So You Want To Be A Lawyer: The Ins And Outs Of Practicing Law

So you want to be a lawyer? You’re not alone. In 2019, there were almost 1.5 million lawyers in the United States. It’s one of the most sought after professions, especially because there is always a constant stream of people trying to seek legal help in the country. If you’re interested in practicing law, this guide will give you the basics of how to start, what to consider, and some of the most popular areas of practice in the legal world.

The Basics Of Becoming A Lawyer

Becoming a lawyer starts off like many other professions. One who wants to help people trying to seek legal help must start by first obtaining a bachelor’s degree before applying for law school. The field of studying in your undergraduate does not have much effect on your admittance to law school. There are students in law school that have bachelor’s degrees in everything from political science to English. One thing from your undergraduate that will affect your law school admittance is your GPA. So make sure whatever you choose to study is something that will allow you to keep your grades high.

Once you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you will need to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Taking and passing this test does not guarantee your admission to law school, but it does play a key role. Law schools will use your score to judge the quality and knowledge of applicants, so the higher your score, the better your chance to get into the law school of your choice.

Besides your GPA and LSAT score, law schools will also look at factors such as community service and recommendations for teachers and legal professionals. So make sure you bolster your application with as much as you can to raise your odds for acceptance.

When you are deciding between different law schools, make sure that you only consider schools that are accredited by the American Bar Association.

Once you’ve been accepted to law school, congratulations! You are that much closer to becoming a lawyer and helping people who are trying to seek legal help. If you attend school full time, you should be able to graduate with your Juris Doctorate degree in about three years. This is also a great time to focus on your specialty as you can take specific classes and work with professors and other legal professionals to be more prepared for your career.

After graduation, you will need to decide which state you plan to work in. This is important because you’ll need to take the bar exam specifically in your intended state of practice. Each state has different laws and regulations and you need to qualify in that specific state.

Once you pass the bar, you’re officially allowed to start practicing law in that specific state and can begin working with people who are trying to seek legal help. You may want to start in a legal firm where you can learn the ins and outs and practice under-skilled lawyers and attorneys. You’ll start as an associate but in time, you can work your way up.

Lawyer vs. Attorney

Speaking of working with lawyers and attorneys, one important thing you need to know as prepare to practice law is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney. The terms are often used interchangeably, however, there is an important key difference that you need to know.

Qualifications Of A Lawyer

A lawyer is someone who has studied law and knows the ins and outs of the judicial system. They specialize in certain areas of law and help people who are trying to seek legal help in certain situations. Technically someone who has studied at law school and graduated is considered a lawyer, even before they pass the bar exam. Unless they have passed the bar exam, they cannot serve as legal representation.

Qualifications Of An Attorney

An attorney at law, or attorney for short, is someone who has studied law, has passed the bar exam, and is legally qualified to prosecute and defend those trying to seek legal help in court. An attorney practices law in court, while a lawyer may or may not. Basically, an attorney is a lawyer, but a lawyer is not necessarily an attorney.

Different Types of Lawyers & Attorneys

As you are working through the process of becoming a lawyer, it is wise to decide early on which area of law you’d like to specialize in. Deciding early on will allow you more time to learn specific laws and regulations as well as find opportunities to intern and work with lawyers and attorneys that also practice in that specific field of law. If you are unsure what area of the law you’d like to practice in, here are a few common and popular specialties you may want to consider.

Personal Injury Lawyer

A personal injury lawyer represents clients who are trying to seek legal help when they have been injured by someone else, either physically, mentally or emotionally. They often take cases such as:

  • Personal injury resulting in the harm or death of a loved one
  • Medical malpractice
  • Assault and battery
  • Defamation, libel, and slander

Personal injury lawyers often receive payment, not on an hourly basis, but as a percentage from the client’s compensation when they win the trial. This is called a contingency basis. Their average annual salary ranges anywhere from $80,000 to $160,000.

Divorce Lawyer

A divorce lawyer specializes in none other than divorce law. No surprise there given their title. Divorce lawyers are one of the busiest types of lawyers and don’t generally experience downturns in work. They may also deal with child support and custody issues as well as the division of assets as they help their clients through the divorce process. According to the Burea of Labor Statistics, the top three states to practice divorce law are New York, Florida, and California. The average annual salary for a divorce lawyer is around $100,000.

