Deciding on a Legal Career
EXLORING YOUR INTEREST IN LAW
A J.D., Juris Doctor, can lead to a wide range of law-related careers and can open doors to careers in government, business, higher education, communications, and numerous other fields. Law school graduates are administrators, teachers, librarians, and business managers as well as advocates, judges, and politicians.
The law can be a rewarding profession. At its best, legal practice challenges the intellect, demanding the exercise of reason and judgment. The ethics of the profession require attorneys to promote justice, fairness, and morality; thus, legal employment can bring particular satisfaction to those who seek to work, within the law, to rectify social injustice.
There are significant differences in career choices lawyers make, from public interest law and government law to private practice in a firm. The range in starting salaries alone can exceed $100,000. And, the need to pay back law school loans can affect the career choices of a new graduate.
Before beginning the application process, consider carefully if a law degree is right for you. It is not necessary to know what kind of law you want to practice or even if you want to practice law to decide to attend law school. There are a number of ways you can explore the field of law:
- Talk with a career counselor and/or a pre-law advisor about your interest in pursuing legal studies. If you are uncertain who the pre-law advisor at your school is, the Law School Admission Council will inform you when you register for the Law School Data Assembly Services (LSDAS).
- Conduct research on legal careers using resources at your pre-law advising office or college career office.
- Investigate online resources, including the American Bar Association, the National Association of Law Placement, and Internet Legal Research Group.
- Intern with a law firm or law-related organization to gain exposure to the field and to experience the work environment.
- Conduct information interviews to learn about the legal profession. Talk with lawyers who are family members, family friends, or alumni of your college to learn:
- what lawyers do in a typical work day
- personal attributes needed to be successful in a legal career
- satisfactions and dissatisfactions of the field
- impact of a legal career on personal lives
Realities of a Legal Career
An important step in making a decision is to distinguish between commonly held expectations and the reality of legal practice. Hours can be very long and often include weekends. Legal work can require spending considerable time in tedious, painstaking research. Depending on the type of law practiced and the location, entry into law firms can be difficult and salaries may not meet expectations. The market for new lawyers is competitive for those seeking positions in cities and firms that are in high demand.
Employment statistics for the class of 2006 law graduates, based on responses from 40,186 (92% of all graduates) reveal the following :
- The average starting salary was $77,990; the median salary was $62,000
- About 14% of salaries reported were at or below $40,000.
- Salaries of more than $75,000 accounted for nearly 39% of salaries reported.
- Approximately 56% of the class chose private practice in law firms.
- About 27% took positions in public service, including judicial clerkships, government agencies, and public interest organizations
- Graduates entering business accounted for about 14%
- Approximately 27% of graduates were employed in positions for which bar passage is not required.
While a corporate lawyer in a private firm may earn $135,000 the first year, he/she may also work twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. Most of those interested in public interest law can expect a starting salary around $40,000.
 National Association for Law Placement's Jobs & J.D.'s: Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates, Class of 2006.
[Bucknell University insert: A number of courses at Bucknell may assist you in this task. Sociology's Law and Society (SOCI 123), Philosophy's Law, Morality, and Society (PHIL 100), and Political Science's American Politics and Government (POLS 200), and Topics in Legal Thought (POLS 262), among others, place law in a context which allows for informed evaluation of its role in our society and polity. Students who are still unsure of their occupational preferences after considerable research and study may want to take advantage of the CDC's career tests which help identify an individual's "interests" and "psychological type." The results of these tests will help you answer questions such as: "What do I want to do on a day-to-day basis?" What kind of work do I find most enjoyable?" What kind of people do I want to work with?" and "What kind of work environment allows me to be most productive?" It is important that you determine whether your interests and personality are compatible with those of successful practicing attorneys. While these tests will not provide a definitive answer to the question of "What do I want to do after Bucknell?" they are useful tools in an overall strategy of self-assessment.]