Before you start your career as a lawyer, you must determine which type of law you want to practice. Corporate lawyers ensure their companies adhere to local and federal regulations, while those in criminal defense law defend people who've allegedly committed crimes. You can also work as a bankruptcy, divorce, environmental or civil rights lawyer. To become a lawyer, you need to get your law degree, which requires seven years of college. In return, you can expect to earn an above-average beginning salary compared to most occupations.
Salary and Qualifications
The average beginning salary for all lawyers was $70,000 as of 2013, according to the job site Indeed. This income is highly commensurate with the one the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for the bottom 25 percent of lawyers as of May 2012 -- $74,880 or less. To become a lawyer, you need to get a four-year bachelor's degree in any major and complete a three-year juris doctor law degree, or J.D. After graduating, you must then take and pass the American Bar Association's examination. A passing score in Connecticut, for example, is 264 out of 400, according to the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. Other key qualifications include research, analytical, interpersonal, writing, speaking and problem-solving skills.
Salary by Region
In 2013, average beginning salaries for lawyers varied the most within the Western region, according to Indeed, where they earned the lowest salaries of $46,000 in Hawaii and highest of $76,000 in California. Those in the Midwest made $52,000 to $76,000 per year in South Dakota and Illinois, respectively. If you worked as lawyer in Maine or New York, you'd make $60,000 or $85,000, which were the lowest and highest earnings in the Northeast. In the Southern region, you'd earn the least in Louisiana and most in Washington, D.C., at $60,000 or $83,000, respectively.
Lawyers just starting their careers may earn higher beginning salaries in the same industries in which experienced lawyers earn more. For example, lawyers made some of the highest salaries of $207,370 in the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry in 2012, according to the BLS. They also earned relatively high salaries of $193,960 working for cable and other subscription program companies -- versus the industry average of $130,880 for all lawyers. As an entry-level lawyer, you may also earn a higher starting salary in either the petroleum or cable subscription industries. You'd also likely earn more working for a large law firm, which has higher revenues to support your higher salary.
The BLS predicts a 10-percent increase in jobs for lawyers from 2010 to 2020, which is statistically about average compared to the 14-percent growth rate for all occupations. More accountants and paralegals are performing similar tasks of lawyers, including processing documents and counseling, which may slow growth for lawyers to some extent. The federal government will need lawyers to prosecute cases and collect debts. Because of stiff competition, you might consider applying for lawyer jobs through temporary agencies, which seems to be the trend in the latest decade.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Lawyers Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Lawyer
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers: Job Outlook
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Lawyers
- LawyerEdu.org: Types of Lawyers
- Indeed: Starting Salary - Lawyer Salary
- State of Connecticut Judicial Branch: Frequently Asked Questions About Admission to the Connecticut Bar
- Indeed: Starting Salary - Lawyer Salary in Maine, and New York
- Indeed: Starting Salary - Lawyer Salary in Hawaii, and California
- Indeed: Starting Salary - Lawyer Salary in Louisiana, and Washington, DC
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images