Criminal Attorney

A criminal attorney can be known by a few different titles, 1) Prosecutors Attorney, 2) Public Defense Attorney, and 3) Private Defense Attorney. They defend individuals and organizations that have been charged with a crime. They represent their client from the time of arrest through bail, arraignment, trial, and sentencing. They often work on cases such as domestic violence, embezzlement, and fraud. In 2018, the Burea of Labor Statics found that the median salary for a criminal attorney is around $120,000 annually.

Car Accident Attorney

A car accidents attorney similar to a personal injury lawyer, helps those trying to seek legal help after any kind of traffic accident. They may help either the person who caused the accident or someone who was injured due to a car accident. They can specialize in the criminal law side and help those charged with a DWI or DUI. Because car accidents are so common, car accident attorneys don’t usually have to worry about a dip in their workflow. Their annual average salary is lower than many other lawyers and attorneys. Their annual salary is around $60,000, though they work on a contingency basis so that is subject to change depending on their type of work and location.

Child Custody Lawyer

A child custody lawyer, or family lawyer practices law similar to a divorce lawyer. They will help clients who are trying to seek legal help to determine the kind of custody parents have after a divorce. They will present evidence in court to convince the judge or jury that their client should gain or retain custody of their children. In 2018, the Burea of Labor Statistics found that the average annual salary for custody lawyers ranges from $58,000 to over $200,000 depending largely on specialty and location.

Wrongful Death Lawyer

A wrongful death lawyer is similar to a personal injury lawyer, but with a more specialized field of work. They work specifically with families who have lost a loved one due to negligence or wrongful actions by another party. Wrongful death is described as “a death caused by negligent or intentional actions of another.” Some typical cases for a wrongful death lawyer could be:

  • Traffic accidents
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Medical Malpractice

Wrongful death lawyers work on a contingency basis and receive around 33% to 40% of their client’s compensation. Their annual salary is completely dependent on the number of cases they take as well as the type of cases.

Property Insurance Attorney

A property insurance attorney, otherwise known as a real estate or property attorney, helps their clients in real estate transitions or real estate business that has gone bad. Some property attorneys specialize in cases such as mortgage fraud or disclosure fraud. They can also work with landlords who are having issues with their tenants. Property attorneys face an issue of their work rising and falling with the housing market. If there is a recession in the housing market, work may be harder to come by. If they specialize in working with landlords or tenant law, they may have a more steady stream of work. The average annual salary for a property attorney is around $117,000.

Pros And Cons Of Practicing Law

As with every other profession, there are pros and cons to practicing law.


One of the number one pros for practicing law, depending on your area of specialty, is the fulfillment you can feel in helping people in need or those who are innocent. For example, if you are working on a wrongful death case, you can help a family who is trying to seek legal help receive some compensation and peace in knowing that the person who hurt their family can’t hurt anyone else.

There are also numerous career options for lawyers and attorneys. Because there are so many different fields of law, you will be able to pick from many different types of work, and can even cross over and practice in a few different areas depending on your location and skills.

One of the highest pros for being a lawyer or attorney is the salary. Depending on your specific area of law, location, and skills, you can make some serious money as a lawyer. A recent graduate won’t often start out with a high income, but after a few years of work and experience, they can reach a high salary level.

Lawyers and Attorneys often have a decent amount of flexibility in their daily schedule. They can often be unpredictable, but options to telecommute are increasing and making the draw to study law even better.


Lawyers and Attorneys experience high levels of stress with their work. There are many serious deadlines to meet, they need to constantly stay up to date and informed on all laws that pertain to their cases, and their ability to succeed will directly impact the lives of their clients.

Attending law school is not cheap. Especially because a lawyer or attorney must first get an undergraduate degree before even starting law school, they can often rack up high student loans and debt while in school. Lawyers pay an average of $40,000 per year to attend law school.

Lawyers and Attorneys work long hours, often late into the night and on weekends. Having a 60-hour workweek is not uncommon in this profession.

Depending on the specific area of law a lawyer or attorney practices, the job can come with danger as well. When working with criminals, if the case doesn’t go how they want, they can often become angry and even violent. Even families who don’t see the results they want from a case many want to take it out on their lawyer or attorney.

In Conclusion

So you want to be a lawyer? It’s not a job for the faint of heart. But with the right preparation, skills, and training, you can make a serious difference for those trying to seek legal help.

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