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At a Glance

  • Advise clients of their legal rights
  • Often specialize in one area
  • Regularly work long hours
  • Have a bachelor's and a law degree
  • Have a license

Career summary

Lawyers study, explain, and apply laws to specific problems.

Lawyers work as:

Lawyers are also called attorneys. They advise clients of their legal rights and suggest a course of action. They represent clients in court and present evidence to support their case. Many cases that go to trial are criminal cases. Criminal lawyers represent people who have been charged with a crime.

Trial lawyers

Trial lawyers spend most of their time researching clients' cases. They meet with clients to learn the facts. They examine the evidence to see if there is enough to pursue a lawsuit. They research previous cases and laws to find support for the case and to see what the possible outcomes might be. They interview witnesses and other people who have information important to clients' cases.

Lawyers develop strategies and arguments to write in the legal documents that they file with the court.

Lawyers select jurors and ask witnesses questions during trials. They summarize their case at the end of the trial, and try to convince juries to see their side of the argument. They explain the decision to clients once the case is settled. They interpret the laws and rules as they apply to the case.

Lawyers often try to settle cases before they go to court. They may negotiate the amount of settlements in civil cases.

Civil lawyers

Civil lawyers rarely go to court. They handle cases that do not require going to trial. They prepare wills, contracts, and business deals.

Civil lawyers also research clients' cases. They learn about the contract, will, or the business deal. Some contracts and wills are straightforward and require little work. Other contracts are more complicated. Civil lawyers may examine public records to establish ownership of property.

Many lawyers supervise other legal employees, including legal assistants, paralegals, first year lawyers, and law clerks.

Related careers

This career is part of the Law, Public Safety, Corrections, and Security cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to lawyers.

Common work activities

Lawyers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, lawyers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Lawyers frequently:

It is important for lawyers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for lawyers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Lawyers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a lawyer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Lawyers must have a law degree. Many colleges and universities offer professional degrees in law. To qualify for law school, you usually must have completed a bachelor's degree. Some law schools accept a few students who have completed only three years of college.

Together, college and law school usually take seven years of full-time study. This includes four years of undergraduate study followed by three years of law school. Law school graduates receive a juris doctor (JD) degree.

Your bachelor's degree does not have to be in a specific area for you to apply to law school. You should consider a well-rounded course of study, such as liberal arts.

You should consider taking college courses in English, a second language, and public speaking. Other helpful courses include government, philosophy, history, and economics. If you are interested in a particular area of law, courses in that area are helpful. For example, take accounting courses if you are interested in tax law.

Work experience

Some schools also offer clinical programs. These programs help you gain legal skills by participating in mock trials and law school projects. You can also get experience by volunteering at legal aid clinics.

Students who finish their second year of law school may apply for part-time or summer clerkships. These positions offer students experience in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments.

There are three types of appointments for law clerks:

For law students, clerkships are a way to learn by doing. You work with experienced lawyers as you perform legal research, draft contracts, and examine documents. You also observe legal proceedings.

On-the-job training

Beginning lawyers perform research and handle routine cases. As a new lawyer, an experienced lawyer will supervise your work. As you gain experience, you work on more difficult cases and have more responsibility.

Many states require lawyers to take classes or attend seminars every year to keep up with changes in the field.

Military training

The military does not provide training for lawyers. However, it can provide work experience for those who have a degree in law.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many lawyers are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer to hire applicants who are licensed in their state. Some also require that applicants pass a written ethics exam.

Employers look for applicants who like to work with people. They also look for lawyers who can win the respect and trust of others. Lawyers must be creative and able to work through difficult cases. They also must be able to handle new and unique legal problems.

Many lawyers who have been out of school for less than five years change jobs frequently. After five years of experience, the amount of job changing decreases. Experienced workers may be hired for judicial clerkships, deputy prosecutor positions, or may move from accounting firms to law firms and from law firms to large corporations. Many law firms expect new applicants to have some practical work experience through related employment and/or an internship.

#Comment on internships & work experience based on Law supplement in PSBJ, Aug. 23-29, 2014, pp. 5A, cj.

Some employers in the state hire applicants who have passed the bar exam after completing a four-year law clerk apprenticeship program administered by the Law Clerk Board of the Washington State Bar Association. Only eight other states currently offer this law clerk program (external link) which is an alternative to attending law school.

#State law clerk program comments from PSBJ, Aug. 5-11, 2005 and website of WA State Bar Assn, 4/26/06, cj. Added web page for law clerk program 4/9/08, cj. Updated url 4/11/12 cj.

#looks ok 3/7/12 lh. Updated url & number of states offering apprenticeships (now total of 9) 3/27/14 cj. Info ok 4/16/18 cj.


