What Can I Do with a Law Degree?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in law. Find information on law careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in law.


Justice is an integral component of our society. Without justice, human and civil rights would not be protected and anarchy would prevail. Essential to protecting justice in modern society are lawyers, also known as attorneys. Lawyers have specialized knowledge regarding the law and are able to provide an invaluable support for protecting justice. Lawyers typically serve as advocates or advisers. In the role of advocate, the lawyer is responsible for providing an individual with a defense against some type of criminal or civil action. In the role of adviser, the lawyer provides his or her client with information and knowledge regarding personal or business matters. One example is the legal support provided by the attorney for a client purchasing a home. The mortgage is a legal document that requires review by an attorney.

Individuals considering law as a career are required to obtain a specialized degree in law. After completing a four year Bachelors Degree, students must seek entrance into a law school. Law school typically requires three years for completion. Upon completion of the law degree, the professional will receive the degree of juris doctor (J.D.). In order to practice law, graduates will need to seek licensure from the American Bar Association (ABA). In addition, many states require lawyers to take a separate ethics exam before becoming fully licensed.


Generally speaking, careers in law focus on criminal or civil practice. Criminal practice involves the defense of individuals accused of crimes (e.g. assault, robbery, murder, etc.). Civil cases are those that focus on harm that occurs to an individual in the absence of a criminal act. An example of a civil case is when a defective product harms an individual. Although no crime has been committed the product may have resulted in thousands of dollars in medical bills for the individual. Civil courts award damages in these types of cases.

While most law practices focus on either criminal or civil issues, lawyers can seek careers in specific niches of law. Examples include lawyers that specialize in bankruptcy, business, elder or environmental law. Professionals working in these areas will typically be employed by large law firms that provide expertise to clients in a number of areas. Lawyers may also be employed in private practice.


In general, salaries for lawyers that work in most areas of specialization are quite generous. Successful professional practice in law will be built on extensive education and experience. Salaries will vary somewhat based on the specific type of organization in which the professional is employed. Median annual salaries for all lawyers were $110,590 in 2008. For professionals at the top of their careers median annual salaries were $163,320 in 2008. Professionals at the lowest end of the salary ladder had median annual wages of $74,980 in 2008. Lawyers employed with corporate organizations commanded the highest salaries in 2008: $145,700 on average. Lawyers working in state government received the lowest salaries in 2008: $74,540. Lawyers that work in private practice (e.g., are self-employed) typically earn less than those employed in large law practices. Lawyers are commonly employed in full-time positions that include benefit such as health insurance, paid vacation and retirement savings.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for lawyers suggests that while average growth is projected in this field, competition for jobs will be quite intense. Overall, the number of positions for lawyers is expected to increase by 13 percent through 2018. However, there are currently a large number of students seeking law degrees. Thus, even though there will be employment opportunities for graduates, significant competition for open positions will result. While average growth for positions is projected for all law positions, growth in certain areas of law is expected to be higher. In particular, increased demand for lawyers specializing in healthcare, elder care law, intellectual property and environmental law is expected. Government agencies and large corporations will also have an increased need for law professionals. Professionals that are not able to find employment in law firms or organizations may be able to apply their education in other disciplines including insurance, real estate and financial institutions.

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