in this field.

When researching a case they must know quite a good deal of information about their client, as well as the other persons involved with the case.

Many attorneys will have a research assistant or investigator to assist them with this.

They also must spend time developing their case, interviewing witnesses, and researching precedent.

Here are some of the tasks of an attorney:

  • Appearing in court
  • Meeting with clients
  • Investigating the background of a client and others involved in a case
  • Investigating the circumstances of a case
  • Researching a case of legal defense
  • Researching precedent
  • Communicating with other lawyers, paralegals, and assistants
  • Appealing decisions

Attorney Salary and Career Path

To become an attorney, your first step after passing the bar is to gain a position as a junior associate at a law firm that deals in trial law.

To begin with, you may work as a researcher on cases, and have some dealings with clients or witnesses.

After a while, you may get the opportunity to act as first of second chair on cases, and then eventually head your own cases and clients.

You may also work as a public prosecutor, or public defender.

In this instance you will likely work for the district attorney’s office, depending on where you live.

Career progression is similar; however the pay is not as great as in the private sector.

The current median wage for an attorney is $110,000 a year according to BLS.gov.

Some similar career paths to that of an attorney that you might be interested in include:

The path to become a lawyer is challenging.

You will be required to go through a lot of schooling, and also compete to gain a place in law school, and later for a graduate job.

However, law is an intriguing field where you will be face with plenty of challenges and lots of reward.

Attorneys receive a high salary, and also have plenty of opportunity to improve themselves through professional development, and also through advancement and promotion.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$145,300
$59K
$80K
$145K
$186K
$K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$114,240
Alaska$115,260
Arizona$136,170
Arkansas$94,000
California$173,970
Colorado$150,630
Connecticut$154,610
Delaware- NA -
District of Columbia$192,180
Florida$130,010
Georgia$130,320
Hawaii$109,420
Idaho$105,450
Illinois$157,010
Indiana$111,790
Iowa$119,700
Kansas$110,290
Kentucky$102,980
Louisiana$108,070
Maine$106,350
Maryland$135,500
Massachusetts$164,800
Michigan$116,310
Minnesota$124,510
Mississippi$95,040
Missouri$109,820
Montana$83,030
Nebraska$112,860
Nevada$131,190
New Hampshire$126,220
New Jersey$147,170
New Mexico$103,290
New York$168,780
North Carolina$133,290
North Dakota$113,280
Ohio$124,160
Oklahoma$116,270
Oregon$116,860
Pennsylvania$142,890
Rhode Island$124,600
South Carolina$111,090
South Dakota$112,810
Tennessee$124,370
Texas$144,110
Utah$134,770
Vermont$104,790
Virginia$143,220
Washington$129,550
West Virginia$102,040
Wisconsin$129,440
Wyoming$100,090
Guam$96,540
Puerto Rico$71,030
Virgin Islands$127,860

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $192,180.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $192,180
California - $173,970
New York - $168,780
Massachusetts - $164,800
Illinois - $157,010
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Lawyers, OCC Code 23-1011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does an attorney do?

An attorney (or a lawyer) is a licensed professional who practices law.

His or her main responsibility is to uphold the law while protecting the rights of the client in both civil and criminal cases.

An attorney can be a general practitioner or specialize in one area (real estate, criminal law, estate and probate matters, corporate issues, matrimonial and family law, intellectual property, environmental law…).

Depending on the specialization, the duties of an attorney would differ; however, those would typically include providing legal advice and counsel, drawing up various legal documents, researching and gathering evidence and information, prosecuting or defending in court, mediating disputes, drafting documents, and so on.

An attorney can work for a private company, in a law firm or for the state (for prosecution or as a public defender).

QuestionHow much do attorneys make?

On average, an attorney can make a little less than $122.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $59.000 and $253.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

Attorneys that work in the District of Columbia, New York, and California, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level attorney can earn around $28.00 per hour, while a top-level professional with plenty of experience can make $122.00 and more per hour.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become an attorney?

You would certainly need a bachelor’s degree, in order to become an attorney (in any major).

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

Aspiring attorneys would then be required to take an entrance exam (Law Schools Admission Test); it will cost you over $180, however, you might want to invest in study guides and practice tests.

You should then apply to a law school (around $26.000-$43.000) and earn a Juris Doctor degree.

After graduating, future attorneys take the bar exam (about $6.700).

QuestionWhat is the demand for attorneys?

Between 2016 and 2026, the lawyer (attorney) job market is expected to grow by 8.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is close to the average for all occupations in the United States.

The competition in the field is extremely high; nowadays, legal services are much needed in such areas as healthcare, intellectual property, mediation, environmental issues, and antitrust.

The industry is mainly concentrated in New York, California, and Florida.

QuestionHow long does it take to become an attorney?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

It is recommended that students spend 150-300 hours on the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) prep.

If your scores are high enough, you will be accepted to law school; be prepared to spend at least 3 years as a full-time student.

The bar prep course can take you around 2 months.

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