Throughout history, societies have established systems of law to govern people. Without laws, there would be chaos, and the rights of individuals would not be protected. The legal industry has come a long way since the time of ancient Greece and Rome, where young boys learned by apprenticeship the many skills involved in pleading a law case. Today, lawyers need a great deal of training and extensive knowledge of legal matters in order to practice law.

The legal profession is a large and profitable industry that is an integral part of our daily lives. Lawyers provide legal advice and representation to those who have been harmed by defective products, fraud, or unfair employment practices; those who want to buy or sell a house, start a business, or create a will; and those who have been accused of a crime—to name just a few services provided by lawyers. Attorneys also play key roles in the business world; in local, state, and federal court systems; in government agencies; and in nonprofit organizations. They provide legal advice and representation regarding hundreds of issues such as labor/employment, intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, civil rights, national security, the environment, and bankruptcy. 

Lawyers work in cities and towns throughout the United States and across the world, but you will find the highest numbers of lawyers in big cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago. Law firms range in size from a sole practitioner to 4,000-lawyer international practices.

Lawyers have a wide range of responsibilities, including providing legal advice, drafting legal documents such as contracts and wills, filing lawsuits and pleadings with courts, and arguing cases before judges and juries. Some attorneys work as generalists, while others work in specialized areas of law, including the following:

  • administrative/regulatory
  • admiralty and maritime
  • alternative dispute resolution/arbitration
  • appellate litigation
  • bankruptcy and restructuring
  • civil law
  • class action
  • constitutional
  • construction
  • contracts
  • criminal
  • data security, privacy, and Internet
  • document review
  • education and non-profit
  • entertainment
  • environmental
  • family
  • general corporate
  • health care
  • immigration
  • insurance
  • intellectual property
  • international
  • labor and employment
  • litigation
  • malpractice
  • mergers and acquisitions
  • plaintiffs’ litigation
  • products liability
  • real estate
  • securities and capital markets
  • tax
  • torts
  • toxic torts
  • transactional work
  • trusts and estates
  • white-collar crime

Although law careers remain popular, lawyers have always suffered from an image problem. Many people think lawyers are pushy, arrogant, and unethical. But it’s important to move past this stereotype; there are a few bad apples in any profession. Most attorneys enter the field because they want to make the world a better place and use the law to protect the rights of people who cannot protect themselves. For many, the field of law is a calling, and most lawyers adhere to a very strict set of ethics when working with clients.

Despite the negative perceptions some people have of lawyers, many individuals want to become lawyers or pursue other careers in the legal industry. In fact, the career of lawyer is often ranked as one of the most desirable professions available. U.S. News & World Report ranked the career of lawyer as the 51st-best job in 2014. ranked the career of lawyer as the 117th-best job (out of 200 total careers ranked) in 2013 in terms of work environment, income, employment outlook, level of stress, and other criteria. The career of paralegal was ranked 87th by U.S. News & World Report and 41st by Salaries are also excellent for lawyers. In 2012, lawyers earned an average salary of $113,530, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, earnings that are much higher than the national average ($45,790) for all careers.

Opportunities in the legal industry exist at every career level, although lawyers and judges are the prime movers in this field. They must have a law degree, although an increasing number of employers require their attorneys to have a master of laws (LL.M.) degree in a specialized area (such as business law, dispute resolution, or litigation/trial advocacy) or a master’s degree in business management, finance, taxation, or another field. Paralegals can enter the field with associate’s degrees. Those with bachelor’s degrees can work as computer professionals, accountants, human resources professionals, and marketing workers, and in other careers. High school graduates can work as legal secretaries and office support professionals. The bottom line: The legal industry offers many career options in a variety of employment settings, and the industry is expected to enjoy steady growth in the future.

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