To become a lawyer requires advanced study in a specialized law degree program to obtain the status of Juris Doctor, or JD., in the American legal system, which is overseen by the American Bar Association. To obtain the title of JD and begin practicing as a lawyer requires three years of study, and passing scores on a bar examination. The British legal system process differs slightly. It begins with the conferring of an LLB degree, the equivalent of a Bachelor of Arts in Law in the US. Lawyers, known as 'solicitors' or 'barristers', may begin practicing law only after completing an approved advanced law degree course of study, an apprenticeship period, and passing special examinations.
Regardless of which legal system you are interested in studying and practicing in, you should find a career in the legal profession is rewarding, challenging, and continually changing. Highlighted here are seven reasons why you’ll want to consider investing your time and energy in enrolling in a law degree program.
1. There are many career options and they are generally recession-proof
“What makes law an exciting career option is the fact that the course curriculum is constantly evolving and providing the students immense opportunities of learning that are must-have for students who are interested in taking up law as their profession,” writes Live Law News. You will be immersed in courses which will challenge you, but you will also get the preparation you need to successfully transition into the workforce.
No matter what is happening with the economy, lawyers are always needed, which almost makes this career choice “recession-proof”. Prospective law students can look forward to finding a job practicing law even in an economic downturn. Legal expert Sally Kane, reporting for BalanceCareers, highlights seven specialized law professions that thrive in a recession: civil litigation, environmental (green) law, bankruptcy law, labor and employment law, foreclosure law, intellectual property law, and e-discovery practice.
“As a lawyer working in lockdown,” Helen Goss, a partner at a law firm interviewed in The Law Society Gazette, says, “my first feelings are relief and gratitude that my job allows me to work from home as all I need is a laptop, screen and mobile phone. I am also so grateful that my firm has completely embraced the concept of remote working.” Many lawyers like Goss find their jobs are secure, even in uncertain times their jobs are secure because they can successfully work remotely and perform many of the necessary office tasks at home.
2. Great salaries
Money is not necessarily the most important thing when considering a career option, but it certainly is a significant factor. You will find one of the top reasons to invest in a law degree, besides the fact you will likely have job security, is you'll be able to start your career track with a high annual salary. For example, the median salary for a trial lawyer in 2018 was $99,000 and intellectual property lawyers averaged $137,000 to $197,000 annually, according to BalanceCareers.
“Lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the legal industry, and most attorneys earn salaries well above the national average,” writes Sally Kane. She finds, “The median annual salary for all lawyers was $120,910 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the world’s top attorneys can pull in million-dollar annual incomes.” Of course, salaries for lawyers will vary depending on what you choose to specialize in, but it is interesting to note even a law professor can earn an excellent salary. According to the Society of American Law Teachers' 2017-18 Salary Survey, salaries for full professors ranged from $105,000 to $204,210.
3. Status and prestige
While there may be some negative perceptions of lawyers, these are often intended in a jokey sense, and many people, when they are being more serious, recognise the vital role lawyers play in society, how they can bring about justice, and the intelligence and dedication involved in studying and working in law.
This is often reflected in the media. Popular movies such as The Rainmaker, The Firm, A Few Good Men, A Time to Kill, and TV dramas Suits and The Good Wife, among others, are examples of how Hollywood dramatizes and uphold the legal profession as a prestigious career to pursue. Clearly movies and TV sometimes employ artistic license in portraying the legal world, but these dramatized glimpses into law and lawyers have persuaded many to pursue a law degree and career. In fact, a recent study by Fletchers Solicitors found 39 percent of millennials’ careers were inspired by TV shows!
Even the comedy film Legally Blonde has become a classic. The film centers around Elle Woods, a sorority girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend for a 'smarter' girl as he goes to Harvard Law School. Affronted and insulted by this, Elle applies to Harvard Law, aces the test, and gets in. She then shakes up the law school with her attitude, glaring pink clothes, and chihuahua Bruiser!
The film has inspired many people -- women and men -- to go to law school. Shalyn Smith, of Columbus, Ohio, says, “When I got to law school, on the toughest days I would pop in the movie and get a good laugh.” The actress who played this inspiring, out-of-the-box, young female law student, Reese Witherspoon, has said about the film, “It actually had a meaningful story. And it was about female empowerment. It wasn’t necessarily about the girl getting the guy.” According to the American Bar Association Journal, the film inspired a generation of women lawyers.
4. There are many transferable skills
All prestige aside, becoming a lawyer gives you a breadth and depth of useful and pragmatic transferable skills that will help you in whatever career path you end up taking. Writing well, being able to articulate complex thoughts and theories, alongside in-person presentations and public speaking, are just some of the skills law students develop. Most law students learn mediation skills, and practice performing in the courtroom by running mock trials, often known as 'moot court'. Research skills are highly valuable in many professions and as a trained lawyer you will know how to conduct in-depth research on almost any topic.
5. It’s a rewarding profession
As a lawyer, you will likely work long hours, as well as take on projects that are challenging and could be stressful. That said, being a lawyer can be an exceptionally rewarding profession. “Some lawyers travel the country, or even the world, to participate in trials, depositions, arbitrations, and business deals. Others rub shoulders with business leaders, politicians, sports figures, and even celebrities,” writes law veteran Sally Kane. Making a difference, upholding the rule of law, and helping to win cases will be a rewarding career path no matter how you specialize in your legal practice.
6. It is intellectually challenging
Those with a capacious mind and energy to keep learning will find they will enjoy the intellectual challenges and rigor associated with being a lawyer. Problem solvers, innovative thinkers, instant factual recall, systems-thinkers, and more are needed in the legal profession. As a prospective law student, you should be prepared to be challenged intellectually on a daily basis.
You will want to stay up-to-date on general trends and changes within the legal profession to adapt as needed. For example, the trend towards “going digital” for lawyers is not going away. “From e-discovery and litigation analytics to artificial intelligence and machine learning, there has never been a more exciting and dynamic time to be a member of this profession,” says lawyer and consultant Charles Lew. These trends are gaining traction and graduate school programs are integrating these technology trends into coursework and degree requirements.
7. Like-minded colleagues and self-respect
As a lawyer you won’t be working completely alone; you will likely join a law firm and become a member of a team. Working alongside other intelligent and passionate people to find solutions to a complicated case can be both challenging and invigorating. You may discover new levels of self-respect and enjoy colleagues who are very similar to you.
Law students and lawyers are in a unique position to help people, groups, organizations, and companies with their legal issues as well as find solutions to many complex problems. Upholding the rule of law is a privilege, and as a lawyer you will be a champion for this vital public good. You couldn’t pick a more challenging and rewarding profession to pursue. Becoming a lawyer will, almost certainly, change your life.