Spend time with working lawyers before spending time and money on law school to make sure this is what you really want to do. Take personal assessment tests to see if this occupation is a good match with your personality. Enroll in a special education program offered by the local bar association, volunteer at a community mediation center, or take training by a local chapter of the American Arbitration Association. Take classes that involve analytical thinking such as logic, literary criticism, and philosophy. Some students arrange internships with local law firms. However, with the current economic recession, externships, in which students get college credit rather than pay for the work they do at a firm, may be easier to find. Judicial experience can be obtained by practicing lawyers by becoming a pro tem (substitute) judge.

#Comment on externships from "Law school graduates challenged with tighter legal labor market," Journal of Business, Sept. 17, 2009, cj.

Jobs within the field of law are becoming increasingly specialized. People considering law school might wish to explore various areas of practice, such as health care law, employment law, and international corporate law. Climate change risk is also a growing specialty area due to new rules and litigation risks related to global warming. For some jobs, knowledge of a foreign language is helpful. Knowledge of Washington's Growth Management Act may be helpful for jobs with local governments. Familiarity and experience with electronic discovery issues and tools is becoming more important as more documents are created and stored in digital format.

#Source of e-discovery comment, "E-Discovery curbs pretrial paper work, not data," Journal of Business, Sept. 17, 2009, cj.

Some college counselors recommend that recent law student graduates start looking for work even before they know the results of their bar exam. Students also can network through their school's student bar association and the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association.

#Comment on climate change specialty based on PSBJ Feb. 9-15, 2007, p. 1 article, cj.

#Growth Management Act tip comment based on desired qualifications for attorney for City of Tumwater, June 16, 2006 announcement, cj.

#Added comment on looking for work while waiting for bar exam results & networking 5/5/10 from "Law school grads challenged with tighter legal labor market," Journal of Business, Sept. 17, 2009, cj.

Costs to workers

All workers are required to join the Washington State Bar Association and pay annual dues. Many lawyers must pay for continuing education courses to keep up with changes in the field. Lawyers who have borrowed money to pay school expenses have large debt payments after graduation. In addition, most lawyers choose to pay for errors and omissions insurance, which is also called liability or malpractice insurance. The cost for this insurance varies according to factors such as the size of a firm, how long it has been in business, and the area of law practice.


Lawyers practicing in Washington State must be licensed by the State Supreme Court through the Washington State Bar Association. Applicants must pass the Washington State Bar Exam after graduating from an approved law school.

For more information, contact:

Washington State Bar Association (external link)
1325 Fourth Avenue, Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98101-2539

#fine 1/21/16 lh, 4/16/18 cj. Changed last 4 digits  of phone # to numbers versus letters, 4/16/19 cj.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Lawyers (SOC 23-1011)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $32.84 $40.12 $55.53 $78.42 (1)
Monthly $5,691 $6,953 $9,623 $13,590 (1)
Yearly $68,300 $83,450 $115,500 $163,110 (1)
    Bellingham Hourly $26.14 $30.39 $39.69 $52.65 $63.01
Monthly $4,530 $5,267 $6,878 $9,124 $10,920
Yearly $54,376 $63,207 $82,557 $109,507 $131,061
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $21.28 $26.03 $45.39 $60.16 $75.05
Monthly $3,688 $4,511 $7,866 $10,426 $13,006
Yearly $44,268 $54,135 $94,412 $125,140 $156,110
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $23.42 $27.35 $44.67 $75.96 (2)
Monthly $4,059 $4,740 $7,741 $13,164 (2)
Yearly $48,725 $56,895 $92,929 $157,994 (2)
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $27.23 $31.24 $44.25 $61.53 $86.51
Monthly $4,719 $5,414 $7,669 $10,663 $14,992
Yearly $56,619 $64,989 $92,043 $127,987 $179,946
    Longview Hourly $27.53 $32.63 $39.10 $54.60 $61.32
Monthly $4,771 $5,655 $6,776 $9,462 $10,627
Yearly $57,270 $67,866 $81,326 $113,571 $127,539
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $25.36 $32.33 $41.15 $51.41 $60.75
Monthly $4,395 $5,603 $7,131 $8,909 $10,528
Yearly $52,766 $67,250 $85,597 $106,931 $126,355
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $33.39 $39.84 $49.87 $61.60 $77.69
Monthly $5,786 $6,904 $8,642 $10,675 $13,464
Yearly $69,448 $82,880 $103,736 $128,146 $161,591
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $35.57 $43.95 $61.79 $86.89 (2)
Monthly $6,164 $7,617 $10,708 $15,058 (2)
Yearly $73,982 $91,423 $128,526 $180,725 (2)
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $28.31 $33.33 $42.20 $56.16 $73.60
Monthly $4,906 $5,776 $7,313 $9,733 $12,755
Yearly $58,896 $69,325 $87,771 $116,815 $153,086
    Vancouver Hourly $33.55 $41.13 $56.41 $72.96 $98.37
Monthly $5,814 $7,128 $9,776 $12,644 $17,048
Yearly $69,786 $85,556 $117,333 $151,745 $204,614
    Walla Walla Hourly $22.51 $32.86 $42.68 $55.49 $70.88
Monthly $3,901 $5,695 $7,396 $9,616 $12,284
Yearly $46,818 $68,352 $88,767 $115,414 $147,440
    Wenatchee Hourly $33.34 $36.41 $41.86 $53.88 $81.42
Monthly $5,778 $6,310 $7,254 $9,337 $14,110
Yearly $69,349 $75,730 $87,059 $112,081 $169,351
    Yakima Hourly $32.93 $37.99 $51.39 $69.05 $80.41
Monthly $5,707 $6,584 $8,906 $11,966 $13,935
Yearly $68,498 $79,028 $106,883 $143,620 $167,244
United States Hourly $27.99 $38.06 $58.13 $87.74 (1)
Monthly $4,851 $6,596 $10,074 $15,205 (1)
Yearly $58,220 $79,160 $120,910 $182,490 (1)

