Different Types of Attorney Jobs
With graduation behind you, for former law students, studying for the bar exam and starting a new career are usually next on the agenda. If you recently graduated, you may already have a job lined up for the fall. If you don’t have something already lined up, or maybe you’re a 1L or 2L who is considering different internships, you are in the right spot. In this article, we explore the many different career options for lawyers.
Different Types of Attorney Jobs
Generally speaking, lawyers can work in private practice, or in public interest/government positions. Within these two categories, there are a plethora of different positions and roles that attorneys can play. If you are considering a career in private practice, that does not preclude you from changing directions and later going into public interest work, and vice versa. A third category includes J.D. advantage careers, where one need not be a licensed attorney, but having a juris doctorate degree is an advantage to obtaining the job and handling the responsibilities involved.
Nearly half of all law school graduates take jobs at law firms post-graduation. If you are considering a career in private practice, you will be presented with opportunities in different-sized law firms and different practice areas. Becoming a solo practitioner is also an option. Once you pass the bar and are a licensed attorney, you can absolutely open your own practice, although most lawyers get some experience in a firm or government practice first (according to the ABA, less than 1% start off right away at a solo practice).
Law firms come in all sizes. If you are not sure what kind of law you want to practice, you might want to start in a mid-sized or large firm with diverse practice areas. This will give you the opportunity to learn from other attorneys and see how they work. Newly licensed attorneys, though, might be surprised at how small firms manage multiple practice areas. Another advantage of starting at a smaller firm: new attorneys often get hands-on experience with clients more often and earlier than associates at big law firms.
Big law firms usually offer the highest-paying jobs for new attorneys. These jobs are coveted and competitive. These firms typically have a national presence (and some even a global presence) with a variety of practice areas. Associates at big law firms tend to earn top salaries – but that comes with long, demanding hours. You will likely specialize in one or two areas of the law and get your start by supporting partners in those practice areas.
A medium-sized firm is a great opportunity to get insight into many areas of the law. Typically, a medium-sized law firm will carry a lower salary than a big law firm, but that usually comes with fewer billable hours and less intensity. A midsized firm typically has 25-200 lawyers, according to reuters.com. Keep in mind, though, depending on where you wind up practicing, some firms at the upper end of that range may be known as “big” law firms within the region. In these instances, a firm that has close to 200 attorneys will have a very different feel from a law firm that has closer to 50 attorneys. While big law firms have a wide array of practice areas and specialties, you might notice some mid-size firms that focus on only a few areas of the law.
If you prefer an environment with a close-knit team, a small law firm might be for you. Small firms might be focused on one area of the law (such as personal injury), but some firms are actually general practices, which will get you a wide variety of experience! At a small firm, you will get a lot of practical knowledge and develop your skills quickly. You might find yourself in a courtroom during your first year as an associate and managing files early on in your legal career. Some small firms are referred to as “boutique” firms and specialize in a niche area of the law. These firms might regularly work alongside their big law counterparts in a multitude of transactions. You might find boutique law firms that practice in areas such as intellectual property, tax, or campaign finance, but the possibilities are really endless!
Approximately 12% of recent law graduates go to work for the government after graduation. Some government jobs for attorneys include the following:
Prosecutor or District Attorney
As a new Assistant Prosecutor (AP) or Assistant District Attorney (ADA), you will be in charge of representing the State in prosecuting various crimes in your county or city. Attorneys in these roles appear in court frequently, and recent graduates are no exception. Eventually, you might be able to second-chair trials and then, as an experienced AP or ADA, run trials yourself. This can be a great first step if you want to be a trial attorney later on down the line.
The local public defender’s office is also a great way to get started in criminal law. You will be helping indigent defendants who cannot afford their own counsel. This is a noble calling and will get you a lot of courtroom and networking experience throughout your career.
Clerking for a judge can be a great option post-graduation. You do not need to be licensed to be a judicial law clerk in most states, so you can wait for your bar results while working for the judge. It not only looks very good on a resume, but you get a lot of hands-on experience. A judicial clerkships puts you in touch with all sorts of attorneys on a daily basis, which can be beneficial when you search for a job post-clerkship. It is also a great way to get started in public interest should you want to pursue that route. Federal judicial clerkships can be much more difficult to get and are typically more competitive, but there are usually many clerskship opportunities at the county or local levels.
Deputy Attorney General
The attorney general is often referred to as a state’s “top cop” or “the people’s attorney” and directs how criminal, environmental, consumer, and other laws are carried out. They defend state laws and can file legal challenges against companies or the federal government. The office of your state’s Attorney General should have a website with a career page. If you’re interested in government work in civil or criminal areas, this might be a good choice!
Assistant United States Attorney
Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) often say they have “the best job (for a lawyer) in the world.” The USAO will also have jobs for litigators in civil and criminal law. This is a position with the United States Federal Government so you will need to be admitted to a Federal District Court and will need to pass a multitude of background checks. These positions tend to be very competitive, so you may need to get some experience elsewhere before you will be considered for one of these roles.
Working for the Federal Government in Washington DC or elsewhere
If you are interested in working in Washington DC or for the Federal Government, there are a number of options to choose from. Almost every federal agency has a need for hardworking and qualified attorneys. We provided some examples above of how attorneys can impact the federal government’s position in a courtroom setting. There are a multitude of attorneys, though, that work within administrative agencies, call legislature policy staffs their homes, and serve as aids and liaisons in federal agencies along with the US Congress. And, you don’t need to have an interest in politics to work for the federal government! Many of these positions don’t require a political affiliation (although, some do!). Some of these positions are based on Washington, DC, but you can find these positions across the county and the globe!
On a smaller scale, many state and county administrative agencies also need attorneys on their staff. If heading to Washington, DC or working for the federal government is not something that interests you, there may still be opportunities available locally!
JD Advantage Careers
Sometimes students finish law school only to realize that being a lawyer isn’t exactly what they want to do. This doesn’t mean that you can’t put your JD to good use, though! There are a number of careers where being a licensed attorney is not required but having a JD is certainly an advantage. Careers in human resources, politics, and business are all (broad) examples of where your juris doctor can put you at an advantage.
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