(1) Wages are greater than $90/hour or $187,200/year.
(2) Wage estimate is not available.

Wages for experienced lawyers vary widely. They depend on the type, size, and location of the employer. In addition, their area of practice influences wages. Those who work for law firms tend to earn more than those who work for insurance companies or the government. Lawyers who have their own practices generally earn less than those who work in firms with several lawyers.

Most lawyers who work full time for firms receive benefits. Typical benefits include health insurance, sick leave, paid vacation, and a retirement plan. Lawyers who are self-employed must provide their own insurance and retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

In Washington, an emerging specialty is marijuana business law. Growth is expected due to the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington State. Competition for jobs will be strong. Few openings are expected with state or local government due to budget cuts. Recent graduates are more likely to find job opportunities with law firms in smaller communities than with major companies in big cities, or by pursuing solo practices.

Many new lawyers have large amounts of debt when they finish law school. According to a report from the nonprofit organization Law School Transparency, recent law school graduates have an average law school debt of $134,497 if they attended a private school and $96,054 if they attended a public school. The level of debt can keep some from pursuing public sector or other public-interest jobs which generally pay less than those in the private sector.

#"According to the American Bar Association, most students on average borrow $125,000 in education loans to attend private law schools and $75,700 to attend public ones. Total average loan debt which includes living expenses may be higher." Removed this & inserted info from Law Sch Transparency cited in ABA article: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/make_law_school_borrowing_data_public_and_include_it_with_admissions_offers  4/16/18 cj. Didn't see any recent updates to this figure 1/28/19 lh

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Lawyers (SOC 23-1011)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 16,315 9.4% 16.1% 1,017
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 239 8.4% 13.4% 14
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 135 8.1% 8.6% 8
    Benton and Franklin Counties 158 7.0% 15.0% 8
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 417 5.0% 11.9% 22
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 498 9.0% 15.2% 31
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 956 9.1% 14.1% 58
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 588 4.8% 14.6% 30
    King County 9,720 10.4% 19.6% 626
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 259 9.3% 13.8% 16
    Pierce County 1,197 9.1% 15.2% 73
    Snohomish County 831 7.9% 12.4% 49
    Spokane County 1,075 9.2% 13.9% 67
United States 823,900 6.1% 5.2% 45,700

National employment

About 20% of lawyers are self-employed. These lawyers work either in law firms or in solo practices.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for lawyers will remain steady. People, businesses, and all levels of the government need legal services. There is a trend for companies to hire their own staff attorneys. This means there may be fewer law firms.

Growth will be somewhat reduced by the fact that some firms are trying to cut back on costs. They may hire paralegals to do some tasks that lawyers have done in the past. Also, some people are using mediators to handle their cases. These people may resolve their divorce issues and file their own claims, rather than hire law firms.

Competition for jobs will continue to be strong. This is partly because law schools graduate more lawyers than there are jobs available. The best prospects are for those who are willing to relocate.

Other resources

American Arbitration Association (external link)
1633 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10019
American Bar Association (external link)
321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654
How to Become a Lawyer/Attorney in Washington State (external link)
Law School Admission Council (external link)
National Association for Law Placement (NALP) (external link)
1220 19th Street NW, Suite 401
Washington, DC 20036-2405
National Lawyers Guild (external link)
132 Nassau Street, Room 922
New York, NY 10038
US Department of Justice (external link)
Washington State Association for Justice (external link)
1809 - 7th Avenue, Suite 1500
Seattle, WA 98101
Washington State Bar Association (external link)
1325 Fourth Avenue, Suite 600
Seattle, WA 98101
Washington State Law Library (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster